Johannesburg - It might take a while before SA’s newest Chinese brand BAIC is rolling off the average car buyer’s tongue (it’s actually pronounced ‘bike’), but this company is certainly taking our market seriously, having committed to investing R11-billion in establishing a factory near Port Elizabeth.

While its local manufacturing chapter is only expected to commence in 2018, BAIC has already entered our market as an importer and following the launch of its Polo-Vivo-rivalling D20 sedan and hatch range back in April, the carmaker is entering the rapidly growing compact crossover market with the X25, which was launched at the SA Motoring Experience at Kyalami on Friday.

The X25,which will be built in SA once the factory is up and running, shares its basic bodyshell with the D20 but gets its own, and far more adventurous-looking, sheetmetal. It won’t necessarily stand out from the crowd, but the X25 is a decent looking vehicle which fits the trendy crossover mould that’s proving to be such a big formula for success these days.

The front-wheel-drive crossover is powered by a normally aspirated 1.5-litre petrol engine that produces 84kW and 148Nm, which is about on par with an entry-level Ford EcoSport. It doesn’t undercut its rivals by too much of a margin however, with the range starting at R219 900.

BAIC offers two trim grades, Comfort and Fashion, and each is offered with a choice between five-speed manual and four-speed automatic transmission. 

Even the base Comfort model is well stocked, with standard fare including a 17.8cm entertainment system with Bluetooth connectivity, multi-function leather-covered steering wheel, automatic air conditioning, rear park assist and 16-inch alloys. 

The ‘Fashion’ model adds an electric sunroof, cruise control, reverse camera and two extra speakers. 

BAIC is partnered with Mercedes-Benz in China and the X25’s cabin design seems to have been inspired by the latest A-Class family. It’s quite flashy, with mock-carbon panelling on the dashboard and circular air vents with chrome garnishes, but many of the plastic surfaces look fairly cheap, although overall build quality seemed decent enough.

But what’s it like to drive? Our exposure at the preview launch was limited to riding shotgun for a lap around the track, and from that initial impression, the engine seemed to struggle at times and the gearbox hunted a bit, but we’ll only be able to give you a proper and fair verdict after a full road test, which should happen soon.

BAIC currently has dealerships in select cities, including Johannesburg and Pretoria, but the carmaker aims to have 22 dealers spread throughout the country by the end of this year.

PRICES

X25 1.5 Comfort manual 84kW/148NmR219 990
X25 1.5 Fashion manual84kW/148NmR229 990
X25 1.5 Comfort auto84kW/148NmR239 990
X25 1.5 Fashion auto84kW/148NmR249 990

IOL Motoring