Written by: Vuyi Mpofu
Firstly, let me address the proverbial elephant in the ‘room’ by acknowledging that yes, at a glance, the B40 PLUS looks quite a lot like the Jeep Wrangler.
Earlier this week I attended the launch of the much anticipated B40 PLUS range; a handsomely rugged, ready-for-adventure SUV from BAIC South Africa. At this point, allow me to address the proverbial elephant in the ‘room’ by acknowledging that yes, at a glance, it closely resembles the Jeep Wrangler. If we were to be honest, many car brands have features and design cues that look suspiciously similar to others; because quite frankly, there is very little which is new under the sun.
Those who might think that the incoming Chinese SUV is a ‘Johnny-come-lately’, are sorely mistaken.
What is of consequence though, is a vehicle’s capabilities, pricing, safety features and fuel consumption. From my short interaction with B40 Plus, I’d say the SUV ticks all the aforementioned boxes, except for fuel efficiency.
This is simply because my introduction to the B40 Plus range focused more on its off-roading capabilities than anything else, but you can be sure that when I get the vehicle on test, I will be watching the fuel gauge with the eyes of a hawk.
Those who might think that the incoming Chinese SUV is a ‘Johnny-come-lately’, are sorely mistaken. The B40 Plus has been around for 60 years in other parts of the world, which is longer than some of you reading this have been alive – myself included! Boasting a heritage of such depth should inspire confidence in the South African market and I for one, have a certain level of assurance that the SUV has evolved aesthetically, technically and most of all safety-wise, over time.
Thankfully, it has a much-needed grab handle to help passengers of my – shall we say – low altitude, get in and out of the cabin with dignity.
Originally designed for the Chinese military, the B40 Plus sports a 5-slot grille – a design cue that pays homage to the Great Wall of China. The diminutive but dominant-looking SUV is moderately peppered with chrome and black accents on its exterior, which contrast quite nicely with its body colour.
Other exterior design features include a vertical windscreen, aggressive wheel arches and bumpers, large exterior side mirrors, front and rear fog lights as well as imposing headlights with Daytime Running Lights (DRLs), all of which come together harmoniously to give the vehicle a commanding on-road presence.
Visual appeal asides, I think the 210mm ground clearance of the B40 Plus adds to its overall prominence. Thankfully, it has a much-needed grab handle to help passengers of my – shall we say – low altitude, get in and out of the cabin with dignity. On behalf of all vertically impaired adults out there – thank you BAIC for this much-needed consideration.
The interior of the B40 Plus was a shock to my system. I half imaged it would be colour-coded as is the norm from any self-respecting manufacturer (and it was), but I was unprepared for the overall beauty of it. The colour-coded dashboard makes quite a statement but sadly, is let down by the use of hard, plasticky materials.
Spacious and comfy, the cabin of the B40 Plus features a 6-speaker audios system, reclining rear seats, Dual Zone air conditioning and a sizeable, floating Multi-Information Display, Reverse Camera and Park Distance Control (PDC)
I have zero appreciation for the placement of the engine on/off button.
Ordinarily, I would simply mention the inclusion of a reverse camera but the functionality within the camera fitted in the B40 Plus deserves a full sentence; and here it is….
Instead of only seeing what is directly behind the SUV, the reverse camera offers various angles for better overall visibility. These include a close-up from the rear bumper, a wide angle and a parking angle, making it nearly impossible for the driver to knock anything over unless they are, truly ‘gifted’.
As much as I marvelled at the liberal use of modern and sleek elements within the cabin, I have zero appreciation for the placement of the engine on/off button. Set between the two central air vents, I think the B40 Plus designers should have positioned it closer to the steering wheel for easier accessibility. It feels too ‘exposed’ and I didn’t enjoy having to stretch for it in the centre of the dashboard. But, those buying the SUV will probably get used to it in no time.
Whereas the engine on/off button felt too far, the window controls presented a different type of problem altogether, by being located too close for comfort. Usually, one would extend their arm to a comfortable length to reach for the controls but in the B40 Plus, I felt as if my arm was longer than the location of the controls and I had to shorten it so as not to ‘over reach’. Once again, it may be something buyers accept fairly quickly but in my opinion, it could have been more ergonomically positioned.
The B40 Plus takes sticks to the dirt like a flea on a dog.
Safety and Security
The B40 PLUS comes standard with a host of active and passive safety features such as Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) and Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and Electronic Parking Brake (EPB).
Some models also feature Electronic Stability Programme (ESP), Emergency Brake Assist (EBA), Traction Control System (TCS), Hill Ascent Control (HAC) and Hill Descent Control (HAC).
I risk sounding like a horrible low-budget commercial but, anyone looking for a rough and tumble go anywhere type of SUV, look no further. The B40 Plus takes to off-road like a duck to water and sticks to the dirt like a flea to a dog.
Fitted with a double-wishbone/coil spring independent suspension up front and a 5-link/coil spring non-independent suspension to the rear, I didn’t feel the slightest bit of discomfort when taking the SUV over rough topography.
The B40 Plus range is a breath of fresh air to the South African market offering buyers a fun, adventure option.
Featuring a selectable 4WD system with a mechanical central transfer case and rear differential lock, I was able to control engine power on steep hill climbs, sharp descents, rocks, mud, and decidedly twisty off-road paths dotted with dips and mounds of dirt.
The elaborate 4×4 course used at the launch, is perfectly designed to look harmless upon entry but I soon found myself driving on 3 wheels, then 2, before all 4 tyres touched the ground. The B40 Plus absorbed all the shock of each ‘touch-down without destabilizing my joints.
Although we had the opportunity to take the SUV on-road, the drive was too short for me to experience and share any real convictions I might have. When I do get the B40 Plus on test though, this will be one of my focal points. That, and fuel its consumption of course.
Engines, Model Line-up and Colours
The B40 PLUS is available in 2.0 litre Petrol Turbo or 2.0 litre Turbo Diesel. The petrol engine produces 160kW @ 5500 r/min while the diesel offers 110kW @ 4000 r/min.
Available in seven colours – Ice White, Onyx Black, Desert Red, Military Green, Forest Green, Sky Blue and Ocean Blue – the B40 Plus range consists of the following derivatives:
- B40 PLUS Diesel
- B40 PLUS Petrol
- B40 PLUS City Hunter Diesel
- B40 PLUS City Hunter Petrol
- B40 PLUS Champion Petrol
The B40 PLUS is priced quite competitively, offering generous features in all models in the line-up. The range starts from R549,500 and goes up to R629,500 for the top-of-the-range offering.
All B40 PLUS models are sold with a 5-year/120,000km warranty. Competitive service plan options are available. Service intervals are 15,000km/12 months for both the Petrol and Diesel models.
To be honest I half fell in love with the B40 Plus range. It is a breath of fresh air to the South African market and offers buyers a much-needed affordable, fun, adventure option.
I say half fell in love because the launch event was my first date with the Chinese SUV and perhaps I only got to see its good side. As such, I’ll reserve my heart until I have experienced the B40 Plus for a full test experience at which point, I will be looking to see it can be considered as a true contender for real estate in one’s garage.