It’s not often that one sees a car brand resurrected after nearly sixty years of inactivity! The company that carries Karl Friedrich Wilhelm Borgward’s name was created in 1919, and is most famous for the Isabella model, of which there are several surviving examples in Sri Lanka. Our editor tells me that Borgward Isabellas were as common as Peugeot 403’s and Mercedes Benz Pontons during the 60’s and 70’s. Produced between 1954 and 1962 (by which time Borgward went into bankruptcy), this car captured the hearts of many across the globe.
If you were to hazard a guess as to the company’s resurrection, “Chinese Bought It” would probably come to mind and is broadly true. However, it’s a little more complex than a simple buy-out. The brand is owned by Borgward Group, a new company whose Chairman is a gentleman by the name of Christian Borgward - the grandson of Carl F.W! With assistance from Foton (a subsidiary of the Beijing Automotive Industry Corporation – known as BAIC), the brand rose from the ashes and presented their first vehicle to the public in 2015. Design and engineering are done in Stuttgart; manufacturing in Beijing.
Today’s test car is the BX5, which entered the Chinese market in 2017 and has now reached Sri Lankan shores courtesy of Borgward Sri Lanka, a subsidiary of Senok. Globally, it’s available in 1.4L, 1.8L and 2.0L guises (all with turbo engines). You can thank our tax structure for the reason why only the 1.4L is offered here. Let’s dive in!
It seems like the designers at Borgward decided to go along the route of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ and draw inspiration from existing vehicles. Looking at it from the side, it looks like a mix of Audi, Porsche and a bit of MG thrown into the mix as well. Move to the front and the Audi design cues are further visible. However, the grille design is very distinctive and together with the Borgward badge on the front, give it a unique look that prompted photographer Chamila (who has actually photographed over a hundred vehicles for us) to be impressed with the play of light and shadow.
Move to the rear and…is this a Porsche Macan that someone’s badged wrong? I sent photos of the BX5 to my mum after the test and she said it looked like a Porsche from this angle as well! From the angles, to the lighting cluster shapes and the way the B O R G W A R D letters are arranged, its all very Macan! Once again, no bad thing to get Porsche-esque design for a fraction of the price! Overall, the BX5 is a stylish looking thing that will stand out from the sea of SUVs and small crossovers.
Mech & Tech
The BX5 comes with a range of four-cylinder engines starting at 1.4L and topping out at 2.0L. All are assisted with turbos and you can spec a 6-speed manual in base 1.4L versions but all others get a 6-speed Aisin autobox and optional AWD on 1.8L and 2.0L variants. While a 6-speeder may seem a little laggardly in the era of nine and ten speeders, this Aisin box is a proven design that has seen its gremlins ironed out long time ago. Our test car is a 1.4L which means a 1,395cc GDI turbo engine coupled via the Aisin box to the front wheels. It puts out a respectable 148bhp at 5,500rpm and 250Nm of twist between 1,750 and 4,000rpm. The suspension set up is Macpherson at the front with multi-link at the rear, braking is by discs all round (ventilated at the front), and steering through an electric rack.
Step in to a high-set driving position and great visibility. The 6-way electrically adjustable driver seat with power lumbar will help you get comfy and low down if you desire. All the major controls fall to hand, and remember that being a “Euro”, indicators on left stalk, wipers on right one. Select D, release the electric parking brake and away you go. The Aisin box is quite intelligent, selecting gears intuitively, sticking with its selections and downshifting when you desire it to. It doesn’t jerk or second-guess itself. If you want to self-shift, just move the shifter to the left and you can do so. I would have liked to see paddles at this price point, but when I tried manual shifting there was a distinctive lag between commanding a shift and the box obeying, so just leave it in D and let it manage the gears. You can stick it into S for a more responsive drive but frankly I didn’t see a big difference; the box is capable and responsive enough in D. Thumb the ECO button and the box shifts up earlier and throttle response gets dulled down, however extend your foot and activate the kickdown button and away she goes! ECO is ideal for when you just want to cruise around at a moderate speed or manage your speed carefully due to carrying fragile objects or fussy passengers.
The engine packs a punch for its size – flatten the floor-hinged throttle pedal and you feel a kick in the small of your back as you accelerate away from zero, with some tyre squeal and scrabbling if you’ve got some steering lock on, or the surface is loose; and you can feel some mild tugs from the steering. Under full throttle, it revs to 5,500rpm before shifting up and I easily reached triple figures. We couldn’t put a clock to it, but I’d hazard a guess and say it’s in the ten-second range, confirmed by a UAE-based automotive website timing it at 10.5s. Cruise control ensures that once you get there on the expressway, you can keep it tight and not get a ticket. It’s all too easy to let speed slowly creep up unless you are in ECO or being vigilant.
The ride is comfortable and the damping of sharp bumps and edges is admirable for this segment. I tried to catch as many potholes, manholes, bumps and dips as possible and it coped well. The trade-off with this pliancy is a bit of floatiness and body roll when the road gets curvy and the driver gets enthusiastic. Braking is sure-footed with the four discs bringing it to a dead stop from speed with no undue drama and progressive pedal feel. All in, it’s well suited for its target audience.
Living with the BX5
The interior also draws upon cues from many other manufacturers (you can see some BMW in there too) but melds them together in a presentable manner that makes it genuinely comfortable to be in. You see some accents of brushed metal, piano black and chrome that minimize any large surfaces of black plastic and they don’t clash with each other either (although the piano black does attract fingerprints as it does in any car) The only weird aspect for me is the A-pillar tweeters; while they hark back to designs from classic Borgwards, the perceived quality just isn’t up there with the rest of the interior. These are part of the 6-speaker sound system that is connected to the infotainment system. There’s also an 8-speaker Hi-Fi system as an option. The system can be controlled with a dial and knobs in the centre console, or the 8-inch floating touchscreen. Either method of control is intuitive and simple to use. You get Radio, Bluetooth, AUX, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity as well, and two USB charging ports live in the centre console box alongside something we haven’t seen in aeons – a cigarette lighter! The sound quality from the system is perfectly fine in the mids and highs but there could be more bass punch. You also get voice recognition.
The cabin is cooled by a single-zone climate control system that indicates temperature on a sliding scale rather than in degrees. An automatic dual-zone system is offered on higher specced variants and would be a nice option to have. The system kept the cabin impressively chilled even when we opened the blind on the full-length panoramic sunroof. The front portion of the glass can be opened as well.
The BX5 offers enough space in the rear and I was able to easily fit behind my own driving position. Since the roofline doesn’t slope down sharply, taller people will be happy too. You get a charging port in the centre console box and some nooks and crannies for storing things (including two cup-holders in the armrest), but no rear AC vents.
The boot offers 500L of space which is very impressive, given that beneath the floor lies a spare wheel! The rear seats are split folding as well, offering more space when the need strikes. Other features include a tyre pressure monitoring system, reverse camera and reverse rear parking assist.
The BX5 offers a comprehensive safety suite including six airbags, vehicle stability control (VSC/ESP), ABS with EBD, anti-glare rear view mirror, immobiliser, vehicle auto locking once on the move (which many vehicles still lack to this day) and three-point seatbelts for all passengers. It’s got a five-star rating in C-NCAP (China’s assessment programme) and A-NCAP (ASEAN assessment programme). It’s not gone through EuroNCAP or ANCAP yet.
Fuel Econ & Price
The BX5’s engine should offer around 6.5km/l in city traffic, and easily crack 12km/l outstation or on the expressway. This is a 1.4L turbo engine lugging around a 1,550kg body after all, so you can’t expect hybrid-like, fuel-sipper figures.
Price is the elephant in the room, and it’s an elephant that just tops the 10 million mark. This is to be expected given the duty component applied to the 1.4L engine and it undercuts rivals with similar engine capacities and value propositions. However, for the younger segment this is effectively a new brand, as most would not have been born when the classic Borgwards rolled off the lines.
For me, Borgward meant Isabella - which was yet another classic car, something of interest and carrying an intrinsic value of being part of the classic car history in Sri Lanka. I’d rarely seen an Isabella on our roads given their rarity – only at motor shows. I remember reading about the brand’s resurrection in 2008 or so and was intrigued to give it a try but it seemed unlikely it would make it to Sri Lanka… until now; and here it is!
It’s a compelling proposition and certainly worth a look for those who are seeking something different, as well as those who dare to diverge from the mainstream. Senok have already sold several cars (despite Covid 19 pulling the handbrake on the brand’s launch plans), so it seems like there are those who have made the leap.
148bhp @ 5,500rpm
250Nm @ 1,750-4,000rpm
Aisin 6-speed auto
Tiptronic on gearlever
Front Macpherson Strut
Front Ventilated Disc
Wheels & Tyres
225/65R17 all round
0-100km/h in 10.5s
Top speed 185km/h
Kerb weight 1,550kg
Fuel Tank 60L
Boot Volume 500L