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China Test Drives 2019: The Baojun RS-5 autonomous driving

The Baojun RS-5 in Tongliao, Inner Mongolia.

Last year we test drove the extremely successful Baojun 510 and 530, and in 2019 SAIC-GM’s low-cost brand has taken a complete u-turn with a semi-premium stand at the Shanghai Auto Show in April in opposite trajectory with its heritage and DNA. The truth is Baojun has always been two steps ahead in terms of model launches, and with the all-new RS-5 it is pre-empting the progressive sophistication of Chinese customers’ tastes. So far, the success has been mitigated with only one strong month since launch (5.102 wholesales in April) and not much else to report… But what is it like to drive?

“Interesting” colour scheme but quality materials inside the RS-5.

From the onset, the RS-5 is a vastly different experience than the previous Baojun models I tested. The door clomp is actually excellent, it feels heavy and compact and you can hardly hear the noise of the door. We are at Volkswagen Europe levels. A reference. Then, the materials inside the cockpit are a giant leap above previous Baojun vehicles even though these already didn’t pale in comparison with much more expensive fares. But we are next level here, even if the tri-tone colour scheme (burgundy, eggshell and dark grey) might baffle Westerners.

Take the wheel and this is where an avalanche of technology I previously thought reserved to the premium Germans hits you. Triggered by your very own “Ni hao Baojun!” (Hello Baojun), the car’s Artificial Intelligence responds to your every command, from determining our itinerary for the test drive to platting a specific song or adjusting the air con temperature and level.

Line assist command behind the steering wheel.

But the most impressive features of the RS-5 and the ones the Baojun salesperson made sure to show me in every detail concern the safety and autonomy of the car. The real focus and the real surprise is how autonomous the RS-5 already is, directly landing at similar levels to the latest Volvos I drove (XC90, V90 and XC40). The combination of a radical adaptive cruise control available from and to 0 km/h and a precise line assist system very easily switched on behind the steering wheel means the car can actually drive itself in the busy streets of Tongliao. The only human input needed is to start at a green light when a slight nudge on the accelerator is enough for the car to resume its impeccable work.

Baojun RS-5 digital aids.

“No hands!” proudly gestured the Baojun salesperson, and I can only imagine how exciting this must be for him, the equivalent of swapping Dacias for Volvos in the showroom. I needed to try the RS-5 out to verify it, but Baojun’s premium ambitions are definitely not hollow and followed through with highly advanced autonomous features. Impressive, but the features don’t stop there. Rearview directional camera, GPS map duplicated on the driver’s digital screen and constant tyre pressure and temperature indicators: almost every electronic aid you thought was reserved to cars triple the RS-5 price is here.

Baojun RS-5 in Tongliao, Inner Mongolia.

Interestingly, the Baojun’s salesperson focus for the test drive was solely on autonomy and not at all on the dynamic abilities of the car, something the brand should nevertheless also be proud of: for example, there was absolutely no lag when accelerating which is something most Chinese cars can’t say. Baojun is hungry and has changed universes completely, but is it too much of a leap for the brand and will the Chinese buyer follow? We should have a pretty good answer to this question by the time 2019 comes to an end.

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