Budget Buy – Baojun 610

Back at the 2011 Shanghai Auto Show, the big story was how the joint ventures were creating China-only brands. Many, such as Nissan’s Venucia showed bold concepts, but General Motor’s Baojun went a step further and displayed an actual production car. The Baojun 630 saloon turned out to be the only new brand with a purpose built car – the others just rebadged old models. Such cars were meant to steal sales away from Chinese brands in lower tier cities by way of recycling proven older tech.

Three years on, Baojun is the most successful of the China-only brands. GM, whose technology underpins the cars, has expanded the range to include the recently launched 610 and 730.

We drove the top of the range 610 Luxury that is essentially a hatchback version of the original 630. Externally, it is a smart looking, well put together car.

Obviously, given the budget price, the interior uses cheaper harder plastics. However, money has been spent wisely on technology where it counts. Our top of the range Luxury model came fitted with the optional RMB 4000 touch screen infotainment system. More impressive are the instruments; not only do they have blue backlighting, but they also show the average fuel economy and estimated range on the remaining fuel plus the tyre pressure – these are all features that are often missing on far more expensive vehicles. Furthermore, the air conditioning allows you to set a target temperature.

In the rear, both, headroom and legroom are adequate but it is not particularly spacious. While there are ISOFIX points for child seats, the middle passenger unfortunately only gets a lap restraint. This is all the more disappointing as in the 630 there is a full seat belt. There is a reasonable amount of space in the boot and, of course, this can be increased by folding down the seats.

Currently, the car is only available with a 1.5 litre engine and a choice of five-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. It is possible that the 610 may later get the 1.8 litre, which is available in its 630 sibling.

On a mixture of city roads and gaojia, the engine, with automatic gearbox, seems more than adequate with quite a sprightly performance. This is surprising as on paper the figures tell a different story with a sluggish 0km – 100km/h of 13.1 seconds. The six-speed automatic provides quick changes and can be used in a manual mode. However, it is not a dual clutch type system, and this leads to a large drop in fuel economy over the five-speed manual.

Fuel economy is one area in which the Baojun scores very badly. Our model’s trip computer showed a historic average of 11.5l/100km – well above the advertised level of 7.0. Obviously, this is dependent on various factors such as driving style, traffic and speed, but nonetheless is a terrible figure for such a small car.

Steering is overly light and gives a vague feel when driving, but the car does benefit from good all-round visibility. While the ride is relatively soft, the car is not good at soaking up bumps on the road and our test model seemed to rattle. Road holding, while far from class leading, is more than adequate, especially when you consider the price.

With prices ranging from RMB 65800 to RMB 85800, it is an extremely good buy. Yes, it has shortcomings, but the build quality is far better than many of the Chinese brand competitors, and it is quite fun to drive. However, factor in the high fuel consumption and you might have been better off stumping up for a more frugal car.