To be honest, my best Chinese experiences have come from the local take away joint and not from their motor vehicles. The criticisms have always been the same from both Joe Public and seasoned motor writers. "Oh, the car feels cheap. It smells funny. I've never heard of this brand before." South Africans are notoriously addicted to brands and will willingly pay more for an inferior product purely based on the nose-mounted badge.
Enter Great Wall Motors. Unlike some Chinese manufacturers who have made fleeting entries into the South African market, GWM is here to stay and has been hard at work with new product launches. GWM had a big presence at last year's Jhb Motor Show and 2014 has seen some new product launched to the South African market. The brand is doing well for itself and has 75 dealers. There are now over 50 000 GWMs driving around on South African roads too. We're looking forward to trying out the GWM C50 and H6 in the near future. Right now we're focusing on GWM's double-cab bakkie entrant, the Steed 5 - here in 2.2-litre 4x2 guise. Bakkies follow a predictable design and as far as the GWM Steed 5 goes, it's not too dissimilar to other vehicles on the market. I like the front end and the test unit was a gun metal grey colour.
Powering the GWM Steed 5 is a 2.2-litre four cylinder petrol engine. It's loosely based on a previous generation Toyota motor, but thanks to modern tech like fuel injection it offers 78 kW and 190 N. It's rather quiet too and surprisingly refined. That's when the positives run out. There's a real lack of urgency, which I'm going to put down to a torque deficit and I feel a diesel motor (which GWM offers for a little more money) would be the one to have. That said, if you just require a bakkie to do some LHS (lifting heavy stuff) and don't have a lot of money, then you really can't go wrong with the Steed 5.
In terms of interior cabin, the Steed 5 feels decidedly sparse and cheap. Then you remember how little it actually costs, and all is well. It's of a simple design and is purely engineered to be comfortable. There's leather on the seats and both driver/passenger seats are comfortable. The back seats are a little uncomfortable on longer journeys as the seats tend to be quite upright in shape. Annoyingly, there's no way to adjust the steering wheel's reach which I had assumed would be standard. Standard specification is reduced to the basics (remember that awesome price tag when you're reading this) and there's a radio with a CD player and micro USB port for Mp3 playback. There's also a decent air conditioner which is essential in the African climate as well as the fastest electric windows I've ever seen. Seriously, there are no windows which go up and down quite like these. The steering wheel features radio controls and there are also front & rear fog lights.
There's no point in me driving a double cab bakkie in Cape Town central as it's not a fair test. The ride is a little bouncy in urban areas, but the real test was to be at the hands of a dairy farmer friend of mine near Malmesbury. My friend is a serious farmer and religiously swears by the bakkie. He owns a Ford Ranger and a Volkswagen Amarok, and was keen to see what the GWM Steed 5 could do. After demonstrating the bakkie's abilities, he was quite pleasantly surprised but lamented the lack of a diff lock. A bakkie like this would make for a nice run around vehicle - taking light loads to stores, patrolling the perimeter and going for a drive to the shops. As a workhorse, it would need the extra grunt which GWM has with its diesel engines.
While the GWM Steed 5 has come a long way from its questionable predecessors, there will still be a questionable quality cloud looming over the brand. That said, Toyota was in the same position many, many years ago and more recently, so were the Korean duo of Kia and Hyundai. It's only a short matter of time until the Chinese really take the market by storm with a product that can match the build quality and expertise of its German rivals. As for the little gun metal grey Steed 5, you'd be mad to not consider a brand-new bakkie for the price of a second-hand established brand.
The GWM Steed 5 2.2-litre petrol range starts at R194 999. Your money also gets you a five-year 100 000 km and five year 60 000 service place. We'd advise forking out extra for the rubberised load bay too. GWM Steed 5 Quick Specs
|Engine||2.2-litre four-cylinder petrol|
|Power||78 kW @ 4 600 rpm|
|Torque||190 Nm @ 2 800 rpm|
|Transmission||5-speed manual gearbox|
|0-100km/h||14 seconds (estimation)|
|Fuel economy||10.2l/100km (claimed)|
We like: . Incredible value for money . Solid, simple and reliable . Great warranty for peace of mind We dislike: . No ABS . Micro USB port Also consider: Toyota Hilux Isuzu KB Nissan Navara Volkswagen Amarok