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Car reviews - GWM - Cannon - XSR


We like
Agreeable list price, extensive feature list, rugged styling, satisfying build quality, affordable ownership prospects
Room for improvement
Suspension and on-road dynamics a letdown, engine could benefit from more power, intrusive ADAS technology

Styled to suit our fierce ute market, GWM’s latest has lots of appeal for novice off-road buyers

1 Jul 2024



IF YOU think it is hard to identify a dual-cab ute by make and model, there is a very good reason, and it is embodied in the (Oscar Wilde-sourced) saying “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”.


Testing the surprisingly capable, and affordable, GWM Cannon ute in XSR guise became a game of clones, with its silhouette and frontal aspect and blue paint almost identical to that trotted out by Toyota’s HiLux, the Isuzu D-Max, LDV T90 and to a lesser degree the Ford Ranger (its running lights set it aside).


The Cannon is therefore a chameleon of sorts, able to absorb into the suburban dual-cab set without calling too much attention to itself. That’s ideal for any owner not wishing to argue the case for the purchase of a Chinese ute…


And neither he, or she, should. Go back a decade and the (then) Great Wall Motor ute was a non-threatening hauler with a cheap price, basic trim, a 1980s petrol engine and brakes that a bicycle would reject.


Today the Great Wall Motor, transformed into GWM as slick as Kentucky Fried Chicken adopted its acronym and abandoned any link with unhealthy fried food, is asking for respect.


Is the top-drawer Cannon XSR – piled high with accessories, a keen $52,990 drive-away price and looking ready to run down Jeeps on the Rubicon – deserving?


Here’s the question with the multi-choice answer: What do you want from a 4x4 ute?


Tradies will look at cost efficiencies, payload, equipment, style and the drive experience. Throw in ‘value for money’ if the workload is slowing under the pressure of a sinking economy.


Leisure buyers, especially those who plan to use the 4WD button, want engine performance and chassis traction, features, cabin comfort and tray space – and a bit of style.


The GWM delivers on all these, although the level may in some cases not be as high as some major ute makers. But then you didn’t pay $70,000 plus, did you?


Outwardly, the Cannon promises to deliver rugged service, from the wide steel steps in hammertone black to the spray-lined tray, durable front and rear bumpers and bold sports bar.


It’s 5400mm long so in the bracket along with rivals, on a 3230mm wheelbase and a 1520mm square steel tub.


The XSR will tow 3000kg (braked) and has a payload of 875kg, down on the 1050kg offered on the other Cannon 4x4 models.


The boot liner and sports bar enhance its load-carrying while the easy-lift tailgate is appreciated and made even more attractive because of its slide-out, folding steps. Clever.


Inside, the faux-leather upholstery of the seat facings – and quilted faux leather on the door cards – adds a splash of style to set it apart from most rivals, with a simple, user-friendly dashboard and tech-drenched infotainment centre behind the 9.0-inch touchscreen.


Welcome for winter is the heated front seats, although the controls are buried in the touchscreen, while electric seats are standard for both front occupants.


The infotainment has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and has a radio with six speakers (up from the other grades with four speakers).


There’s accommodation for five adults and tethers for two baby seats, thankfully with anchors directly behind the seats and not via a convoluted and transverse seat-belt route that never seems secure and always is a pain to connect and remove.


Cabin build and perceived quality is high, certainly on par and beyond – in a few cases – to what some others are delivering. I can’t see anyone in the dual-cab market legitimately grizzling about what GWM has dished up.


Storage space is good, with a large, lidded centre console, decent glove box, cupholders and then bottle holders in the four doors. Wireless charging is available for smartphones.


Nothing is over the top in design or function and that should be what the work-biassed and leisure-seeking buyer wants in this type of vehicle.


It’s also well marketed and presented and easy to see why many first-time off-road buyers have been attracted by the comprehensive goodie list, nice styling, competent ride characteristics and long warranty with an affordable service program.


GWM gives a seven-year, unlimited distance warranty on the Cannon and offers a five-year capped-price service program and five years of roadside assistance.


The five services extend for a maximum of 45,000km, which appears a bit short of the 12,000km annual average mileage reputed for Australia’s car fleet. However, the prices are very reasonable.


GWM charges $260 for the first service (six months); $360 each for the next four services that it expects to deliver at 18 months, 30 months, 42 months and 54 months from the vehicle’s first registration date.


Driving Impressions


Safety is always paramount in new vehicles and any dual-cab shouldn’t escape scrutiny, even though there’s rumblings about questioning the roadholding prowess of these utes in comparison to other family vehicles.


The government, the one that rubber stamps vehicle safety standards, hasn’t made any noises so I’m presuming all checks and balances have been done.


That said, commercial vehicles of any shape have always had a gentle grip on safety. It should be stressed that car-makers are addressing safety and increasingly boosting occupant and third party safety levels.


GWM is right in there with the Cannon’s safety inventory including some must-haves, and some niceties.


Autonomous emergency braking (AEB) is standard, as is lane departure warning, lane keep assist, lane centre keep, adaptive cruise, traffic sign recognition, tyre pressure monitor, rear park sensors, a 360-degree camera and seven airbags, one of which is between the front seats.


It also gets an ANCAP five-star crash rating.


There still some nice stuff missing – rear cross-traffic alert would be helpful given the length of the ute and hefty C-pillar profiles – but it’s a good start.


There is also an ensemble of visual and audible warning aids that can really get on your wick. It’s hardly unique. Most car-makers are fitting distractive bells that tell you, firstly, you’re travelling at 2km/h over the posted speed limit and secondly, you should have bought a car without these bells and whistles.


The Cannon’s 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine is a competent unit that has a reasonable 120kW at 3600rpm and torque of 400Nm at 1500-2500rpm.


Some rivals have more power – and that would be handy for larger loads – but the Cannon doesn’t miss out on much in performance, although progress is steady rather than explosive.


There can also be a hesitancy under the right pedal that gives an impression that it is driving through a dual-clutch transmission. It’s not, with a ZF eight-speed torque converter sitting behind the diesel.


Fuel consumption was expected, with a 10.6 litres per 100km average for suburban and some freeway cruising, plus a busy off-road trip mainly at a slow pace. 


GWN quotes a 9.4L/100km average. The tank holds 78 litres (should be more) which gives a theoretical range of 830km on the factory’s claimed consumption figure.


The extras in the XSR include front- and rear diff locks to enhance the off-road experience, along with a full underbody armour plate and the front and rear steel bumpers with tow hooks and front and rear ventilated disc brakes – much of which are still on the competitors’ dream lists.


Also aimed at lifting its off-road prowess is the XSR’s standard crawl mode – found handy in soft beach sand as well as steep inclines – and the 360-degree camera.


Step up from another diesel ute and the sights, sounds and smells are practically identical and there’s not a lot different in the driving experience.


Forgive the diesel engine’s complaints and pushing the ute hard results in some decent forward motion. It only gets a bit messy when the ute is aimed at twisty roads where the steering shows confidence-sapping vagueness and corners and patchy road surfaces expose some suspension failings.


The ride comfort, damping feel and resistance to bump-crash shows GWM has worked on its suspension tuning over the past few years, and the XSR is now the best riding of its siblings. But there’s still work to do and best that it comes from the factory, rather than retrofitting random bits off a shelf.


For now, ute owners are likely to be used to the handling peculiarities of their choice of vehicle – but new drivers will realise they need to slow their attitude to corners.

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