Locally built Beijing X55 set to lead Chinese car charge in SA

A pleasant surprise awaited us at the Zwartkops Raceway last sunny Friday Morning. Beijing SA previewed its new X55 SUV. Beijing of course being BAIC’s premium brand, just as Lexus is to Toyota. First impressions usually go a long way, but the X55 just kept on impressing as we got to know it.

Pleasing on the eye, X55 is far more modern looking than its already neat hometown Chery and Haval rivals in this competitive market niche. Unashamedly Lamborghini Urus inspired, it’s built as part of BAIC’s Mercedes-Benz partnership. Stylish and comfortable, it possesses the seating position, soft touches, and style you’d expect from those premium brands too.


Lamborghini inspiration, Mercedes influence

Flowing, if edgy curves and a flat chassis, X55’s low 0,32 drag coefficient wind resistance emphasised by a stylish grille and LED lighting. The large sloping windscreen heads up to a giant panoramic sunroof with a most interesting high speed auto closing feature.

That angular style is emphasised by hidden wipers and door handles. They automatically pop out when the key is carried near the car and have an icebreaking mode. Not quite necessary for Pretoria, but Sutherland folk would love it. A split tailgate adds convenience.

That keyless entry reveals an intuitive aircraft cockpit feel. Futuristic and spacious with textured 3D ambient lighting by night, X55 boasts all the latest electronic treats we’ve come to expect. Beijing’s CarbitLink infotainment is complemented by an aircraft style multifunction steering wheel.


Beijing 1.5 turbo does a 2-litre’s job

A split level central console has a dedicated rubberised cell phone bay. X55 gets latest technology cabin air filters, while the steering wheel and gear knob are coated by 99% antibacterial material. One of few early observations is that the touchscreen is a touch too far from and would do a bit better if it were angled slightly toward the driver.

X55 is powered by a modern, downsized 130 KW 305 Nm Miller Cycle 1.5L VGT turbo petrol engine. It does the job of a regular 2-litre. Coupled to a 7 Speed dual-clutch transmission, X55 delivers a competitive 7.8 second claimed 0-100 km/h sprint. On the flipside, Beijing claims measly 7.2 litres per 100 km fuel consumption.

MacPherson front and multi-link rear suspension and sporty 51 to 49 front to rear weight distribution on a 2,665 mm wheelbase endow X55 with great stability. High profile tyres bring a comfortable and smooth, yet stable ride on bumpy surface roadways. Handling is safe and secure.


Beijing X55 starred on road & track

Effortless on the road, X55 offers positive feedback. Four driving modes include eco, comfort, sports and smart. The suspension did not seem to stiffen up in sport mode, but the car naturally possesses a more than acceptable degree of body roll for this category.

33C heat, Highveld altitude and three adults aboard obviously robbed it of a little zest. But acceleration still suggests great performance. The biggest surprise was how well this front wheel drive machine handled on track and through an emergency cone course on the straight. Stability assistance instantly sorts irregular steering and braking inputs.

On a skid pan slalom course, the traction and safety aids keep X55 well in check. There was never a time that I felt out of control, even as a passenger with the car pushed to the limit by an experienced race driver. Open road driving was also effortless, with well synchronised automatic gear selection.


Faster, Leaner, Smarter Beijing promise

5-star NCAP safety is courtesy of six airbags, rear seatbelt reminders and a driver awareness warning. There’s Bosch ESP, ABS braking with EBD and EBA and an electronic parking brake with hill hold and descent control. Add crash auto unlock doors, tyre pressure monitoring, and front and rear park sensors.

Trading on the promises, Faster, Leaner and Smarter, BAIC, or the Beijing Automotive Industry Corporation is one of China’s largest automakers. Established in 1958, BAIC currently partners Beiqi Changhe, Beiqi Foton, Beijing Hyundai, Beijing Benz, and others.

BAIC has seven R&D centres in five countries with assembly plants in over 30 countries distributing vehicles to more than 80 countries around the world. BAIC ranked 124th on the Fortune 500 list in 2020.


Born in Beijing, made in South Africa

BAIC South Africa is a JV between the SA and Chinese governments with a manufacturing plant in Port Elizabeth and a Johannesburg parts warehouse. BAIC continues to build the SKD X25 SUV at as it tools an ultra-modern new hybrid and EV-ready modular assembly line.

Beijing will supply the world market with 50,000 new right-hand drive X 55 SUV out of the Koega, PE plant, per annum, from mid 2023.

Getting back to that Beijing X55. My first impression was unexpectedly good. Very proudly presented by BAIC Beijing, first impressions suggest that’s for very good reason, too. Even at the high standard in our already packed for choice Compact SUV market

Based on Beijing’s five pillars of Styling and Design, Power and Performance, High Tech, Safety and Comfort, it was difficult to argue most of them in the short time we spent with the new X55. Build quality from front to back are a game changer.


X55 will be priced to kill

BAIC will soon bring X55, which it suggests will be an unmatched compact sport SUV to market. And it will do so at an eyewatering affordable approximately R435.000 for the entry model. And about R475.000 for the top spec model.

Let’s wait and see what the future brings for this exciting entry to our car market. But one thing is for sure. Rival carmakers would be well advised to keep an eye on this one.

Not only is X55 locally built right here in Gqeberha, but the Beijing Automotive Industry Corporation is about to change everything you think about affordable, high quality motoring. For once and for all. – Ken Hawkins

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