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Great Wall turbo diesel double cab Ute by Bob Nettleton

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Monday, April 15, 2013

Predictions few years ago that Chinese vehicles would have a real impact on our car market have failed to materialise, simply because they have yet to earn the trust of buyers here.

While we are happy to purchase almost everything made in China, which is most things these days, there is still considerable reticence when it comes to motor vehicles made in that country. This is largely because Chinese vehicles have not clocked enough time on our market to win the approval of buyers. This is slowly happening, especially for Great Wall one of the first Chinese name plates to launch here three years ago with a range of single and double cab Ute’s.

This was a smart move in a country like ours where Utes are in strong demand especially new ones like Great Wall, which is cheaper than most two or three year-old used Japanese Utes. When you don’t have reputation and credibility on your side, enticing buyers with sharply pricing is a pretty good option. Japanese and Korean models when they first arrived here also had to go through this often drawn out acceptance process before being embraced by buyers.

Driving a Great Wall was journey into the unknown, being the first Chinese made vehicle I had ever road tested and to be honest, I did not have great expectations. Perhaps that might explain why it turned out to be better than I anticipated. The performance was solid, the test Ute felt reasonably well put together and of course there is the super low price tag to compensate for its short comings. This vehicle really felt and drove like a Japanese Ute from ten or fifteen years ago. 

With so many Japanese Utes now upsizing as they slavishly try mimicking the bulky styling of an American pick up, the compact Great Wall will appeal to those who do not want one of these King Kong sized Utes.

As a value for money proposition, the Great Wall Ute range is without peer with prices starting at $20,990 for the 2.4 litre petrol 2WD single cab and chassis, the most expensive model is the $31,990 4WD double cab 2.0 litre diesel provided for this road test. The only other new model that gets close to matching the Great 4WD double cab is the Korean made Ssangyong Acton Sports Ute in very basic Workmate spec.

The square boxy profile of the Great Wall Ute is modelled on the recently replaced Holden Colorado/ Isuzu D-Max Ute. Styling is a bit old school compared to latest offerings on our Ute market, qualifying the Great Wall Ute as an old-fashioned bargain. Money talks and for the Great Wall it shouts “Pick me” and slowly but surely, those with a nose for value for money are doing just that, especially in Australia where Great Wall sales have taken off in the last year or so.

In our Ute market the Great Wall’s 105kw two-litre common rail turbo charged diesel is among on paper anyway, has one of the smallest engine capacities and power outputs in its class. This motor is Great Wall designed and built, not one raided from another manufacturers parts bin and built under license to them, which is a fairly common practice these days.

An adequate 310m of torque dispensed between 1800rpm and 2800rpm provides solid rather than brisk mid-rev range performance. It is an adequate open-road cruiser, although engine and road noise see it marked down on refinement. The six-speed manual shift was an unexpected, but pleasant surprise. With its short and snappy transfers between gears, is better than a few Japanese Utes I can think of that cost $15,000 more than the Great Wall.

The cab is a little snug and cosy especially for back seat occupants who have to clamber in through a rather tight rear door opening. There is still enough room to accommodate four adults and five at a squeeze for short haul trips. Overall most other Ute’s in this class easily out point the Great Wall for passenger space.

For a price driven model the Great Wall is surprisingly well-appointed with air conditioning, power windows, steering wheel audio controls, power exterior mirrors and 16 inch alloy wheels. Oddly for a work vehicle, it comes with leather trimmed seats as standard. I am not sure how practical or durable these will be given the sort of punishment Utes are often subjected out on the job. You get the safety basics and not a lot more, with an air bag a piece for the driver and front seat passenger, plus a fairly basic Anti-lock braking system.

The Great Wall put in a passable effort for ride comfort on both tarmac and dirt but still falls into the needs to try harder category. Those seeking car like handling, are clearly wishful thinkers or supremely optimistic. Whatever camp they fall into they will leave disappointed. A high centre of gravity and old school independent front suspension and edgy rear leaf springs, quickly dash any handling aspirations it may have had. My cross country examination of the Great Wall was limited to a few excursions along muddy and moderately rutted farm tracks. These were easily brushed aside in high ratio 4WD and I felt this Ute was up for a far sterner test of its 4WD talents.

What’s the verdict? Average in to many areas to be anything more than “Great” in name only.

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