REVIEW | The 2018 BAIC D20 is surprisingly cheap but disappointedly nasty
Thanks to flimsy build quality and poor ride quality you're better off sticking with the tried and tested
Chinese carmakers have battled to woo SA consumers despite offering bargain price tags, leading to short-lived stays for some brands. Chery, Geely, Chana, Hafei and others have disappeared from our shores after finding out the hard way that while consumers can do cheap they don’t like nasty, and they also require a decent support infrastructure.
The exit of these brands has made consumers even more Chinese-wary, but BAIC has bucked the trend by investing billions in a vehicle manufacturing facility in Port Elizabeth, which implies it won’t be another fly-by-night operation.
BAIC stands for Beijing Automotive International Corporation, though locally the company has adopted the cheesy catchphrase “Better And Ingenious Choice” for the abbreviation.
There have been strike-related production delays at the Coega plant, but full-scale production of the BAIC X25 SUV is expected to start early in 2019, to be followed later by assembly of passenger cars and light trucks.
WE LIKE: Price, interior space
WE DISLIKE: Flimsy feel, unknown brand reputation
VERDICT: Rather stick to the establishment
BAIC plans to expand its current network of 17 multifranchise dealers to 20 in SA by the end of 2018 and 40 by the close of 2019.
One of the first vehicles from the stable is the D20 compact car, which has been on sale in SA as an imported model since 2017. It sells in a range of five derivatives priced between R149,990 and R209,990, supported by a five-year/120,000km warranty, with service intervals of 10,000km.
Two trim levels are on offer, Comfort and Fashion, and they’re both well stocked. Standard features of the Comfort model include front and rear park distance control, electric windows and side mirrors, aircon, a four-speaker audio system, daytime running lights and remote central locking.
The Fashion adds rain sensors, automatic headlights and two additional speakers.
Both derivatives have safety in the form of ABS brakes, dual front airbags and Isofix child-seat fittings.
The selling point of the D20 is that you’re getting a Yaris-sized car at the price of a smaller Etios. The D20 hatchback is 4,040m long, which places it at the large end of the compact-car scale, with four tall passengers able to comfortably fit inside. BAIC doesn’t quote the boot space in litres but it swallows a couple of suitcases and has split-folding rear seats to expand it.
The D20 is not an unattractive car with its generically modern styling, and if you detect the first-generation Mercedes B-Class in the design you’re right. The car is also built on the chassis of Daimler’s Smart ForFour in a technology-sharing agreement with the German firm.
Any Mercedes vibes are restricted to the exterior styling, however, and not to the driving characteristics or the cabin experience.
The interior is decked out in budget-conscious hard plastics, though it seems reasonably neatly finished and there’s some chrome detailing in the cabin and cloth panels on the doors to raise the mood somewhat. The cloth seats are comfortable and fairly supportive, and the steering column is adjustable for height but not reach.
Overall the cabin styling is not a bad effort at the price and a cut above earlier Chinese cars, if not in the league of the segment-leading (and admittedly more expensive) Polo Vivo with its classy soft-touch dashboard.
The apparent build solidity is less impressive, and cost-cutting is evident in the car’s rather flimsy feel. It lacks the torsional rigidity of many a modern compact car and there’s noticeable body flexing on bumpy roads, while its ride quality is restless and choppy. In its driving dynamics it feels like a car from two generations ago.
The Chinese hatch gets around corners fairly cleanly if you don’t rush it too much, with predictable front-wheel drive handling, and the light power steering makes it an effortless car to thread through the urban jungle.
The 1.5l petrol engine delivers adequate commuting pace, cruises the open road without feeling too underpowered and sips a reasonably economical 7.2l per 200km.
But it’s quite a vocal engine, exacerbated on the open road when the four-speed auto kicks down to a high-revving third gear in search of some overtaking poke. Refinement has taken a back seat and overall it’s quite a noisy car, requiring regular cranking up of the audio system volume.
In summary, the BAIC D20 sticks to the usual Chinese recipe of a bargain price tag and lots of features, but lacking in sophistication — particularly the untidy ride quality and flimsy solidity. BAIC is also an unknown quantity in terms of resale value and after-sales support, which makes this car quite a hard sell against tried-and-tested brands, more expensive as they may be.
Type: Four cylinder petrol
Capacity: 1,500 cc
Type: Four-speed automatic
Type: Front-wheel drive
Top speed: N/A
Fuel Consumption: 7.2l/100km (as tested)
Air conditioning, remote central locking, park distance control, electric windows, electric mirrors, audio system, daytime running lights, rain sensors, automatic headlights, ABS brakes, dual front airbags.
Cost of ownership
Warranty: 5 years/120,000km
Lease*: R4,131 per month
* at 10% interest over 60 months no deposit
BAIC D20 hatch 1,5 Fashion auto
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Ford Figo 1.5 Trend auto, 88kW/150Nm — R207,900
Renault Sandero 0.9T turbo Expression, 66kW/135Nm — R179,900
Suzuki Baleno 1.4 GLX auto, 68kW/130Nm — R254,900
Toyota Etios hatch 1.5 Sport, 66kW/132Nm — R180,600
Toyota Yaris 1.5 Xi, 79kW/140Nm — R235,400
VW Polo Vivo hatch 1.6 Comfortline auto, 77kW and 153Nm — R227,400