It might not be the most modern or quickest or most comfortable 4×4 double-cab bakkie on the market. But then you can get a brand new Chinese GWM for what you’d pay for a used Japanese example, at that a vehicle that’s well put together and offers excellent value
With Chinese motor manufacturers popping up (and popping out) all over the show, buyers are understandably a little wary about the long-term viability of these companies, aft er-sales service and the availability of parts.
So it must be reassuring to know that China’s Great Wall Motor, or GWM, has been around since 1984, and the South African operation, with its headquarters in Midrand, was established in March 2007.
GWM’s manufacturing facility in Baoding, China has an annual capacity of 400 000 complete vehicles. Its products are sold in more than 120 countries and regions. As China’s first private automobile enterprise listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, the company has more than 30 subsidiaries and over 22 000 employees.
So no, GWM’s not small fry, and by the looks of things, not going away in a hurry either.
Starting out locally in 2007 with 2.2i bakkies and double-cabs, the 2,8-litre diesel turbo Steeds and modern Hover SUV followed, and a couple of sedans are in the pipeline for later this year.
A recent addition to the range is a 4×4 version of the Double Cab Lux, the Desert Series, riding on a Steed chassis, and powered by a fuel-injected 2,2- litre engine. Body colours all have a desert theme, with names such as Mojave Mirage, Arizona Storm and Namib Dune – and dune decals that we would frankly prefer not to have…
From the front it still very much resembles a Nissan Hardbody, even more so now with the new black grille. Flared wheel arches filled with 16” sixspoke alloy wheels and chromed side steps add to a more modern, yet rugged look.
Features and equipment
★ ★ ★ ★
At the price of R165 990, the Desert Series 2.2 MPi is well equipped. It comes with full leather seats, a leather-covered steering wheel and neat perforated cloth for the door panel inserts and top of the centre console’s lid, where it acts as a non-slip armrest.
Both front and rear sets of windows open at the press of a butt on, but there’s no one-press-to-open function for the driver’s window. The side mirrors are electrically adjustable, though.
An air conditioner is standard equipment, although the one in the test vehicle wasn’t as effective as we would have liked here in Gauteng during what felt like the beginning of spring, with the balmy days we’ve experienced. It was better with the fan speed turned up, but that also increased noise levels.
Two features you won’t easily find in more expensive double-cab bakkies are, firstly, park distance control, or reverse radar, as GWM calls it. Sensors are situated in the rear bumper, and a beeper starts beeping if you approach something solid, turning into an uninterrupted scream when you get too close.
This is such a handy feature that we find it strange that it’s not standard in more double cabs or SUVs – surely it can’t add that much more to the price?
The second unusual feature is the multi -functional rear-view mirror, with displays for interior and exterior temperature, and a “countdown” readout for the said park distance control. In our test vehicle, though, it wasn’t bright enough to be all that useful during the day, and we in fact only noticed the readout when driving at night.
Talking night driving – the illumination of the low beams isn’t much to write home about, and in fact reminds me of those first Japanese bakkies’ lights that an older ex-colleague at Star Motoring complained about when I was a young reporter there in the Seventi es. Now I know that night blindness come with age…
The GWM does come with foglights in front, and rear ones too.
A radio/CD player with MP3 compatibility is standard, as is remote locking and unlocking of the doors. A Vesa-approved alarm/immobiliser system is fitted locally and included in the purchase price.
There aren’t grab handles, something we feel should be included in a vehicle that’s meant to go off -road. Don’t expect airbags either.
The “bak” is spacious and deep and practical, with holes at the cab side of the floor for water drainage. The tailgate is opened by a centrally mounted single handle.
The driver and front passenger won’t complain about roominess. The driver’s seat slides back far enough to accommodate a taller driver, and when seated there’s still a palm width between the head and the headlining. Elbow room is also ample.
The steering wheel is adjustable for height but not reach, so unless you have long arms you’ll have to adjust the backrest to a more upright position.
The leather upholstery is quite hard and somewhat slippery, but side bolsters for the seat and backrest will keep you secured around corners.
Instrumentation is legible and easy to see through the steering wheel. It comprises three large round dials for speedometer and rev counter, and the third houses the temperature and fuel needles. Controls are within easy reach and easy to use, although it did take us a while to get used to the fact that you turn the light switch at the end of the indicator stalk clockwise, and not the other way around as in other vehicles so equipped.
Strange for this day and age is the absence of cupholders, apart from the single opening in the centre console that might act as such. Storage space comprises quite narrow door pockets and two handy compartments in the centre console – a smaller one atop a larger and deeper one, with lid. There are a number of recesses for things like wallets.
Drivers with large feet might find the brake pedal too close to the accelerator, but there’s a handy rest for the left foot.
Rear-seated passengers won’t find the GWM all that spacious, unfortunately. The rear door doesn’t open very wide, with the result that taller passengers will have to move in bum first and then pull their feet in. There’s not enough room for the feet under the front passenger seat, and the seat itself is quite low too, meaning you have to sit with knees up.
However, we see this vehicle appealing to younger families, and it will be fine for kids.
With power coming from a naturally aspirated 2237cc four-cylinder engine, albeit with fuel injection, don’t expect fireworks when it comes to performance.
Power and torque figures of 78 kW at 4600 r/min and 190 Nm at 2400 r/min respectively don’t look bad on paper, but the 4×4 GWM isn’t exactly lightning fast off the line. Instead it needs a lazy 18,2 seconds to reach 100 km/h, while it peaks out at 148 km/h on a flat road. With the red line at 4500 r/min, the GWM isn’t that rev-happy either.
Overtaking slower vehicles needs some planning and a longish open road, but you learn quite quickly to adapt by consciously losing the feeling of urgency and just going with the flow.
On a flat open road it will maintain 120 km/h, but inclines see the speed dropping, necessitating a lower gear. In town it will keep up with the traffic, and its pullaway is quicker than that of some modern turbodiesels.
★ ★ ★
Suspension comprises independent double wishbones with coil springs, and leaf springs at the rear. Being a bakkie that must be able to carry a hefty load, the ride is quite firm and choppy on bumpy surfaces, but not uncomfortably so.
On the corrugated sand road part of our regular test route we were impressed by the stability of the vehicle, even at higher speeds. Irregularly spaced bumps didn’t throw it off line, and it handled loose stones well too. In fact, we began to suspect that it had a limited slip diff (which it hasn’t), so it must be that long travel keeping the wheels on the ground that contributed to the poise.
★ ★ ★ ★
Despite the open differential and absence of a diff lock, the GWM impressed off-road. Wheel travel is considerable, so even in deep crossover situations it still manages to put power down on the ground.
Of course one or two steeper obstacles with a loose surface necessitated a faster approach speed, but with low range engaged, there really wasn’t much to stop forward progress. Driven sensibly, the GWM will go where any other 4×4 double-cab will.
★ ★ ★
Difficult star rating, this. Yes, the GWM Double Cab Desert Series 2.2 is based on older automotive technology, and it’s not nearly as refined as some of its modern counterparts, but then it’s less than half the price of say an Isuzu 240 Double Cab LE – new.
It will be ideal as a second vehicle for recreation, or first-time buyers or young families who want to add 4×4 adventure to their lifestyle. It grew on us.