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If I were to buy a BJ20 (BAIC’s new compact five-seat SUV), I’d probably get one in red or yellow. And even if yellow isn’t available (red is), I’d probably repaint it or have it wrapped in one of those yellow wraps or films.

I really get the styling of the BJ20—especially in yellow. With a contrasting white roof. And with black aftermarket rims. Yup, that custom look will be a knockoff of a Toyota FJ Cruiser or even a Hummer H3—both of which come in iconic yellow.

But it will absolutely turn heads.

Until the BJ20 came out, you may be forgiven for not noticing a BAIC when you’re on the road. BAIC’s M20 subcompact MPV and MZ40 subcompact van have contemporary but basic styling. They’re designed to transport you from point A to point B with minimal fuss and attention.

Then along came the BAIC BJ20. But first, a quick primer: The BAIC Group (Beijing Automotive Industrial Holding Co.) is a state-owned enterprise and holding company for several automobile brands. It was founded 30 years ago and is headquartered in Beijing. Its principal subsidiary is BAIC Motor and Foton Motor (among several other Chinese brands), and has joint ventures for manufacturing of Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz for the Chinese market. It is the fourth largest Chinese automaker by volume with annual production of over two million vehicles. To put that in perspective, they sell five times more cars in one year than all 20-plus car brands in the Philippines combined. 

An absolute stunner. Which brings us back to the BAIC BJ20. This crossover first debuted as a concept car in the 2015 Shanghai Auto Show, and began rolling off Chinese showrooms as a production model a year later. This newest BAIC will still transport you from point to point, but it will now do so with much greater sophistication. And yes, it will do so with much more eyes on you. Much more.

That’s because styling is—obviously—its strong suit. Design may be subjective, but there’s no debating that the BJ20 was styled to turn heads, much like the Kia Soul and Nissan Juke—three automobiles with love-it-or-hate-it styling but nevertheless push the boundaries of design.

Curiously, the new BAIC BJ20 has design elements of two of the aforementioned cars—the big, round, low-mounted headlamps like the Juke’s and the extra-thick D-pillarlike the FJ Cruiser’s. You might also want to add the Jeep’s (or the Hummer’s) trademark grille (albeit with five bars to Jeep’s seven) and the Jeep Cherokee’s hood-level ultra-slim headlamps to the list of design inferences you’ll notice in the BJ20.

Familiar design elements aside, the BJ20 nonetheless achieves a unified look. It has a squarish overall style, marked by straight lines that define the windows, roofline, doors, pillars, and fender openings. Even the character line that adds visual texture to the doors seem to have been drawn with a straight rule. The taillamps sport a circular motif that is very reminiscent on those on the Land Rover Discovery Sport as well as the Range Rover Evoque. Black plastic cladding all around the car round out the many design elements and endow the BJ20 with the de riguer SUV styling cues. 

It’s an overall design that’s bold, edgy, and head-turning. Mission accomplished for BAIC.

Size-wise, the five-seater BJ20 is closest to the Hyundai Tucson. The BJ20 is roughly an inch shorter, an almost negligible four millimeters narrower, and a notable two inches taller. Curiously, they both have identical 2,670mm wheelbases. Of more relevance to our streets strewn by potholes, unexpected road objects, too-large speed humps, and, of course, floods, is the BJ20’s 215mm of ground clearance—the highest in its class.  

The power within. So, what’s underneath the head-turning sheetmetal? There’s a modern Mitsubishi-derived 1.5-liter four-cylinder MIVEC variable valve timing petrol engine turbocharged to the tune of 147hp and 210Nm of torque.

This motor is mated to a CVT, which keeps the engine in its torque-rich powerband and sends power to the front wheels most of the time (the BJ20 has on-demand 4WD). The BJ20’s small turbo motor generates impressive numbers, but it does have to contend with a ton and a half of curb weight, so throttle response isn’t as zippy as what you’d expect in a Honda CR-V or Hyundai Tucson. It gathers speed almost like the way a midsize diesel SUV (like the Toyota Fortuner) does.    

BAIC claims an average of 13.15 kilometers per liter in mixed city and highway driving. In my week with the BJ20, it averaged 7.5 kilometers per liter in mostly city (read: gridlock) driving. 

Suspension is via MacPherson struts up front and multi-links at the rear. The unibody BJ20 has an almost ladder frame-like handling, at least as far as the movement of the suspension and wheels are concerned. This isn’t ideal if you’re the car enthusiast type who wants to know exactly what the car’s suspension is doing; but if you’re on a road trip just chilling with friends or family and would prefer a comfortable and more isolated ride, then the BJ20 is your cup of tea. It certainly rides more comfortably than any of the pickup-based diesel midsize SUVs on the market. That said, there seems to be a small degree of chassis flex with the monocoque chassis, judging from the squeaks of the doors’ rubber weatherstripping rubbing against the door openings. I’d just put silicone grease on the weatherstrips to silence the squeaks.   

There are cheeky Brembo-inspired red-painted calipers for the front and rear disc brakes as well as an electronic parking brake switch normally found in luxury cars. Alloy wheels sport generously sized 225/55R-18 all-terrain rubber.

All the extras. The BJ20 is priced at P1,148,000 for the Standard model and P1,288,000 for the Luxury edition.The prices may first seem high for a relatively new brand—until you check out the BJ20’s standard features.

There’s a six-speaker multimedia audio system with a huge 10.1-inch(!) touchscreen display (only the Tesla’s is bigger) with Bluetooth, USB, and HDMI connectivity. Both variants have a Smart Entry keyless system with push-button engine start/stop. The Luxury edition even adds a compass, altimeter, barometer, and cruise control. As for the seats, the Luxury boasts a six-way power driver’s seat, micro-fiber leather upholstery, and a leather multi-function steering wheel. And speaking of seating, the BJ20’s boxy silhouette makes for generous head- and legroom, even for the rear seats where passengers have true crossed-legs space. Both models have a power sunroof (panoramic for the Luxury), four-way manual adjustable passenger seats, 60:40-split folding rear seats, and tilt-and-telescope steering wheels. My only very minor gripe is that the driver’s window doesn’t have a one-touch function, so you need to keep your finger on the button to lower it completely.    

Safety features for both variants are likewise generous: front airbags, ABS, EBD, ESP, Traction Control, Brake Assist, Hill Hold Control, rear parking sensors, Auto-Hold Parking System, tire pressure monitoring system, auto door locks (with auto-unlock in an accident) and ISOFIX seats. The Luxury variant adds side airbags, reversing camera, and a front parking sensor.    


VERDICT

Priced like a subcompact crossover but sized like a compact SUV and equipped like a luxury sedan, the BAIC BJ20 presents a heck of bargain. It deserves to be on your shortlist—even if you’re not crazy about the styling.


SPECIFICATIONS

Engine:150hp/210Nm Euro 5 turbocharged1.5-liter petrol

Transmission: CVT with Auto Hold and Hill Hold Control

Drive: On-demand four-wheel drive

Suspension (F/R): MacPherson struts/Multilink

Tires: 225/55R-18

Brakes (F/R): Vented disc/disc with ABS, EBD, and Brake Assist

L x W x H (mm): 4,451 x 1,845 x 1,700

Wheelbase (mm): 2,670

Price: P1,288,000

Test: BAIC BJ20
DESIGN9
BUILD QUALITY8.8
DRIVEABILITY9
PERFORMANCE8.8
VALUE FOR MONEY9.3
9Overall Score

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