In May 2017, Motor’s Ashraaq Wahab tested the BAIC D20 sedan, and was pleasantly surprised what a good car the D20 was.
Benefits from the BAIC group’s acquisitions of technology and use of world-class suppliers were applied to the D20 sedan, which was a revelation; a testament to the commitment to continuous improvement that Chinese automotive manufacturers are focused on. The BAIC D20 hatch builds on the same, firm foundation that the sedan was established on, and offers a wide range of options that buyers and passengers will be very impressed by. More than the frills, as I found out first hand, BAIC have made great strides in vehicle dynamics with the D20 as well.
The D20 has the bold BAIC grille, which is very reminiscent of a European manufacturer. This hints at where BAIC’s focus lies with benchmarks. The car is very much like the sedan, besides the missing boot obviously, but the prominent character line running along the side of the car, is a sharp expression of design. The rear design blends well with the rest of the car. There is a strong sense of deja-vu with the design though, and probably not an accident, seeing that BAIC build Mercedes-Benz in China, and have in fact, as also mentioned in Ashraaq’s review, used a front-wheel drive, Daimler derived chassis inspired by the Smart ForFour. Squint, and a B-class will appear. Not a bad thing at all!
Equally impressive were the sharp headlights which come standard with daytime running lights, an option on some European cars as well! The BAIC D20 hatch was we tested was the 1.5 litre Automatic, and was the range topper, the only model on offer In Sri Lanka for the moment, but it was fully equipped, and on first impression it really showed, with the 14 inch alloys (15s would look nicer though) and body coloured door handles and other trim. Overall the BAIC D20 has been well equipped, trim-wise, designed rather boldly, & it must be mentioned, very well made. The shut-lines and the finish of the paint, has to be appreciated, and by far probably the best finish I’ve seen on a Chinese car.
MECHANICALS & TECHNOLOGY
The BAIC D20 isn’t just a pretty face. The front-wheel drive chassis was developed with inspiration from the Smart ForFour chassis. The 4 speed automatic gearbox is from Aisin, a renowned Japanese manufacturer of transmission, used in marques like Toyota, Nissan & also a few Porsches. The engine is BAIC’s own A151, the same unit found in the sedan, pushing out a 114HP with a 148Nm of torque, good numbers for a car in this class, and maybe even a class above. All this power is controlled through ventilated discs up-front, and drums round up the rear. The D20 comes with a McPherson independent set-up in front and a H Type torsion beam at the rear. All pretty standard in this class. The wheels sport 185/65R14 tires and rims.
Nothing prepared me for the way the BAIC D20 drove though. As we set off, the engine was a little rough on 1st gear, but as we moved-up through the ‘box it became a lot smoother. There is also a ‘Sport’ button, which could be placed in a more visible location on the center console, as from the driver’s perspective it lies hidden from view behind the gear lever. A carryover from the left-hand-drive variant in the Chinese market, maybe. With this mode engaged, the car stays in gear using as many of the 114 horses on offer to make a faster dash through traffic. Kick-down also happens without drama should you need that extra bit of oomph to get you through gaps in traffic, so you probably won’t see the need to constantly reach for the sport-button.
The key revelation however, was the combination of sharp steering, and a well-tuned chassis that took our test drive into levels of fun we didn’t expect. The D20’s positive handling inspired confidence around corners and ensured stability at speed as well.
Driving along in traffic was easy and the hatch’s dimensions proved excellent for nipping through gaps and perfect for parallel parking, even without a reverse camera on this model. The C-pillar is not as obtrusive to rear visibility as in some hatch-backs, and rear visibility is pretty decent.
LIVING WITH IT
Inside the BAIC D20, the first thing you should notice is the car’s party piece sunroof. Amazing! For a car in this price range, to offer a sun-roof is brilliant value! If, like me, you want a sunroof in your life, this really brings that ‘something-extra’ to just how great a car feels to drive.
The dashboard is very reminiscent of late 2010s Korean cars, which isn’t a bad thing, although if BAIC are looking for areas to improve for the next iteration, this would be the place to start. For the moment though, there is plenty of equipment around the cabin, including a generous helping of buttons courtesy of the audio system. The display is functional and clear, but the purple/light beige colour combo is a tad 90s. This wasn’t an issue on the sedan, as it was equipped with a much more sophisticated system inclusive of a rear camera. However this should be easily swapped on request as the car is assembled by Micro here in Sri Lanka. The buttons are well dampened and feel quite positive to touch. There is also very good use of chrome around a few buttons and the speaker surrounds; acceptable used which displays excellent restraint.
The steering is contoured and is comfortable to use, with a very conservative use of buttons that control the volume and the central display. The gauges are quite similar to Korean cars from the 2010s (again no accident as BAIC assembles them for the Chinese market) and are clear to read and use. There is a trip computer which displays vital information such as trip, fuel economy and also which mode (if Sport or Snow) you are in along with the current gear selected. Standard information, but vital and no dramas in displaying it for the driver.
The gear is quite sporty, but again, could do with cleaner spring action on the gear lever release button in the next iteration. The piano black surround with a chrome accent is a nice touch. There is a decent amount of storage around the cabin, with door bins large enough for a big water bottle, two cup-holders in the center console, and an in-dash slit for your phone and sunglasses.
The seats are made in Sri Lanka, are were quite comfortable, although could use a bit more finesse in terms of stitching and finishing. Nevertheless cabin space was very generous, and as seen in the pictures, I had no problems at all. Taller people like our resident giant Ryan Jansz also could fit in without too much of a squeeze as well.
The boot is designed to accommodate quite a number of bags and if you do require more space the seats fold flat, albeit with a lip which may need larger, longer items to be eased in to the cabin, but overall is very spacious, and will make airport runs a piece of cake. There are useful compartments in the rear for handy tools or first aid kits as well. The rear parcel shelf is removable, but also sturdy enough to hold a few items as well, like an umbrella or a hat.
The rear boot-lid is very easy to open and close, but might be a bit too eager to open, owning to the gas-struts used. Caution should be advised as it comes up rather swiftly, and maybe Micro can look at adjusting the tension on the struts used.
The D20 has a spacious, well-appointed cabin and while quite superior to the class it is in, could be sharpened up in terms of fit and finish to complement the well made exterior on offer. In terms of cabin space, equipment and practicality, BAIC have a winner on their hands. Especially when it comes to that lovely sunroof, which automatically brightens up the cabin, and presents a sensational experience that no other car in this segment, and maybe even immediately above, provides. All these features give the BAIC a good, premium feel, which translates into excellent value for money as far as specifications are concerned.
The D20 comes with dual airbags, three point seat belts for all seats, ABS + EBD for the brakes, seat belt warnings, engine immobilizer and a host of other goodies to ensure that the car’s occupants are kept safe. Automatic fuel-cut off, anti-theft system, two isofix mountings for child seats, crash bars in all four doors and a retractable steering column which collapses in the event of a collision. The structure is high-tensile steel (it feels very solidly built) and the car comes with auto-locking when the car starts moving, which is a feature we don’t see enough of in the majority of Japanese family cars. Vital when carrying a host of nick-knacks and of course, children.
FUEL ECONOMY & PRICE
The BAIC D20, as seen here is prices at LKR 3.45 Million and fuel economy is rated around 10-11 km/l, with a 45 litre tank this should mean a range of around 450km. Keep in mind this is not a hybrid, but a regular 1.5 litre unit. Out of Colombo and on the highway this should return around 15 km/l. The D20 is probably the new cheapest brand new car with a sunroof, ousting it’s bigger sedan brother, but offers far more for the money than just that. The car is assembled by Micro locally at their Polgahawela plant, which keeps costs low.
BAIC have truly put in a lot of effort to develop a car that is a step ahead of the previous generation of Chinese manufacturing. The D20 really deserves a look, as it is a genuine attempt at making a world class car. Though Micro’s local manufacturing which is something we can be proud of as Sri Lankans, pride need not be the sole factor to consider this car. For the first time in a long time, here is a product of Chinese origin and Sri Lankan finishing, well-equipped, sporty & thoughtfully designed, which can stand on par with other offerings from more mature manufacturers in this segment, and taken them on, successfully, on many fronts.
1.5 Litre 4-cylinder. 114bhp. 148Nm
AISIN 4-speed automatic
Sport and Snow modes
Suspension – MacPherson
Brakes – Ventilated Disc
Wheels – 185/60R14
Suspension – Torsion Beam
Brakes – Drum
Wheels – 185/60R14
Length – 4,040mm
Width – 1,720mm
Height – 1,503mm
Kerb Weight – 1,100kg
Fuel Tank – 45L