Car reviews - Great Wall - Ute
Superb value, strong spec, earnest diesel mill, tough styling, permanent AWD
Room for improvement
Overzealous ADAS systems, heavy steering, some cheap-feeling switchgear, sub-par towing capacity
Great Wall Motors takes big steps forward with new-generation Ute pick-up
19 Jan 2021
THERE was a time around 15 to 20 years ago when Korean brands like Hyundai and Kia were considered to be inferior to their Japanese competitors, a perception that took years to change.
Fast forward to the present day, and the Koreans are right on par now with the Japanese brands in terms of quality and refinement, leaving Chinese brands to take the mantle as the perceived inferior country of manufacture.
However, like the Korean brands before them, the Chinese car-makers appear to be catching up, and fast – evidence of this can be seen in the new Great Wall Motors (GWM) pick-up, aptly named the Ute.
Replacing the rugged and basic Steed workhorse, the Ute looks to be a big step up in almost every way.
We took the mid-spec Cannon-L for a spin to find out just how far GWM has come.
First drive impressions
While the old Steed was quite clearly a tier below the Japanese heavy hitters of the pick-up segment, it is far more difficult to separate the Ute, and not just in the way it drives.
From the outside, it no longer looks like a cheap work ute, with its imposing size, chrome grille, 18-inch alloys and stylish, boxy design helping it to look at home against the likes of the HiLux, Ranger, Navara and Triton.
At 5410mm long, 1934mm tall and 1886mm wide, the Ute is also one of the largest models in its segment, meaning buyers are not forced into a trade-off where they get less metal for the money.
Moving into the cabin of the Ute Cannon-L, there has also been a clear focus to bring the new model into line with the rest of the pick-up segment, with a more comfort-oriented interior that has a much more premium feel than the Steed.
The Cannon-L comes with premium features such as artificial leather seats with heating, and a 9.0-inch LCD infotainment screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
While the Steed was a clear step below its Japanese rivals for interior quality and finish, the Ute has caught up with a well-put-together cabin, with only some cheaper-looking switchgear and plastic trims giving away its budget price point.
The infotainment system is relatively simple and easy to operate, and while sat-nav is not included, the Apple CarPlay/Android Auto compatibility means it is not an issue.
A 3.5-inch colour instrument cluster display is also included, and while the driver can scroll through a number of functions when stationary, the system reverts to the ADAS page when driving, which hampers usability and seems particularly unnecessary.
As expected of a dual-cab ute, the Cannon-L is roomy and comfortable for four adult passengers, with ample leg- and headroom for rear passengers along with a 220V AC outlet and USB charging point.
Nifty features are also included on the outside, with the Cannon-L treated to spray-in tubliner, as well as a rear step that pops out from the easy-fold tailgate – a useful bit of kit for those who spend time loading and unloading their tray.
Powering all versions of the Ute is a 2.0-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder mill developing 120kW/400Nm, mated to an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission that feeds all four wheels through a permanent all-wheel-drive system.
With most diesel dual-cab 4x4 utes developing at least around 140kW/450Nm, the Ute’s outputs are down slightly on the industry standard, however – when unladen, at least – the extra power and torque is not really missed.
When pressed, the Ute still manages to get up to speed as quickly as any other ute, and its torque feels accessible and plentiful low in the rev range.
There is some unwanted turbo lag off the line, however it not a significant issue.
Whether it will remain powerful enough when towing or with a full payload remains to be seen, however GWM has hinted that a larger, more powerful diesel engine will be introduced at a later stage.
Apart from when it is really pushed, the diesel mill remains fairly hushed, with the slick eight-speed ZF auto doing a fine job of preventing the engine from getting overstressed.
It also manages shifts smartly, holding gears when going downhill and changing cogs with a smooth and even character.
The fact that the GWM Ute also drives all four wheels permanently, instead of a part-time rear-drive set-up like most other 4x4 pick-ups, also gives it a point of difference that helps it stand out against the crowd.
On the open road, the GWM Ute proved to be a fairly comfortable steer, particularly at higher speeds where the ride becomes more settled and the heavy steering tune feels well accustomed to sweeping bends.
At lower speeds and around town, the leaf-sprung rear suspension can feel a little bumpy, while the heavy steering begins to feel a bit cumbersome when executing parking manoeuvres and making tight turns.
A steering rack with greater variability would be welcome on the Ute, and would prevent an arm workout when driving in urban conditions.
The steering tune could also have used greater sensitivity, with a slightly vague and slow feel.
One let-down for those who wish to use their Ute for towing is its 3000kg braked towing capacity – still likely enough for most people, but down 500kg on the industry-standard 3500kg.
Handling prowess is fairly standard for a dual-cab ute – no one is going to argue that it feels sporty to drive, but it still handles bends with relative ease and poise, and by no means feels like a cheap workhorse ute.
One of the Ute’s most impressive features is its extensive list of active safety equipment, with all variants treated to all the drive assist systems required of a car to achieve a high ANCAP safety rating.
The only detractor is the sensitivity of the system, with the car regularly beeping at the driver should they get too close to the car in front, or stray outside their lane.
The lane-keep assist system also has quite a powerful tug on the steering wheel which can become annoying over time.
On the flip-side, the surround-view monitor and front/rear parking cameras are some of best we’ve encountered in the pick-up segment, with great clarity and usability. GWM just need to remove the Chinese script that pops up occasionally in the infotainment system, which feels a little unprofessional.
Overall, it is clear the Chinese car-maker has taken some big strides forward with its new-generation pick-up, making clear improvements across a number of areas – enough to keep the Japanese heavy-hitters looking over their shoulders, especially at the price point.
While we have seen the transformation of Hyundai and Kia from a cheap alternative to genuine front-runner, vehicles like the Ute suggest we are in the middle of a similar metamorphosis for Chinese car-makers.
Model release date: 1 December 2020
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