Should I buy a Great Wall ute?
The all-new Steed is a move in the right direction for the Chinese brand… but it isn’t without its problems.
We Australians are a bit of a xenophobic bunch, both historically and contemporarily. Let’s not get into nitty-gritty political details here, aside from the fact that when I started road-testing the new Chinese ute on the block – the Great Wall Steed – the whole idea of xenophobia was bouncing around in my head. The elephant in the room tells me that a majority of Australians greet a Chinese-made vehicle (or anything Oriental requiring serious manufacture and engineering) with a bit of xenophobic flair. This is in spite of a majority of products floating around in Australia originating from China. Think back to the 1990s, and Korean-made vehicles weren’t that well regarded. Japanese cars were once upon a time far from desirable; but nowadays they lead the charge in popularity and reliability.
There’s a handful of Chinese-made utes available on the market at the moment – one of them being Great Wall Motors’ new Steed. This takes over from the V200 and V240 utes which stopped selling in Australia under some fairly messy circumstances. The Steed is a big revamp over the old model, with an impressively long inclusions list joined by an equally impressive low price: $29,990 gets you one well optioned out ute. But does it make sense beyond the piece of paper?
Under the bonnet of the Steed is a two-litre turbo-diesel motor, with a modest front-mounted intercooler. There is 110kW available at the 4,000rpm redline, and 310Nm of torque comes into play between 1,800 and 2,800rpm. It sports Delphi high-pressure common-rail fuel injection, a BorgWarner variable-geometry turbocharger, and your usual array of emissions-improving hardware. At idle, the engine is impressively quiet; and things don’t get much worse when it’s working hard.
This would be one of the more quiet diesel donks out there. When it’s trundling along in the right rev range (above 2,000rpm), the engine does make for fairly painless progress – with enough power for hills and highways. Never too much, but enough. Around 1,000rpm, or anywhere south of 1,800 rpm, the engine becomes excessively doughy and gutless. It’s a fairly inflexible engine with little to offer at low revs… combined with very slow-to-respond accelerator tuning. Putting the engine under any load off idle will see it collapse faster than the French army in 1940. You have to increase the revs and ride the clutch (or both) to avoid stalling. The fly-by-wire accelerator response is really quite bad, making rapid progress off the line hard to achieve.
The ‘GW4D20’ engine is mated up to a six-speed manual gearbox (which is 2WD), with an electric button selecting AWD and low range. Six gears offer a wide spread for road use, but we’d probably prefer to see first gear a bit lower to accommodate the low torque of the engine at low revs. Otherwise, the gearbox does a good job of clean shifting between ratios. The transfer case, of BorgWarner descent, gives quite good overall gear reduction.
The transfer case does have a trick up its sleeve. On top of your traditional ‘2H’ mode, you also have AWD. That isn’t a bad translation; the Steed can be run on-road with all four wheels due to the BorgWarner ‘Torque On Demand’ transfer case. This clever unit can intelligently feed a percentage of torque (up to 50%) to the front wheels, through electromagnetically controlled clutch plates in the transfer case. This is common technology in AWD vehicles, and has big benefits when driving on surfaces with variable and low-traction surfaces. It’s used on a huge variety of vehicles… most notably some late-model Ford F-150 models in the USA.
Press the button for low range, and then you get the locked 50/50 split between front and rear differentials. Not having a locked 50/50 split in high range makes it a bit less flexible for some off-road surfaces – but that is something that can be lived with (especially with six gears). Despite weak low-rev torque, the Steed is a solid off-road performer. Low range gives enough reduction for the majority of terrains, but the low ground clearance and poor articulation let it down a little bit compared to other utes on the market.
How does it drive?
For on-road driving, the Steed proves to be quite a compliant and non-fussed drive. The front torsion bar suspension setup soaks up dodgy roads quite well, and if you can put up with a bit of body roll, understeer doesn’t really pop up. Steering is initially quite vague – but once you’re turning, it’s predictable and linear. Braking performance is also good. Not amazing, but good enough. If you hit a decent bump at speed, the soft front end quickly becomes frazzled and bumps harshly; followed by a heavy shunt from the rear springs, and any semblance of composure goes away. Having the ability to run AWD on slippery surfaces (with a trick transfer case) does make a big difference however.
The biggest thing in the Great Wall ute’s appeal is the value for money. There is a solid list of inclusions for the $29,990 asking price. ‘Comfort-tek’ fake leather seats are quite solid, giving you a good mixture of comfort and bolstering. The driver’s seat has six-way electric adjustment and both front seats are heated. You’ve got a big touchscreen infotainment system in the dash, which has navigation and a reversing camera. It’s fairly easy to use – but the interface does feel a bit cheap. You can say the same thing about much of the interior, really. It’s fine, functional; and it is what it says on the box… with a small tinge of overall cheapness.
One big inclusion that the Steed has is a TPMS. That’s something only a few other 4WDs can boast (for significantly more money). There’s also a fairly comprehensive list of safety features. Six airbags (including two in the rear row) are complemented by electronic stability control, traction control and hill start assist. Specced up with its active AWD transfer case, the Steed is a significantly safer vehicle than the older Great Wall utes. It hasn’t been tested by ANCAP yet, but it should certainly score an improvement over the previous three-star rating.
That feeling of cheapness doesn’t go away when you start crawling around underneath the Steed, either. The air intake is in the engine bay and mounted very low; as is the alternator. The torsion-bar front suspension looks solid enough, despite offering next to no up-travel before hitting the bump stop. The leaf-sprung rear end looks OK, but the rear spring hanger on the chassis looks decidedly weak.
In comparison to what else you can spend $30,000 on for a dual-cab ute, it’s quite hard to recommend the Great Wall Steed. It’s not a bad ute, but it’s also not that good. I’d have to check out the Mahindra, Foton, Tata and JMC utes before really passing an opinion on this end of the segment. If you do want all the features of a $50,000+ ute for only spending $30,000, the Steed is worth a look. When looking purely at a list of inclusions on paper, the Great Wall is the best bang-for-buck ute in the segment… but there are some fairly significant shortcomings.
Engine awful at low revs
Dated suspension gets easily unsettled
Big turning circle