Set to launch next month and priced to move in the hotly contested compact MPV segment, the new BAIC M20 goes on an in-house, pre-launch test-drive to rustic Sagada through historic Kennon Road and Halsema Highway.
Introduced by BAIC Philippines last year in time for the 2015 awards testing season, the M20 MPV is now set to launch in March at prices from P548K to P578K. At price points significantly below those of the competition, and with class-busting dimensions that give it the largest seating capacity in the category, the M20 is likely to shake up the hotly contested compact MPV segment.
Last December, with the one evaluation unit they had shipped in for rounds on the test circuit, BAIC Philippines took their new M20 on a shakedown cruise, a midnight to mid-day drive to Sagada 400km north of Manila, and I went with them. On that long drive through NLEX, SCTEX, TPLEX, Kennon Road and Halsema Highway, the M20 delivered on what its specs promised.
Early in the drive, an informal fuel-eco run on NLEX from Petron Marilao to Petron Lakeshore, showed the M20 consuming just 1.5L of 95-test unleaded over a distance of 50.2km (based on the M20’s trip-meter). This translates to an impressive 33.5km/l on a max-conserve cruise with the engine turning at 2250rpm for 80km/h in 5th gear. (At 2250rpm, the engine had been delivering an estimated 99lb-ft or 89% of its peak torque though at mid-range, keeping power consumption to just 40hp or 38% of maximum.)
The M20 took Kennon aggressively, lingering in 2nd and sometimes hitting 3rd gear even on the steep stretches. Engine revs throughout the climb stayed within the M20’s peak power band, the 1.5L VVT engine producing peak torque of 106lb-ft from 3000 to 5000rpm.
On the winding curves of Kennon Road and Hanselma Highway, the M20’s long 2790mm (longer even than on larger MPVs like the Toyota Innova) kept the tall vehicle stable even through smart, 40 to 50km/h turns. And the M20’s body on frame construction atop 160mm of ground clearance made easy work of rough patches, particularly on unfinished or washed out segments of the access road linking Hanselma to Sagada.
And, finally, at Sagada itself with narrow twisting roads made even more crowded by numerous transports either chartered or plying regular routes to the popular destination, the M20’s precise, electrically boosted steering, was an excellent match for the compact MPV’s heft. With little or no give to the system, with any tug causing a steering change, the M20’s setup needs getting used to but the end result is a relatively compact mini-van that could weave politely amongst pedestrians and vehicles alike.