The world's cheapest SUV? Meet China's new $15,995 crossover
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The Chinese motoring industry is slowly but surely gaining a foothold in New Zealand. MG (owned by SAIC) has just returned to our market, alongside the likes of sister firms Haval and Great Wall. Their luxury arm, named Wey, unveiled in April that they would be joining the party here, too.
While that might sound like quite a generous smorgasbord of Chinese manufacturers, it's worth noting that there are dozens upon dozens of other brands and sub-brands over in the mainland, making cars that could easily join the Kiwi market in the coming years. And among them is this newly unveiled compact SUV.
It's called the Baojun RS-3 (no relation to the Audi RS3, of course), and on the surface there's not a lot that's terribly remarkable about it.
Its design is reasonably slick inside and out. The deconstructed taillights are a neat touch, and the slimline headlights and monstrous grilles ensure that the RS-3 follows all of the contemporary trends in SUV design.
Equipment levels appear to be solid, with adaptive cruise control and a large touchscreen among its biggest cabin scalps. The sculpted front buckets — framed in neon orange piping — look nice and supportive, too. Much like the outside, the interior is also new-age trend city; sporting a flat-bottom steering wheel, an electronic hand brake, rocker switches, and acres of piano black.
But although it appears conventional to a T, the Baujun RS-3 has one big ace up its sleeve; its price. When it hits the Chinese market, this SUV will start at RMB71,800 — or $15,995. The range tops out at RMB89,800, or $20,000 according to current currency conversions.
In fairness, there are cheaper SUVs out there (particularly in the Chinese market). But few can boast to be as 'complete' on paper and in images in terms of features and design. Few elements truly give away the RS-3's cheap price, with the tiny knobbly tyres and exposed exhaust pipe among the few real clues.
The engine is probably another element indicative of its price. The RS-3 comes with a naturally aspirated 1.5-litre petrol engine paired with either a CVT or 6-speed manual. Nail it to the floor, and you'll feel a peak power figure of just 76kW.
Still, these low-cost Chinese-market vehicles are a curiosity. It's worth noting that Baojun is tied up with none other than General Motors. The American giant is represented in China with Chevrolet, Buick, and Cadillac as well as Chinese brands Baujun and Wuling. They might not be household names here, but between them Baujun and Wuling sell almost two million vehicles a year in China.
For years the motoring industry has been saying that it's just a matter of time before Chinese products change the game. Yes, in most western markets (ours included) they remain reasonably niche. But, at the rate in which the vehicles themselves are improving, that surely won't last for long.