The affordable, Chinese-made GWM Ute is satisfactory in just about every way – and it makes many of its mainstream rivals seem deeply overpriced.
It’s clear that Great Wall Motors (GWM) have studied Australia’s beloved 4×4 dual-cab segment very closely – because the 2021 GWM Ute, known as the Cannon or Poer in various other markets, is so similar to better-known rivals.
From the four-cylinder diesel-driven dynamics to the size and payload, the GWM Ute feels like a reasonable substitute for the Toyota HiLux, Nissan Navara and Mitsubishi Triton – except when it comes to one key factor.
That factor is price. There is no avoiding GWM’s mic drop moment which sees the 2021 Ute sold at as low as $35,490 driveaway for the Cannon base model, before climbing gently to $38,990 driveaway for the mid-spec Cannon-L, and then on to $41,990 driveaway for the top-shelf Cannon-X tested here.
Those prices are for models that are well-equipped with a number of adaptive safety systems, plus the now-required combination of four-wheel-drive and an automatic gearbox.
Compare those bargain-basement prices to a 4×4-auto Toyota HiLux SR5 ($65,386 driveaway), or a Ford Ranger Wildtrak ($69,790 driveaway). Even the Mitsubishi Triton, which is known for its value positioning, only starts as a basic 4×4 dual cab GLX at $40,890 driveaway, and the equivalent specification GLS Deluxe is $51,490 driveaway.
Now, as we’ll see, there are numerous places where the GWM Ute seems a bit rough around the edges: its electronics are not tuned as well as some rivals, and the 10,000km service intervals are frustratingly short. However, it’s as adequate to drive as most rivals, with notable exceptions being the Aussie-developed Ranger and the high-end Volkswagen Amarok V6.
Utes are, by design, very basic. They may have fancier interiors nowadays, but their smallish diesel engines, automatic gearboxes, 4WD systems with low range, workhorse suspensions and body-on-frame construction are basically common to all the players in this segment.
That’s enough to make you wonder whether the bigger names are really worth $10,000 to $20,000 more than the GWM Ute.
Behind the Ute’s objectively handsome face sits a fairly modest engine.
Common to all GWM Ute variants is a two-litre single turbo diesel four-cylinder motor producing 120kW of power (160 horsepower) and 400Nm of torque.
An eight-speed automatic gearbox supplied by ZF is the only transmission – and the choice of about 90 per cent of dual-cab buyers in this segment – while there is no 2WD version. The Ute only comes as a 4×4, with Borg-Warner supplying the transfer case.
Interestingly, the Ute runs in 4WD all the time (apart from in the 2WD Eco drive mode). Still, almost all torque goes to the rear wheels until slip is detected, in which case there is a slight pause before the front tyres are drafted in to assist.
Low range is included and is a click away for low-speed off-roading where you can take advantage of the 232mm ground clearance, 27 degree approach angle, 21 degree breakover angle, and 25 degree departure angle.
GWM don’t publish an official wading depth that the Ute is capable of, but the engine is located fairly high in the shell of the vehicle, underneath a bonnet that features gas struts – unusually lush for this segment.
The Great Wall trails some rivals in the towing department, where it’s rated for 3,000kg braked, but payload is a respectable 1,050kg. GVM is 3,130kg and gross combination mass is 5,555kg so if you max out the payload you’re limited to towing 2,425kg.
Certainly, this is by far and away a different ute to the el-cheapo and unsafe GWM Steed (from $19,990 driveaway) in Great Wall’s Australian lineup. The Chinese manufacturers are learning fast, and the GWM Ute is clearly targeted at middle Australia rather than those looking for the cheapest possible commercial vehicle they can find.
Most of the basic specifications seem reasonable enough, and that’s how it translates on the road in the GWM Ute.
The driving experience is totally adequate, though nothing more – though that is more than we can say for some rivals.
In particular, the unladen ride is more settled than that of the Toyota HiLux. We wish we could say that was a high benchmark, but it isn’t. The HiLux just isn’t comfortable.
All Ute variants ride on 18-inch wheels wrapped in decent Cooper Discoverer highway terrain tyres. The Cannon L and X grades get a cooler alloy wheel design.
Most rivals have adopted stronger engines than the GWM Ute’s modest unit, though. With just 120kW/400Nm on tap, the Ute feels stoic but pretty slow – and noisy.
The HiLux now rustles up 150kW/500Nm from its less stressed 2.8-litre diesel. The twin-turbo 2.3-litre Navara also isn’t the quickest ute around, but with 450Nm of torque, it stays in its meatier band of muscle for longer.
Peaky is how you’d describe the GWM’s engine, with all 400Nm coming on tap at around 2,000rpm, snapping into play and then letting go almost as fast. There’s also substantial lag when you get onto the loud pedal from a stop.
But the ZF-sourced eight-speed auto does its level best to muster the engine’s characteristics and unless you’re really jerky with the throttle, most of the time, it gets along fine.
Similar is the ride and handling, which do not aim for class honours, but they don’t fall short of the median for this segment.
Slow steering is our only clear complaint in this area, as the handling and suspension quality are perfectly acceptable. The GWM Ute can be hustled down a country road without feeling like it’s going to tip, and the Bosch stability control works well, though its tuning could use work.
Tuning is also a problem for the Ute’s adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assistance. It’s very respectable that these features are fitted (they’re not available on many rivals!), but the ‘having’ is one thing – the tuning is another.
Very sensitive follow-distance alerts and the fact the lane keep assist can occasionally pull you towards the road’s centre line left us turning off these otherwise potentially life-saving technologies.
Particularly in fully-loaded, $41,990 driveaway Cannon-X trim, the GWM Ute really impresses when you first get in.
The interior looks up-to-date and includes plenty of big-ticket items like a nine-inch touchscreen, a seven-inch digital driver display, and even quilted black leather seats on the X.
The GWM Ute’s interior is a nicer place to spend time than any other ute at this price, that’s for sure. A price in the late thirties or early forties gets you into a very basic new Triton or otherwise an older, preowned dual-cab.
And there are some elements that genuinely impress, like the soft-touch plastics used on the dash and doors that are more reminiscent of an SUV, to the properly-finished cloth headliner – not the poxy cheap material used to line every HiLux ceiling.
Dig deeper into the fancy electrics, though, and you discover that R&D money hasn’t been splashed generously at graphics, fonts, computing power, menu structures … in fact, the systems can be downright confusing.
The screens are sharp enough, but the driver’s display reacts oddly to polarised sunglasses, with some colours washing out entirely – so make sure to check this on your test drive.
Wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard for the central nine-inch unit fitted across the range, but you’ll still find yourself having to navigate GWM’s arcane menus more than you’d like.
The climate controls are physical buttons and dials, handily, but press the seat heater button and instead of receiving a toasty butt, you’re kicked into the touchscreen to slide a virtual toggle across to the right to start the warmer. Why?
It’s not much better on the driver display front. You’re locked out of the trip computer unless you hold down ‘OK’ on the steering wheel (again – why), and if you want to use the adaptive cruise control, you can’t change any function on the screen.
This stuff is basic and it comes off as half-baked and cheap.
You’ll find the audio system woeful unless you, again, tune it carefully yourself. We managed to transform the speakers from sounding tinny and rubbish to fine, even good, by dumping the mid-frequencies to as low as they’d go while pumping up the bass and treble.
Thankfully, other basics, like seat comfort, practical storage space and visibility are all taken care of. We’d like thigh-angle adjustment for the (otherwise six-way) power driver’s seat, but it’s OK as it is.
Move to the second row and it’s clear GWM have really thought about this: there’s good space for six-footers, with headroom, legroom and tow room all quite generous.
Air vents are standard and you get a household power point plus a third USB port here in the back, while the Cannon-X also picks up a rear armrest. Each door gets a bottle holder.
Around back, behind a surprisingly damped tailgate, is a square 1520mm x 1520mm tub with a spray-in bed liner. There are four tie-down points and a chrome sports bar.
In the tailgate itself is a neatly integrated step that helps you get up into the tray without having to jump.
The GWM is reasonably cheap to run, and of course, there’s the massive discount at the time of purchase compared to mainstream rivals.
And the seven year, unlimited kilometre warranty on the GWM Ute is bested only by the ten year warranty currently offered on the Mitsubishi Triton – but Mitsubishi’s coverage is limited to 200,000km.
Sadly, the servicing on the GWM Ute is less convenient than other rivals thanks to short distance intervals between scheduled maintenance visits.
The first service occurs at just 6 months/5,000km, while the four subsequent capped price services happen at 12 months/10,000km intervals. Over the capped 4.5 years/45,000km, the Ute will cost $1,700 to service.
Fuel consumption is manageable, and the 2.0-litre turbo diesel consumed 10L/100km in our testing.
The GWM Ute is no worse to drive than many of its mainstream rivals, despite costing thousands – even tens of thousands – of dollars less.
While that may not sound like a ringing endorsement, it’s at the very least a clear sign you should be considering the Great Wall if you’re shopping for a new dual cab.
The Ute is pretty handsome, it has a long list of standard features, and its dynamics are acceptable. Maybe the final deliberation hinges on a crash rating, which the Ute is yet to receive.
No doubt GWM will be hoping it performs better than the Steed in this regard, and it should – it’s much, much larger, for a start…
But the overriding sensation of driving the GWM Ute is simply that it makes you wonder how the mainstream utes are so overpriced. This one isn’t, and we respect it for that.
An all-new Isuzu D-Max sees the 4×4 ute move from near bottom of the class to near the top as it brings style, features and safety to match its renowned ability.
Key specs (as tested)
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