When the invitation came through about this invite, what stuck out in my mind was the fact that it was happening at an adventure and outdoor centre. I thought that was interesting. But then, on the picture, much as I saw a 4×4, my mind could not just process quickly enough what was in front of me. It was not a Jeep, clearly, it was not something I recognised o the top of my head.

The car in the picture did look interesting enough to capture my attention, but what was it? Who is this BAIC? Where have they been all along?

I accepted the invite and made sure I was on time on launch day. I even secured myself a front seat; I had to make sure I made sense of all this. As the various speakers said their share, and the dust had settled somewhat, Mr. Hu came to the podium for his contribution. The more he spoke, the more questions brew in my little confused head. “What is this?”, I found myself thinking out loud more times than I care to remember.

He also then went on about some decades of 4×4 heritage in China, so popular it was used in presidential public drives. But still, what is it? So, I was keener than ever before to experience the B40 Plus on the off-road track.

Styling (exterior and interior)

Just like I alluded earlier, when I first laid my eyes on the BAIC B40 Plus, I almost saw a Jeep. It is not. From the front end, on either side of the silver 5-slotted grille, which represent the holes in the Great Wall of China, are a pair of halogen headlight clusters. Packed neatly below the silver grille is a cute front bumper that houses a pair of fog lights on its flanks, and below which two bold red hooks protrude, these peep through some chrome detailed slots. The front overhang itself is short, and exposes the front wheel more than some 4x4s I have seen. That on its own making me more interested in the off-road capabilities of this little package in front of my eyes.

On the sides the wheel arches are huge and stick out fairly far from the body of the off-road “medication pack” I am about to jump in. The arches are home to some all-terrain 17-inch alloy wheels, which are the same throughout the entire B40 range. The lines flow harmoniously to the rear arches and end at the rear LED taillight clusters on either side. On either side of the body of the B40 Plus, below the doors, a set of brushed aluminium sidesteps are functional and yet, somehow neatly out of the way. The rear door opens to the right and the spare wheel found a home on it. A similar theme to the front complements the rear end.

Looking at the BAIC B40 Plus from the side, in a short distance I noticed very few components, if any, hanging below and compromising the 210 mm ground clearance. Interestingly, parts of the roof can be taken off, either the driver or front passenger sections on their own, or the entire rear section. And, this can be done with ease and does not vibrate when driving either on the road or when off-roading.      

Steeping inside the cabin is easy enough and the layout of the cabin itself takes a few short moments getting accustomed to. For starters, in the centre between the two round air-vents, is the engine “Start/stop” button, where naturally most brands would place the emergency flashing hazard switch. Then around the Start/stop switch is the “2H, 4H and 4L” rotary selector switch.  

The following body colours are on offer: ice white, onyx black, desert red, forest green, military green, ocean blue and sky blue. And colour themes also carry on inside the cabin on parts of the dashboard, seats and stitched door panels. A floating crystal clear wide and interactive HD touchscreen lets you command almost anything from the cockpit, even the air-conditioner. It does not take much effort being used to the cabin, nor did I ever feel uncomfortable either in the front or rear seats. Throughout the entire B40 Plus range the following vehicle dimensions are similar: length – 4 645mm, width – 1 925mm, height – 1 871 and a wheelbase of 2 745mm.

Performance (on and off-road)

The BAIC is available in both diesel and petrol, with either fuel option mated to either a 6-speed manual or automatic gearbox. The 1 999 cubic centimetres (2.0-litre) diesel derivative generates a peak power output of 110kW at 4 000rpm and the 350Nm of torque is usable between 1 800 and 2 800rpm. Meanwhile the 1 981cc petrol option offers 160kW at 5 500rpm and 320Nm of torque between 1 750 and 4 500rpm. The turbo lag is more noticeable on the petrol manual option, but I once I knew how to command it, I had no issues whatsoever. The front suspension is a double wishbone/coil independent, while the rear is a non-independent five-link/coil spring.

On the road the power and torque combinations are more than adequate for what it is intended for, though I felt the gears to be slightly sticky. Off-road, the BAIC B40 Plus is just at home making steep inclines/declines, side slopes, rocky and slate patches, muddy water crossings a walk in the park. At no point did I ever doubt its capabilities, and this is where the many decades of 4×4 heritage came to play. There is no mechanical diff-lock but the use of an electronic braking system whenever one of the rear wheels is mid-air, and without traction, will get you one of any sticky situations in no time.

All models in the range are 4WD and with 37-degrees and 31-degrees as approach and departure angles, respectfully. A decent break-over angle of 23-degrees is adequate and conforms to industry norms.

Final thoughts

South Africans car buyers are a peculiar bunch. You can produce the worst car, but as long as it looks good, it will sell like “kotas” in the township. Luckily, the BAIC B40 Plus not only looks good, butch and willing to eat mud and dust all day and every day, it performs well too. I liked it. And so, the many unanswered questions I had prior to the launch were laid at rest. And as I drove home from the venue, could not stop thinking how this newcomer is going to upset the mid-range SUV market. With an entry price tag of R549 500, it sure will ruffle a few arrogant feathers. I like that.

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