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China 2018 Test Drives: Geely Boyue

I kept the best surprise for last…

We are coming to the end of the first batch in this new Series, detailing Test Drives of Chinese or China-only cars in China. I have had the opportunity, both in the context of the Beijing Auto Show and through my temporary Chinese driver license to test drive five cars. We started with the most successful new nameplate launch in the world the Baojun 510, then went on to China’s best-selling SUV for the past five years the Haval H6, China’s most successful new launch in the past 12 months, the Baojun 530, and finally Geely’s new premium Chinese brand’s latest arrival, the Lynk & Co 02. We end this series with the best-seller in China of the most popular Chinese brand at home: the Geely Boyue. Geely is currently on a streak of 25 consecutive months of double-digit gains at home and became the #1 Chinese brand in China for the first time in 2017.

“Performance Drive” of the Geely Boyue

We are still in Yinchuan, where I have just tested the Haval H6 in a very abrasive (and welcome) way in the company of a Formula 1-style pilot (Yes I have reshuffled these test drives in a different order). Turns out, there is a Geely dealership just next door to the unopened WEY one, just as I was aiming at test driving the Boyue SUV. This is now Geely’s best-seller, having reaching almost half a million deliveries since its launch in March 2016 (to be exact, 490.935 wholesales as of end-April 2017). The Boyue has been slightly facelifted earlier this year with new headlights and bumpers. Contrary to Haval and WEY which have, respectively more grassroots and sportier images, Geely is more mass market and family-friendly and has consistently and spectacularly improved over the past three years, especially when it comes to the quality of materials used in its cockpits. As a reminder, Geely purchased Volvo in 2010 and is now actively involving the Swedish brand’s designer, Peter Horbury, in its new vehicles.

More stress-testing of the Geely Boyue

Accordingly, the welcome I received in the Geely Yinchuan dealership – filled with Borue sedans, Boyue SUVs and Vision X5 SUVs – is by far the warmest so far, with only a few bemused eclipsed looks but a very professional attitude all through. All the salespeople kept their cool at the arrival of the only foreigner they would see today (this month?), I was allocated one who quickly proceeded to sit me down, get me a piping hot “Cha” (Chinese for milk tea) and photocopy my license so quickly I only had time for one sip. A few pictures of me getting into the car and off I am accompanied with three Geely kids in the car. I say kids because none of them could have been more than 25, and they were all soberly excited to be the ones showing the Boyue off to me.

Geely Yinchuan dealership

What I am driving is close to being the top-of-the-range Boyue: at 151.800 yuan (US$23.700 or 20.150€), it is just 6.000 yuan below the maximum 157.800 charged to the top-notch Boyue whereas the base version goes for just 96.800 yuan (US$15.100 or 12.850€). This price puts it in the same sandpit as the 133.000 yuan Haval H6 I just drove, the 142.000 base Lynk & Co 02 and the 150.000 base WEY VV5. But then again, this is a car that is more focused on interior comfort than sportiness. Right? I have the opportunity to verify the quality of all materials on the dashboard, with a neat rear view camera, smooth controls on the central console and a smart stop start button. Bonus: in a similar way as the all-new NIO  ES8 (although not with a human-like interface), you can ask the car to do a whole lot of things, such as GPS directions or opening the windows, by initiating the conversation with a “Ni Hao Boyue” (Mandarin for “Hello Boyue!”)

Geely Boyue interior details

I knew it before but it is confirmed to me in real life: Geely currently produces some of the best interiors for any Chinese cars available. How does it feel on the road? Smooth but sharp, I try a few harsh turns and braking and the car responds in a docile but poised way, and its behaviour seems to me to be a lot more agile than its size and weight would have suggested. Ticks all marks, and could even add a bit of zing to a dad that doesn’t want to give up its love of driving just because he now has a family. A bit of zing? Nothing could have prepared me for what was coming next…

Once I have completed a couple of two-ways on a quite but large street of Yinchuan, one of the sales kid presents his phone with the following translated into English: “The driver will now demonstrate the performance drive. This is ute intense, so please hold your phone and hold onto the overhead handle. If you want to stop or feel sick please signal the driver.” Ummm ok, there’s no easy way for me to say this, but I’ve just come from a pretty muscular drive with an actual Haval pilot so to be fair I don’t think you measure up. These were my thoughts before the “performance drive” started, which I quickly swallowed back. Oh how wrong I was! The driver (still a kid in my eyes) suddenly goes full throttle in reverse and turns the car around! Then speeds up to 100 km/h to proceed brutally turn left and right and demonstrate a few of the safety features on the Boyue! The Boyue’s tyres screech to their heart’s content but the car remains in control despite the extreme stress test. All this is illustrated by the five videos at the start of this article.

Geely Boyue: driven!

To say that I wasn’t expecting that is a gross understatement. Geely numbed me by dispatching all-too-bland-looking sales kids, one of those turning out to show better driving skills than my Haval “Formula 1” driver, all the while wearing casual white shirts and black pants. This was by far the most exhilarating China test drive I got the luck to take part in during this trip. Geely managed to completely surprise me with an SUV that, under a polished interior and discreet demeanour, is a tiger in disguise. If I was a Yinchuan punter looking for my next car, what the Geely sales kids did, by totally bluffing me, would go a long way in helping my decision. I loved how flattered but professional the dealership welcome was, how respectful and eager to communicate the sales kids were in the car, and how matter-of-factly the driver took the car to its extremes in a matter of seconds. Geely is definitely on the right track.

China 2018 Test Drives: Lynk & Co 02

BSCB was part of the very first foreign media team to test drive the Lynk & Co 02.

I am now starting to get a bit of experience under my belt driving Chinese cars in China. The most successful new nameplate launch in the world the Baojun 510, China’s best-selling SUV for the past five years the Haval H6 and China’s most successful new launch in the past 12 months, the Baojun 530, have now all been tested. But before these all happened, I was invited to a Press Event by Geely’s new premium brand, Lynk & Co, as part of the Beijing Auto Show. I was very impressed by Lynk & Co’s stand at the Guangzhou Auto Show last November and by the 01’s sales performance with its first batch of 6.000 units sold online in two minutes last year. Since, the 01 has risen to over 9.000 monthly sales, now frankly outselling both the WEY VV5 and VV7, its most direct Chinese competitors. In April, Lynk & Co stood 30% below WEY brand sales with still only one nameplate. Lynk & Co is planning on debuting sales of the 01 in Europe and the U.S. in early 2020. So this is definitely one of the most interesting new Chinese brand ventures to follow.

Lynk & Co 02The Lynk & Co Zhangjiakou factory

The Lynk & Co Press Event consisted of a visit of the brand-new Zhangjiakou factory located 200km northwest of Beijing – its very first opening to the press as Chinese media had not been allowed in yet – as well as a test-drive of the all-new 02 crossover which was unveiled in Amsterdam at the end of March. Before we could start on the factory visit we had to give up mobile phones and cameras as we would be exposed to sensitive information about the manufacturing process. Also, three camouflaged 03 sedans spookily followed us throughout the tour, so that’s one more reason we couldn’t take snaps.

One week after our visit, local outlet snapped these shots of the camouflaged 03 we saw.

Zhangjiakou is an unusual location for a car factory and the first of its kind in town, complicating the logistics of parts supply for Lynk & Co but enabling the brand to service the local market. It is part of a push by both the Chinese and the Hebei province governments to vitalise the currently underdeveloped region, which will host most skiing events during the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. This is the largest factory investment in the Geely Group so far at 12.5 bn yuan (approx. US$2 bn or 1.65 bn €), and the largest Geely Auto factory at 800.000 square metres. It is constructed and managed following Volvo’s global quality standards (Geely purchased the Swedish manufacturer in 2010) and has already hired 1.800 workers sourced in the local population, with a capacity for up to 3.000. The factory showcases the latest innovations in automotive manufacturing, with 285 robots used in the main welding line, RFID chips on each car and a forklift-free environment.

Factory Director Xiangbei Tong took us on a tour. Below: coating and welding shops.

The factory Director, Xiangbei Tong, whose English is better than most native speakers (he says aluminum to the Americans among us, aluminium to the others), takes us on this tour, starting with an impressive transparent mezzanine that allows an unbeatable look at the largest robot in the auto industry, 1 ton Titan, in action. Xiangbei has been at the helm of the Zhangjiakou factory for the three years it took to get it production-ready and is now proud to announce that 02 production has now shifted to mass and saleable products. The production rhythm is currently 30 vehicles per hour, with an annual production capacity of 200.000 units dedicated to the 02 crossover first, adding the 03 sedan as well as their PHEV variants at a later stage. But Xiangbei points out the factory could be adapted to produce the 01 as well if needed.

82.000 Lynk & Co 02 are planned for production in 2018.

I was able to obtain exclusive volume targets for the 02: 320 were produced in April to service the Beijing Auto Show and Lynk & Co dealerships, with 2.600 planned for May, while the annual production figure announced by Lynk & Co for the 02 in 2018 is 82.000, meaning 79.000 will come out between June and December, a 11.300 monthly average. That’s high, but in line with the current figures delivered by the 01 which has now reached 33.783 wholesales in its first 5 months, or a 6.757 monthly average with over 9.000 in April. Production start date for the 03 sedan is still under wraps, although Xiangbei assures “we’re ready!”.

Lynk & Co 02 – with yours truly at the wheel.

It’s now time to get behind the wheel of Lynk & Co’s latest baby. Or should I say Volvo’s latest baby, as the 02 uses the same CMA platform (for Compact Modular Architecture), engine, transmission, chassis and electronics as the Volvo XC40, the European Car of the Year I will be driving in Sweden in a few months. As the head of 02 R&D Zhu Ling explains to us, the only main difference is the car’s suspension, tweaked to fit Chinese customers’ taste for a more comfortable drive, rather than a dynamic one. The 02 is an AWD with four drive modes and its engine is a 190hp 2.0T which, in the Powerpoint presentation given to us before the drive, gets pitted against the 154hp 2.0TD Mercedes GLA, the 156hp 2.0 Mazda CX-4 and the 150hp 2.0 Nissan Qashqai, giving us a good idea of which foreign competitors Lynk & Co is aiming at in China. The 01 achieved the highest Chinese NCAP crash-test score ever, and the company is confident the 02 will do better.

The 02 is AWD.My OCD mind hard at work had a hard time with this door cut.

Lynk & Co makes sure we know the 02 offers a long list of safety features including adaptive cruise control (from 0km/h!), front collision and lane departure warnings, traffic signal recognition, automatic parking and rear cross traffic alert. I have already tested most of these on the Volvo XC90 in North Cape in 2016 and the Volvo V90 in the Norwegian Fjords in 2017, and can vouch for their formidable efficacy. One I hope I won’t have to test is the bonnet popping up on impact to avoid pedestrian head collision with the windshield, a first in a Chinese vehicle. Compared to the 01, the 02 is lower, shorter and wider, giving off a much sportier outlook. 01 dimensions are 4512/1857/1673cm while the 02’s are 4448/1890/1528cm. The one design detail my OCD mind struggled with is the cut of the back doors encroaching on the wheel arch in a frustrating way. The 02 is cheaper than the 01, priced from 142.000 to 198.000 yuan (US$22.300-31.100 or 18.900-26.400€) vs. 158.800-220.800 for the 01, and also undercuts both the WEY VV5 (150.000-160.000 yuan) and VV7 (167.800-188.800).

02 interior, notice the sparkly light grey polyurethane to the left, giving a very sophisticated touch.

We also learn that the 02 is capable of reaching 0-100 km/h in 7.8s, then braking back to 0 km/h in less than 36 metres. It’s these two stats that we are encouraged to emulate on a cleared track near the factory. Lynk & Co had giant 02 billboards towering over the track so they could be captured on footage filmed by a DJI drone that followed the cars as they accelerated. Slipping inside the car, I reconnect with the posh yet practical interior I knew from the 01, but one element catches my eye immediately: a fine sparkling charcoal surface covers the dashboard and doors, looking very exclusive indeed. Zhu Ling confirms I’m not the first one to have noticed, with the Chinese media having quizzed him about it earlier. He had to find a material that looked like it came straight from the fashion industry yet had to be resistant enough to not get dirty or scratched easily, and chose polyurethane.

We were told by the Lynk & Co technician on board that the 02 cannot launch if you don’t have your seatbelt on or if one of the doors is open – this does sound very strict in a very Swedish way – but the latter did not function properly as I was able to move the car with the driver’s door agape. It gives off a pleasant lurch forward when launching and does react mighty fast indeed with the accelerator pressed right down (although once you have accelerated in a Tesla the world is a much different place, but that’s a different story altogether). The gears are well staged so the car doesn’t seem to waste too much time reaching 100km/h, or 130 for that matter, but we couldn’t quite match the 7.8s announced.

Classy central console, complete with next gen gearshift and electronic parking brake.

We pushed the 02 to 150km/h on the highway afterwards with no perceivable behaviour change. Perhaps the most impressive feat is the brutal braking that gets delivered with complete silence and no tire screeching of any kind. At the time of driving, this was the most impressive Chinese car I got to get my hands on, and by far. And it still stands today. But keep in mind we remained in a very controlled environment and the following abrasive piloting of the Haval H6 produced similar levels of reassuring moves under more stressful conditions. It’s not by chance that the two cars are priced very similarly in China…

But there are more surprises coming my way… stay tuned for our next China test drive, the Geely Boyue.

China 2018 Test Drives: Baojun 510

The Baojun 510 is the fastest selling new car nameplate ever introduced in the history of automobile.

This is a new Series on BSCB detailing my test drives of Chinese or China-only models in China. After a pretty sporty take on the Haval H6, it’s now time to return at Baojun to test drive the immensely successful 510. Earlier, I had to content with the larger and newer 530, as there were no 510 available in the shop. Now that I have made an appointment in advance, the same Baojun team from the Central Yinchuan dealership warmly welcomes me to try on the 510. Before we go any further, I’ll try and paint an adequate picture of the commercial success of the Baojun 510 so far. Most Western outlets just scoff at the Baojun brand, perceived as ultra-low cost. If you are a regular reader of BSCB you will know by now that Baojun interiors punch way above their weight and that the brand, born from the SAIC-GM-Wuling joint-venture in 2010, is one of the biggest success stories of the history of automobile, not only in China but in any country in the world.

The previous record-holder is the Ford Fairmont with 405.780 units in 1978 (1979 model pictured).The Opel Astra sold an est. 525.000 units in its first 12 months but wasn’t exactly a new nameplate.

The Baojun 510 earned the title of best-selling new car ever introduced in the world back in January when it clocked in 416.883 sales in its first 12 months in market. We were the first (and only) media outlet to call this record, simply because we are the only ones having access to such data. The previous record was held for exactly 40 years by an American nameplate, the Ford Fairmont with 405.780 units sold in the US in 1978. The only nameplate that could challenge these figures is the Opel Astra launched in 1991 with an estimated 525.000 sales in its first 12 months, but it can be argued this was a next-generation Opel Kadett for which the Astra nameplate had previously been used, notably in the UK.

In January 2018 the Baojun 510 sold almost as well as the Ford F-Series in the US……and 36% more than the VW Golf in the whole of Europe.

The 510 reached a record 58.006 monthly sales in China last January to top off its annual mark. In the same month, only the Haval H6 (59.133) outsold it in China, while the Ford F-Series sold almost exactly the same amount in the US (58.937) while the #1 SUV there, the Nissan Rogue, sold just 36.184. In the meantime the VW Golf sold just 42.801 units in the whole of Europe (27 markets) while the best-selling SUV, the VW Tiguan, stood at a paltry 22.841, 2.6 times less than the Baojun 510 in China. The 510 smashes the previous 12 months Chinese launch record held by the Baojun 560 by almost 100.000 units (416.883 vs. 319.536).

Predictive rear-view camera and rotary gearshift for the equivalent of less than 10.000€…

Now that we’ve rightly positioned the Baojun 510 on its commercial pedestal, let’s get into the car. I’m driving a heavily-stickered 1.5 Auto priced at 75.000 yuan (US$11.800 or 9.965€). Somewhat annoyingly, this is almost the top-of-the-range as the model goes from 54.800 to 76.800 yuan (US$8.600 to 12.100 or 7.300 to 10.200€), and therefore I’m assuming not the most popular variant, but I could be wrong here. The interior is the same as the 530 but I notice two welcome features: a relatively sophisticated rear-view camera with predictive trajectory and a semi-electric driver seat (depth but not height) whereas the 98.800 yuan 530’s driver seat was all manual. Also, like the 530 the gearshift is a lovely rotary button (with no parking mode) that I got used to see of cars way more premium such as Mercedes.

The Baojun Yinchuan sales team was once again on-point despite the language barrier.

Now try and think of what Western car priced under US$12.000 and 10.000€ offers these? In the U.S. it’s simple, there isn’t a car at that price, as the cheapest car in that market is the US$12.995 Nissan Versa. In Europe, the 6.590€ Lada Granta or 7.036€ Dacia Sandero are literally decades behind what the 510 cockpit offers so I can’t think of any, but if you do please comment. In any case, the cockpit feels a lot more refined than its price would have it suggest, which isn’t a surprise per se as I have been taking note of this at all Chinese Auto I’ve attended, but it’s always nice to get confirmation in a “real”, on-sale car. In terms of interior space, although the 510 is shorter than the 530 by a full 43cm at 4.22m vs. 4.65m, the 510 however does not feel cramped inside.

The Baojun 510 is longer than it looks, at 4.22m

It’s actually a compact SUV in its own right, coming in at exactly the same length as a Skoda Yeti (4.22m) or VW T-Roc (4.23m) but larger than a Suzuki Vitara (4.17m) or Renault Captur (4.12m). For regular car comparison sets you’d have to look at the Peugeot 308 (4.25m) and VW Golf (4.26m), and not the much-smaller Dacia Sandero (4.07m) or Ford Fiesta (3.97m). In fact, an even more adequate comparison would be the Dacia Duster coming in at 4.32m, or 10 cm longer. It’s the only Western SUV that could compete with the 510 price-wise, starting at 11.750€ (US$13.900) in Europe, which converts into a sharp 88.400 yuan.

However the Duster’s interior is much less refined with cheap plastics, a traditional gearbox and a smaller touch screen positioned too low, but most importantly it is not available in China: importing it would add a 20% tariff and see the price likely expand upwards of 110.000 yuan, removing all low-cost appeal. So to find a similarly-sized Western competitor you’ll have to pay at least 99.800 yuan for a Nissan Kicks (US$15.700/13.260€), 127.800 yuan for a Honda XR-V (US$20.100/16.980€) or 129.800 yuan for a Skoda Yeti (US$20.400/17.250€), which doesn’t make any sense because for this price you can get a Haval H6.

Among Western SUVs, only the Dacia Duster could potentially compete, with better exterior design but a much inferior interior.

The 510 is powered by the same 1.5 engine as the 530 I previously tried although it isn’t turbocharged here, offering only 112hp vs. 150hp for the 530. This engine is also currently used on the Buick Excelle, Chevrolet Sail, Cavalier and Cruze sold in China. I thought the 530 was too heavy for it. The 510 is almost 200kg lighter at 1.235 kg and even though there is no turbo in the 510, the difference in weight is enough to free up a lot more zing under the hood. The gearbox is better laid with less lag between gear changes and the car does not over-rev nearly as much as the 530 did before changing gears. So all-in-all better dynamics all round. Look, it’s not a sporty car by any means but if you’re short for money, only drive in cities and want an aggressively-designed compact vehicle that looks like an SUV, the 510 should definitely be top-of-mind.

Baojun 510: driven!

There you have it, I am happy to announce that I have now driven the most successful launch in auto history. I’d been wanting to do that for a while now, so I feel like a big box is ticked. Now onto the big question: does the 510 deserve the tremendous success it’s enjoying? In terms of refinement-for-money, definitely. It’s difficult to find a better-looking and better-equipped cockpit even among Chinese cars. But if you are after sound driving excitement, well, you wouldn’t be looking at the 510 in the first place, so all is well.

Baojun Central Yinchuan dealership

China 2018 Test Drives: Haval H6

A proud “Formula 1 driver” with the Haval H6 Red label…

I have now been able to verify that my temporary Chinese driver license is enough to test drive vehicles out of local dealerships. See my review of the Baojun 530 here. This China Test Drive section is a new series focusing on trying out Chinese or China-only models in China, in line with our effort to bring you ever-more precise cover of the largest new car market in the world: China. While I await my appointment to test drive the Baojun 510 which was #1 on my wish-list due to its status of best-selling car launch in the history of automobile (no less), the next car on my wish-list is the Haval H6. It has been the best-selling SUV in China for the past five years (20132017), even holding the top spot for 55 consecutive months between July 2013 and January 2018 before being outsold by the… Baojun 510 last February and March, then reclaiming the title in April. Given how dynamic the SUV segment is in China with a constant flow of new launches both from Chinese and foreign brands, this is an exceptional feat.

The Haval H6 test drive was unexpectedly abrasive – in a good way.

The Haval Blue dealership was spanking new and had lots of… Great Wall Steed 5 in stock.

I am no stranger to Haval models: I took a Haval H8 on an epic adventure in Australia’s Birdsville Track in July 2016 and a Haval H9 on some of the most remote roads in Australia in January 2017. I was due to test drive the H6 Coupe in Australia back in March 2017 but had to postpone due to ill-health. As the months came by, it became somehow more and more challenging for Haval Australia to organise the drive. Moreover, the only H6 available in Australia remains the 2016 H6 Coupe which is now obsolete in China. So let’s start fresh and go for a 2018 Chinese H6. But first I learnt a very valuable strategy lesson from Haval.

The Haval Red dealership in Yinchuan had a WEY corner…

…and was located next to a yet-unopened WEY dealership surrounded with lots of available stock.

The first Haval store I could find in Yinchuan on my Baidu map was a Blue label store. Here I learnt that the Blue/Red logo strategy unveiled at the Shanghai Auto Show in April 2015 (Blue = Young, Red = Mature) actually goes further than just two versions of (almost) each nameplate: these cars are sold in physically separate dealerships. That was new news to me. Accordingly, the Haval Blue dealership is hip and stands next to a Great Wall outlet displaying a swarm of Steed 5 pickups, particularly successful in this part of China. Given they had just opened, the staff at Haval Blue told me they have no H6 to test drive, but the Red dealer nearby has plenty of stock. Off I go to the Haval Red dealership, which included a corner reserved to the new WEY premium brand with the VV5 and VV7 displayed inside. It was also conveniently located next to a yet-unopened WEY dealer. Turns out Haval is using its Red outlets, aimed at more mature – and wealthy – customers, as a stepping board to upgrade to WEY. It has its logic, although the sportiness of the WEY models might be more attractive to the Blue clientele…

Haval H6 in Yinchuan 

Securing an instant test-drive unannounced was absolutely no issue for Haval Red in Yinchuan. To my surprise, the task is given to an actual pilot, complete with Formula 1-style overalls and red sneakers. Is this guy on call every day at the store?? As it was the case for Baojun 530 drive, he takes me to a quiet street where he can give the wheel to me. But instead, he explains – in Mandarin, so “gestures” is more accurate as no English was spoken during this test drive, that he will do a round trip on the street first before I can. Fine, but I’m pretty sure I can do that myself. What comes next is one of the biggest surprises I’ve had in any China trip let alone accompanied test drives. Off he goes full throttle straight onto the sidewalk slaloming between trees and approaching 100 km/h before abruptly turning left and right and stepping on the brakes like there’s no tomorrow!! I have to admit I was absolutely not expecting that.

The H6 exterior design has improved greatly over the past couple of years…

But I also have to admit I’m absolutely loving it, and it shows how confident Haval is in its cars that it can afford to push the envelope even during a mundane test-drive around the corner booked at a dealer in a third-tier city. The driver proceeds to show me the various security features of the car including collision-assist as the car stops point blank in order to avoid the left sidewalk. I’m already a little dizzy when he gestures it’s my turn. Ummmm, so I never thought I would say that but I don’t think I have the corones to do exactly what you did, mate! Nevertheless I have my fun trying to take the car to its extremes and he obliges when I ask him to do it all over again so I can film from outside (see video at the start of the article).

…while the interior does look and feel premium.

How was the car? This is the 197hp 2.0 turbo H6 Red label priced at 133.000 yuan (US$20.900 or 17.600€). The exterior design is much improved compared to the previous generations of the model and it did also appear more imposing. The interior is, as Haval has accustomed us, sincerely top-notch: it looks, feels and oozes premium under the eyes and the fingers. A very impressive achievement for its price, that would make it one of the cheapest SUVs in market outright both in the USA and Europe. But it’s the sporty drive that closed the missing link for me – dynamics being the entire reason I want to actually drive Chinese cars. The H6 behaves in a completely different world as the larger and heavier H8 and H9 I drove myself. Braking is impressively abrupt and the car holds itself in-line – no tail-end movement – even during brutal direction changes and braking. The next step would have been testing it off-road as Haval prides itself in offering AWD variants for almost all its models. All-in-all a very satisfying experience with the Haval H6, which thoroughly deserves the #1 SUV title it has held for 5 years. I’m impressed.

A happy potential customer and a proud pilot…

China 2018 Test Drives: Baojun 530

Baojun 530 in Yinchuan, Ningxia province.

This article inaugurates a new series as part of our China focus at BSCB: test drives of Chinese or China-only cars in China. Now that I have my temporary Chinese driver licence on hand and I can drive anywhere I please with my rental VW Lavida (see Renting a car in China), I thought I’d try my luck at test driving a few cars directly out of local dealerships. Accessing press cars is really difficult in China. The traditional way is through a large press event at the launch of the vehicle where you get to drive the car in a controlled way (I got to do this with Lynk & Co, report to come shortly), but if you missed that then it’s almost impossible. So I figured I might have better luck going directly to dealerships armed with my Chinese license, as temporary as it is. Plus, Yinchuan in the Ningxia province being the largest city I would encounter in the next week, best to start right here. The first car on my wish-list is the Baojun 510, the best-selling new car ever introduced in the world with 416.883 sales in 12 months, beating the previous record held for the past 40 years by the Ford Fairmont with 405.780 units sold in the US in 1978.

SGM Wuling and Baojun store in central YinchuanThe 530 takes centre stage inside the Baojun store.

As is the tradition, the Baojun dealership in central Yinchuan also includes Wuling, the other SAIC-GM-Wuling (SGMW) brand, albeit in a separate space. The nature of the models parked in front of the store says a lot about the company’s current priorities: no Baojun 510 to be seen outside, no Wuling Hongguang S3 either but instead, a handful of dirt-cheap Wuling Sunshine Mini Trucks (see picture above) and a swarm of sparkling-new Baojun 530, the brand’s latest launch. It’s Sunday and the entire sales team is here (6 people) to witness what is probably the first foreigner they’ve ever seen asking for a test drive…

At the wheel…Mandatory selfie

After a few wide eyes and bemused looks, the team collectively apologises for not having a 510 available to test drive. I believe them and don’t think they are chickening out of it because I couldn’t see any outside either. However there is a 530 if I want. Absolutely! They make a copy of my license, make me sign the standard agreement for test drives (or so I assumed, because it was all in Mandarin…) and off we go on my very first test drive of a Chinese car in China… They soon let me behind the wheel, not without a message on the translation app of their phone cautiously asking “Please listen to this driving instruction first: please do not drive violently.” Cute. I’ll do my best I promise. The 530 I’m testing is the mid-range 1.5 Auto going for 98.800 yuan (US$ 15.600 or 13.000€), quite a bit above the entry-level priced at 75.800 yuan (US$ 11.960 or 9.970€) but still far off the top-of-the-range that will set you back 115.800 yuan (US$18.300 or 15.200€). In Chinese standards, reaching almost 100.000 yuan is a symbolic benchmark and already quite a lot of money so expectations will be relatively high for potential local customers.

Baojun 530 interior details

One of the many interests of testing a Chinese car “on the ground” is to evaluate which niceties displayed at the various Auto I’ve attended have survived in the car that actually goes on sale. As far as this 530 is concerned, reassuringly quite a lot of them. The doors are appropriately heavy and produce a full, “important” noise when closing,  the pleasant buttons of the central console remain and the sound system is very respectable and can be easily adjusted on the touch screen, changing the focus from the front to the back of the vehicle and adjusting bass and treble. The Bluetooth connection with my mobile phone is instant, which is a lot better than most cars I have driven, including such respected brands as Toyota and Mercedes… One pet hate of mine is the driver’s seat is only manually adjustable, not electric like the Show cars. I guess I can’t expect too much for that price either.

It’s all already on WeChat! “Our French friend test drives the 530. I wish I listened more in English courses!”

Now onto the main reason for test driving Chinese cars: the dynamics. My expectations were very low for the 530, as I had been warned SGMW use obsolete engines. The carmaker use engines originally developed by Daewoo but that have been updated by General Motors since and a bit of research shows that the 150hp 1.5 engine that equips the 530 is also currently used on the Buick Excelle, Chevrolet Sail, Cavalier and Cruze sold in China as well as all the Wuling best-sellers: the Rongguang, Hongguang, Hongguang V, S and S1. Acceleration is slack, the automatic gearbox revs way too much before changing gears but braking is good. The acceleration pedal is too soft and needs full cranking to start reacting, but as frustrating as it is, I have come to realise this is a typical Chinese car characteristic. The 530 is definitely not a vehicle destined to sporty let alone “violent” driving, as mentioned by the Baojun sales reps before… It seems to me the vehicle is too heavy for this engine at 1.435kg, so I’d be curious to see how it performs under the hood of the 510. I made an appointment to test drive a 510 in a week’s time when I return to Yinchuan, so stay tuned…

Baojun 530 in Yinchuan, Ningxia province