Nearly four years have passed since neue Borgward presented the BX7 at the 2015 Frankfurt IAA. DTW’s Borgward-obsessive shares his impressions of one of the first Shanghai-built cars to arrive in the great lost carmaker’s home city.
The car is a left hand drive BX7 TS Limited Edition, not long arrived at Bremerhaven from Shanghai, but tested in south-east England. The first visual impression is how easily the car fits into the British carscape, registering in the visual continuum as just another big European SUV, not quite an Audi Q5 or XC 60 clone, but only by the grace of some well-executed details of its own. There’s nothing awkward or ham-fisted about the styling, but neither is there much that hints at the brand’s ancestry in a subtle or ingenious way.
B O R G W A R D is written large across the tailgate, in Porsche-like characters. It’s a pity the idiosyncratic typeface used consistently throughout the ‘50s wasn’t resurrected.
At least the ‘TS’ badge acknowledges the style used on the Isabella from 1956. You have to look hard for homage to the Bremer antecedents – I could only see the diamond pattern for the interior fabric and the diamond badge, timidly small compared with the huge rhombi CFWB imposed on his cars before the 1959 model year trademark challenge by a certain American gearbox maker.
The interior, by a Borgward / Faurecia joint venture business, is of decent quality, though not as inviting in blacks and greys as the tan-themed furnishings of the pre-production BX7 shown at the Frankfurt IAA in 2015. Where the BX7 set out to outbid its European rivals is seating configuration – a seven seat option is available, whereas the Germans and Sino-Swedes demand a move one class up for these two extra places. The reality is less convincing. The example sampled is a five seater, but the remaining space would allow a ‘5+2’ arrangement at best, with minimal space left for baggage.
On poorly maintained British roads the BX7 rides well on 235/60 R 18 Chinese Nokian tyres. I was surprised at its suppleness – I’m possibly inured to the M Sport and S-Line set-ups ill-chosen by British buyers of German premium SUVs. On dual carriageways and urban streets there was no opportunity to assess the BX7’s capability in extremis on an unlimited autobahn, but I found no hint of any disagreeable handling traits.
The intelligent permanent 4WD system is supplied by Borg-Warner (oh, the irony…) and the gearbox is an Aisin torque convertor six-speeder, unobtrusive but slightly lazy in its action. The impressive and clear infotainment system display includes an entertaining mimic of the drive vectoring, in most circumstances almost fully front biased, with just a trickle of torque going to the back wheels.
The primary controls, particularly the electrically assisted rack and pinion steering are biased towards lightness rather than communication, but the powertrain is responsive, with the 1981cc petrol four giving a BMW-like burble when pressed. No surprise there, as FEV, the Aachen-based engine design consultancy used by BMW were heavily involved. The dimensions are seriously undersquare at 82 x 93.8, in tune with modern thinking; JLR Ingenium: 83 x 92.3, BMW B48: 82 x 94.6.
The block is said to have its origins in a Mitsubishi unit of some vintage, with an all-new top end featuring direct fuel injection and cam-phasing variable valve timing. The forced induction engine gives 224bhp @ 5500rpm and 300Nm torque at 1500-4500rpm. The engine is mounted transversely, unlike the BX7’s German competitors.
Quoted performance figures are 208 km/h (130mph) top speed, 9.4 seconds 0-100km acceleration. If you want fast, buy a Macan S. Where things fall apart are a combined official fuel consumption of 10.2 litres / 100km (27.7mpg) and a Band F CO2 efficiency rating. The car’s minder reported the consumption was on a par with the Porsche Cayenne.
Plug-in hybrid and full EV BX7s were promised four years ago, but they’re not on offer yet. There’s no diesel option, which might appear forward-looking – the Frankfurt IAA launch in September 2015 coincided with the emergence of ‘Dieselgate’.
There’s an undeniable synergy between big SUVs and modern high performance diesels which makes them, in combination, one of the wonders of the modern automotive world. (Others may say they are a symbol of all that’s wrong with said world.) SUV buyers are not going to be parted lightly from diesels – nothing else other than large capacity petrol units delivers when there’s so much weight to be hauled and air to be pushed.
I wanted to be impressed by the BX7, but found myself perplexed. Neue Borgward have come a long way, with more than a little help from their western friends; managers, engineers, stylists, component suppliers. The product comes close in so many aspects to those SUVs against which it would have been benchmarked, but all of those have now moved on to their next generation.
In Germany Borgward AG have no physical dealer network, and servicing is entrusted to Herr Unger’s chain of 574 ATU workshops. This falls some way short of Borgward AG’s “Redefining Premium” ambition or their Marketing Sales and Service VP, Tom Anliker’s “ultimate goal to deliver an industry-leading purchase and ownership experience”.
The biggest hurdle, even greater than the ill-suited engine, is that €44,200 price. Have Borgward not noticed that there’s a sales war on, and Audi, BMW, Land-Rover, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo all desperately want to put you in one of their SUVs? I mentioned Porsche’s contender before – that Macan is not far adrift from the BX7 TS’s price, and has to be a cannier purchase.
A rethink is required if Borgward AG are even to make a low-rung entry to Europe. The smaller BX5 is listed but unpriced on their website. In other markets, in front drive 1.4 turbo form it costs around half the BX7’s price, and is only 73mm shorter in wheelbase, and 225mm shorter overall.
Perhaps neue Borgward would do better to start humbly, as young Carl did with his 1924 Blitzkarren and let the world come his way.