FIRST DRIVE | BAIC B40 Plus is China’s answer to the Wrangler
BAIC is a Chinese brand that started its SA operations back in 2016 and by 2018 had started assembling a semi-knocked down range of cars at its Gqeberha plant.
With its limited product range and small dealer footprint it has been slow going for the brand, with less than 300 units of its D20 sedan and hatchback, and X25 compact SUV sold in total thus far.
The bold-looking BAIC B40 Plus is its latest offering. With its cube-like design, the vehicle has traces of the Jeep Wrangler and Hummer in some of its motifs. It has aggressively protruding wheel arches, a removable roof, and it’s available in a variety of bright colours including a military green. Price-wise, it compares with many but the ethos is a larger, more practical Suzuki Jimny alternative.
The colour-coded interior trimming has dual-zone air conditioning, a six-speaker audio system, chrome accents, a start/stop button, electric parking brake, reverse camera, park distance control, and a colourful multi-information display depending on the chosen specification.
But there is a lot more to this new BAIC B40 Plus than borrowed looks. It boasts a chassis built with Chinese military know-how to handle unforgiving terrain, plus independent suspension with double wishbones up front and solid-axle rear suspension for comfortable marauding.
A pair of four-cylinder engines and transmissions are on offer — a two-litre petrol turbo with 160kW and 320Nm mated exclusively to a six-speed automatic gearbox, or a two-litre turbodiesel flexing 110kW and 350Nm and available only with a six-speed manual transmission.
The petrol variant felt the superior of the pair if you consider daily life, and the self-shifter also made life easier when threading it through a series of challenging off-road obstacles.
The B40 Plus comes standard with ABS and some models also feature an electronic stability programme, emergency brake assist, traction control and hill ascent and descent control.
Off-road driving enthusiasts will look towards the diesel with its extra torque and the manual transmission with a pleasant, clicking shift action. The minimal overhangs combined with generous 210mm ground clearance, a selectable 4WD system with rear differential lock, 37-degree approach/31 degree departure and 23-degree ramp-over angles are handy tools for venturing into rough terrain.
But they will be disappointed with the wheezy nature of the diesel engine, which struggled and required deft clutch work to avoid power losses mid-obstacle.
As a whole, the new BAIC B40 Plus has good prospects. It offers that all-important aesthetic charm mixed with genuine off-road driving ability. The snag may be only eight dealers available nationwide, but Basil Costa, senior manager sales and marketing at BAIC SA, says work continues to set up more agents while also negotiating with existing service centres such as Bosch and Dekra.
The B40 PLUS range sells with a five-year/120,000km warranty with service plan options.
B40 Plus Diesel — R549,500
B40 Plus Petrol — R579,500
B40 Plus City Hunter Diesel — R579,500
B40 Plus City Hunter Petrol — R609,500
B40 Plus Champion Petrol — R629,500
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