2019 BAIC M50 S Ultra Luxury 7-seater

P700,000 can’t get you much car these days. The few vehicles you can buy with it are typically small, compact, with the possibility of fitting a regular Pinoy family (e.g. 5-7 people) close to impossible.

Except for one vehicle, this BAIC M50 S. Mind you, this is the top-of-the-line version, so if you’re willing to forego some luxuries, you can save even more. Granted, this vehicle is from BAIC, and while Chinese brands typically don’t have the best of reputations, this car could very well change that opinion.

It may not be the best-designed, but it doesn’t try to copy any competitor, or stand out just for the sake of it. The facade starts out rather round and modern, and somehow ends up becoming boxy in the rear. There’s generous use of black plastic rocker panels, which some may find tacky, yet considering the sad and dirty state of our roads, might actually might be a good idea. Behind it is the very tall liftgate, which I think may have been better as a regular door.

Nonetheless, there’s a method to this odd design. We’ve seen some peculiar competitors in the MPV segment before, and to be quite honest, it’s these outliers that often come up with unique solutions to the usual problems.

Take a gander at the competition, in the form of the Suzuki Ertiga, Honda Mobilio, Toyota Avanza, and Mitsubishi Xpander, and you’ll notice they’re all a little lower and sleeker. This makes the rear bench tight, uncomfortable and hard to get to. The M50 S on the other hand seems to have put seating 7 comfortably a priority from the start, which is why its low stance but high headroom, and this variant’s 2+2+3 seating is quite rare in the segment. Yes, you can get a Toyota Innova V with captain chairs, but it will cost you significantly more.

For a car priced far under a million, it certainly doesn’t feel like it. The interior features a two-tone design, some piano gloss accents, and even terra cotta leather seats (even in the third row). It even comes with power windows and speed-sensing door locks. There are also three-point seatbelts for all occupants. Our unit also had lovely form-fitting carpets, which are typically an expensive add-on elsewhere.

Ahead of the driver is a large wheel with steering-mounted controls. There’s little in the way of adjustment (no tilt or telescopic), but thankfully some seat adjustment compensates for it. That huge windshield also grants a very good view of the road ahead, no matter how high or low you are seated.

A massive touch-screen entertainment system dominates the center console. It links well with external devices and even has a phone-link feature. Aircon controls are hard to miss with large dials just below it.

Twisting the key brings a 1.5-liter petrol engine to life. On paper, it says it produces 114 PS, but doesn’t feel like it most times. Nonetheless, there’s more than enough torque to roll along with a full load in the city.

We’ve even packed it with a full load of passengers, all of whom were quite comfortable. While the ride may seem comfortable and quiet in front, the passengers at the back complained of some squeaks.

We also took the chance to drive it up to Tanay, Rizal for a leisurely lunch. We found ourselves staying on the lower gears as much of the usable torque seemed to be at around the 4,000 rpm mark.

Nonetheless, what that drive did reveal is how remarkably well the M50 S handles. Despite what its appearance may suggest, this car takes on turns quite well. Its rear-wheel drive layout makes tight turns and sweepers enjoyable. It may have a high roof, but body roll was kept well in check. Pair that with the very light and quick ratio steering and it can make for a surprisingly spirited drive.

As for safety, it’s just the basics for the M50 S, with ABS and EBD equipped. A driver and passenger airbag sum up the safety equipment.

Our only complaint is the rather ambiguous feel of the brake pedal, making it difficult to tell when the brakes are actually biting. There is no built-in fuel economy readout, but by our estimate, the M50 S managed an admirable 8 km/L in mixed city and highway driving.

In all honesty, we weren’t expecting such an enjoyable drive from a left field choice like the BAIC M50 S. Indeed, there are still some concerns, but they’re fairly minor compared to the bigger problems we used to encounter with early Chinese cars from other brands.

What’s really hard to ignore is the price, which is significantly lower than even the entry level variants of its competitors. And save for an automatic transmission, the M50 S manages to offer comparable, if not better amenities than the top-of-the-line trim levels.

Like its stablemate, the BJ20, if you can look past the M50 S’s badge, it’s a deal that’s very hard to ignore. (www.autoindustriya.com)