South African car buyers have always been very suspicious of new brands entering the market and always taken a cautious approach until the brand has "proven itself".

However, in these tough economic times money talks and value has become an ever more important consideration for car buyers in our market. New cars, loaded with features and offered at very attractive prices have definitely captured a large slice of the local market over the past few years.

The BAIC brand has been established in SA for a few years now and has slowly been making their presence felt. Their local factory has been a bit slow in becoming fully operational but that is all about to change. BAIC has been operating in China since 1957 and is one of the largest motor manufacturers in that country.

An interesting factor is that they have been involved in a number of joint ventures with many of the worlds largest motor manufacturers over the years. A certain amount of technology from these joint ventures is found in their vehicles.

Enter BEIJING, by BAIC. A new sub brand that will concentrate on SUV's and their first offering in SA the X55. Built on a platform and designed to take hybrid and electric powertrains that could be offered in SA in the near future.

The initial range will be powered by a 1.5L turbo petrol engine that delivers 130kW and 305Nm to the front wheels via a 7 speed dual clutch (DCT) automatic transmission. The multi mode transmission offers Eco, Comfort, Sport and Smart modes. The transmission was voted one of the top 10 world transmissions in 2022. In operation it is smooth, comfortable and efficient.

The X55 surprises with the amount of interior space both in front and, especially, in the rear seat. 3 spec levels will be available, all with the same powertrain. The top, Level 3, will offer items like LED headlights and taillights, 19" alloy wheels, electric seat adjustment with 4 memory settings, heating and cooling for the front seats, large panoramic roof with rain sensors that will close the roof and windows if rain is detected even when the car is parked and many more items that you could never expect in a car at this price point.

On the road, the car was smooth and comfortable, even with 4 adults aboard who all had room to stretch out. Numerous overtaking manoevres  were made with instant response and no drama.

The handling abilities were highlighted by an exercise involving emergency lane changes as well as a few laps around the Zwartkops Raceway plus some time on the skid pan. The X55 handled everything in it's stride.

Although prices are not confirmed at this stage, it's predicted that the top spec version will retail at approximately R460 000.


Alan Rosenmeyer:     MotorMatters: