Auto China 2018: The debutants

Five global premieres at China’s largest car show underline the importance of the world’s largest car market to established manufacturers


Beijing, China

The world’s largest car market may be dominated by domestic manufacturers, but there’s still plenty enough left in the pie for established brands, as seen in the decision to hold these global debuts at the 2018 Beijing International Automotive Exhibition:


BMW Concept iX3: In the world of BMW, the letter ‘i’ is rapidly catching up in importance to the fabled letter ‘M’. In time to come, the company intends for the architecture of every model in its line up to be capable of supporting an internal combustion engine, plug-in hybrid system, or battery-electric unit, and the Concept iX3 is the first glimpse of this future.

The iX3 is the first core BMW model to join the ‘i’ sub-brand, following the standalone i3 city car and i8 sports car. It has a fully-electric drivetrain, with a maximum output of more than 270hp and a maximum range of over 400km. This drivetrain is the fifth generation of BMW’s eDrive technology, and brings packaging advances by grouping the electric motor, transmission, and electronics in a single, more compact package.


BMW M2 Competition: The other highlight of the BMW stand comes from rather a different part of the automotive spectrum. The M2 Competition replaces the regular M2, and is faster and sharper to drive.

The big news here is a change to a detuned version of the M3/M4’s S55 engine (the M2 previously used an up-tuned version of the N55 engine from the M240i). This boosts power up to 410hp, just 20hp than in its larger stablemates, while torque figures are identical at 550Nm.

Other enhancements include a new carbonfibre strut brace, optional M Sport seats, optional M Sport brake package, tweaks to the electric power steering, M differential and stability control, as well as a new front bumper with larger air intakes and this M2 Competition-specific Hockenheim Silver colour.


Lexus ES: It might be the fuddy old taokay uncle of Lexus’ range, but the ES saloon is one of its bestsellers – its blend of comfort and spaciousness helps make it much more popular than the sportier GS. This seventh-generation model claims a much sharper drive, and is designed to appeal to Western European drivers for the first time, amid news that the sportier GS will be axed in those markets due to slow sales. Case in point: this is the first ever ES to have an F Sport variant.

The new ES boasts a more daring aesthetic that bears more than a passing resemblance to the LS flagship, with a larger spindle grille, lower bonnet and more swooping roofline. Similarly, the engineers had the equally bold task of ramping up the ES’ dynamic abilities, with new multi-link rear suspension, a V-brace behind the rear seats, and in the case of F Sport models, adaptive dampers. All this is possible thanks to the use of a new platform dubbed GA-K, which boasts similar torsional rigidity to the GA-L platform that underpins the LS and LC.

Available engine options a 2.5-litre four-cylinder (ES250), 2.5-litre Atkinson cycle four-pot with hybrid system (ES300h), and a 3.5-litre V6 with 250hp (ES350), though it’s not confirmed yet which one(s) will be coming to Singapore.


Mercedes A-Class Sedan: Previewed by the Concept A sedan shown at last year’s Auto China, the A-Class sedan is the second of eight members in Merc’s planned “compact class” family. The car launched here is actually the China-specific A-Class L – which has a wheelbase stretched by 6cm – but the rest of the world will soon get a regular-sized car too.

Apart from the different body style, the other news is the introduction of a brand new engine, an all-aluminium 1.33-litre four-cylinder with outputs of 134hp and 150hp. To find out more about what makes the new A-Class so hotly anticipated, check out our news story when the car was first revealed last month.


Mercedes-Maybach Vision Ultimate Luxury: Arguably the most dramatic debut at the show, this concept from Mercedes’ Maybach sub-brand is “fusion” epitomised: part SUV, part sedan, part Western, part Eastern, and all bonkers. This is show car flamboyance at its most extreme, with an avalanche of chrome for a front grille, 24-inch rims, and a ‘spine’ that splits the bonnet and windows.

The interior has been squarely aimed at the noveau riche Chinese market too, with rose gold trimmings, Crystal White leather and even a heated tray complete with porcelain teapot and cups. Whatever you think of the car’s aesthetics, it was undoubtedly a massive hit with the locals – it was impossible to get a clean picture of the car due to the throngs of showgoers clamouring around it.

Intriguingly, the car is powered by electricity – one motor in each wheel combines to make 740hp and four wheel drive; range is claimed at over 500km, and has a high charging capacity which enables a 5 minute charge from the correct source to give a 100km range.

Fantastical concept car touches aside though, the Vision Ultimate Luxury hints at something more significant: it’s a clear indication that the brand intends to add an SUV to its range, in the vein of the Bentley Bentayga and Rolls-Royce Cullinan, likely based on the next generation GLS.

about the author

Jon Lim
CarBuyer's staff writer was its fourth historical Jonathan. Old-fashioned in all but body, he thinks car design peaked in the '90s and is enthusiastic about vintage cars and old machinery.