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 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.
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).
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.
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 Shows 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.
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.
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.
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.