REMEMBER when we laughed up our sleeves at Kia and Hyundai a couple of decades ago?
They’re now well established in the Australian market and Great Wall is hoping for a similar story with its utes and Haval SUVs.
It’s not an easy battle for the brand that has taken a few knocks here with reports of poor customer experiences in reliability and after-sales service.
Great Wall says that’s changing with the company itself assuming control of operations here and in New Zealand in July.
The idea of that was to improve spare parts supply to its growing number of dealerships (now 50) and more closely assault the local market.
Leading the charge is its new Steed dual-cab ute, launched in September.
Great Wall gave a very attractive $29,990 drive-away price tag for its 4×4 diesel along with a three-year/100,000km warranty.
The top of the range 4×4 diesel is the most expensive in just three variants, the others being a 4×2 diesel and 4×2 petrol priced at $26,990 and $24,990 respectively.
Helping to keep the price down is the lack of an auto with the petrol version getting a five-speed manual and the diesels a six-speed.
It’s believed an auto will come in a future model next year.
The entertainment system is a simple LCD unit you find in base-model utes (there’s a touchscreen option with sat-nav and rear camera for an extra $1000) and the single USB port did not charge an iPhone 6s, let alone play the music on it via that connection.
That was one of a few minor annoyances that included a clock that is only displayed when the sound system is turned off, the rear parking sensor tone sounding like it comes from musical birthday card speakers and the cruise control speed adjustment only in increments of two or three kilometres.
The faux leather driver’s seat has six-way electric adjustment but lacks squab tilt, making it harder for taller people to get completely comfortable on long journeys.
Then you remember you could buy two of these for the price of a Ford Ranger and start to appreciate some of the features it does have.
Automatic wipers and headlights, hill-start assist, 16-inch alloy wheels, heated seats, leather steering wheel and gear knob, Bluetooth sound and phone, tub liner, Bosch traction control, Eaton diff lock, tyre pressure monitoring and six airbags including side curtains.
It looks pretty good, too, with its bold chrome grille, stylish headlights, sidesteps, flared guards, LED running lights and sports roll bar in the back.
OK, the badge treatment below the A pillar is very Ranger-esque, but it does add to the effect. Inside, the plastics and leather touches are neatly done, making it plain that Great Wall is looking outside its domestic market to broaden its appeal.
It might need to beef up its power plant if it really wants to be taken seriously, especially among the farmers and tradies Great Wall is aiming for with this ute.
” Then you remember you could buy two of these for the price of a Ford Ranger and start to appreciate some of the features it does have.”
The 2.0-litre turbo diesel lags like rural internet before tapping into a nice curve of torque peaking at 310Nm somewhere between 2000 and 3000rpm. It then hits its 110kW top output at 4000rpm just before red-line, so you’re not going to win too many drag races in this ute.
Happily the manual gearbox is smooth and direct with a light clutch making it happy around town. The hill-start assist, where it automatically holds the brake for a few seconds while you engage the clutch, is also welcome.
On the highway, sixth gear is pure overdrive and you’ll be shuffling the cogs going up hills, but it returned 8.2 litres per 100km in this environment (9.4 around town).
It can carry a tonne in total payload, which is a few bales of hay, but will only tow two tonnes, which is well below the market standard.
The Great Wall has 171mm of ground clearance and 4WD high and low is engaged with buttons on the dash.
The drive experience reveals light and remote steering with a large dead spot in the middle, which can be a bit disconcerting, and the suspension is soft on the initial hit but firms up to jiggly ute tautness soon afterwards.
However, it has pretty good manners and doesn’t go wandering around the lane.
It also won’t argue too much if you want to test out the traction control around corners (not easy given the lack of grunt) and doesn’t feel like it wants to fall over itself.
You get what you pay for with the Great Wall Steed and it could be argued you get a bit more with its level of equipment.
An auto and more grunt would make this more appealing, but it is still a solid performer that will surprise many who have preconceived ideas about the brand.
If all goes to plan with service, reliability and spare parts availability, Great Wall could make some solid inroads in our tough dual-cab ute market.
GWM NEW ZEALAND HEAD OFFICE
Unit 6, 9A Northside Drive,
*Great Wall Motors New Zealand reserves the right to change the information including, but not limited to the models, prices, colors, materials, equipment or other specifications referred to on this site at any time without prior notice. Always consult your Great Wall Motors dealer for latest specifications, availability and pricing. Images for illustration purposes only. All prices are RRP + GST + on road costs. No charge for Metallic paint. E&OE.