Introducing the Affordable Beijing X55: BAIC's Latest Chinese SUV for SA, Perfect for Mainstream BuyersIntroducing the Affordable Beijing X55: BAIC’s Latest Chinese SUV for SA, Perfect for Mainstream Buyers!

BAIC Beijing x 55 front

Over the last nine years, Chinese auto giant BAIC – the sixth largest auto manufacturer in China in terms of units sold – has not made any significant inroads into the South African market. With domestic sales of 1.7 million units last year, BAIC only trails SAIC, FAW, Dongfeng, Changan and GAC in the Chinese market and is way ahead of GWM/Haval and Chery. 

The Fortune Global 500 company was also the first Chinese automaker to enter the South African market in the mid-nineties (albeit briefly) and the first to establish an assembly plant here. Even so, local assembly of the old-tech X25 and D20 has been slow, and sales are virtually non-existent, lagging far behind the figures of Haval and Chery. Now, it seems the automotive giant has done an about-turn with a strategy shift of seismic proportions, most likely triggered by the stratospheric sales growth shown by its Chinese counterparts. Beijing name revived

This mind shift has led to the latest, highly advanced models being made available in overseas markets and paved the way for the upmarket Beijing brand. Named after the Chinese capital, the Beijing trademark has been part of BAIC since inception and has now been revived as the company’s halo brand (like Lexus for Toyota and Haval for GWM), replacing Senova. Now, the first Beijing model made available locally, the X55 (named the C52X or Mofang – translating to ‘Rubik’s Cube’ – in China), has officially been introduced here, and the gala launch event in Johannesburg illustrated the importance of this model to BAIC South Africa.

Compared to the current BAIC offerings, this compact SUV, based on the in-house BMFA platform developed to underpin future hybrid and electric models, is a revelation… and it makes one wonder why it took the Chinese giant so long to release a contemporary model with advanced technology here.

The importance of the X55 was underlined at the local launch by Hugo Hu, vice-president of Sales and Marketing at BAIC South Africa, who stated that BAIC is now “bringing the best of breed in innovation” with “leading technological advantages to provide South African consumers with an advanced sense of technology and a superior driving experience”. Jianhui Wang, vice-president of BAIC Motor and chairman of BAIC South Africa, added that the X55 spearheads a further deepening of the strategic cooperation between the Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa (IDC) and BAIC, and plans are afoot to produce the X55 locally in both petrol and electric guise. According to Wang, this will make the company “a strategic market player based in South Africa and with expansion to the African continent, and a model project for China-South Africa cooperation”. He also indicated further new generation products would follow the X55 “to provide South African consumers with more options and an all-round premium experience”.

Attractive, futuristic styling

The X55 has an attractive and futuristic SUV design with a borderless, low wind resistance grille, a large sloping windscreen with hidden wipers, flowing curves down the flanks with hidden door handles (as found on Land Rover and Jaguar models), a slim LED light bar, split spoiler and split tailgate at the rear. The flat chassis and door induction ensure low wind resistance, with a drag coefficient of only 0.32.

Inside, the avant-garde and sophisticated feel continue with minimalistic design, soft-touch materials all over the cabin, a prominent central touchscreen infotainment system, faux leather seats (inspired by the seats in the Lamborghini Urus, according to BAIC) and a large sunroof (in the top models). Developed in association with Huawei, the 10.1-inch CarbitLink infotainment system is refreshing. Still, it takes some getting used to and can be frustrating as one has to dive into many a submenu to manage vehicle settings. Some dedicated buttons would have been welcome to make it easier to operate.

Auto climate control is also missing, and there is no lumbar support control, not even for the red leather seats in the top Premium model. The steering wheel and gear knob are coated with antibacterial material, and the 10.25-inch digital instrumentation has various layout settings. There is also a plethora of USBs but no USB-Cs, and being Huawei compatible, no Android or IOS mirroring yet.

With six airbags in all three trim lines (Dynamic, Elite and Premium), keyless start, driver fatigue warning, crash auto unlock doors, tyre pressure monitoring, front and rear parking sensors, hill hold control and hill descent control, and Bosch developed ESP (electronic stability programme), ABS (anti-lock braking system) with EBD (electronic brake-force distribution) and EBA (electronic brake assist), the X55 received a five-star C-NCAP safety rating.

Supersmooth transmission.

The 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine used in all three X55 derivatives was co-developed with Meta in Germany and delivers 130kW and 305Nm of torque. Power is sent to the front wheel through a supersmooth seven-speed dual-clutch transmission (with four driving modes – Eco, Comfort, Sport, and Smart) but the smallish engine, while lively, does exhibit some turbo-lag on take-off.

The X55 can accelerate from 0-100km/h in a brisk 7.8 seconds, and the X55’s fuel consumption is stated as 7.2 litres/100km, although on a short test drive in and around Gauteng, our recorded figures were in the 8-9 litre/100km bracket.

Nevertheless, with a well-tuned suspension consisting of independent MacPherson struts in the front and a rear multilink setup with hydraulic dampers, the X55’s ride and handling were exemplary, also on rougher, potholed roads. The steering feel was slightly artificial and light, but the attractive SUV felt poised in the corners.


With the Beijing X55, BAIC has now, at last, joined the local mainstream market, and this avant-garde and modern, luxurious, futuristic, and technologically advanced Chinese model is set to shake the already ultra-competitive local compact SUV market to the core.

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