SADDLES SORE | REVIEW Great Wall Steed

Steed manages a slow walk rather than a canter, as Great Wall tries for round two – Words by Stuart Martin. 

The return of Great Wall with its renamed ute – the Steed – boosts the models available in the lower end of the market, but drivers will need spurs to make rapid progress.

The newly renamed dual-cab ute has an upgraded features list, new nose and cheap pricing, but a largely unchanged drivetrain requires work to get it going.

There’s also no automatic transmission option – the only gearbox on offer is a six-speed manual. Fortunately, it has a good shift action, that’s both clean and quick, which is a good thing because it gets a lot of work.

The Euro-5-compliant, 2.0-litre, common-rail, turbodiesel four-cylinder only produces 110 kW at 4000 rpm, with 310 Nm of torque from 1800 through to 2800 rpm. When behind the wheel and in search of forward progress, it needed at least 2200 rpm on board to get underway at a reasonable pace.

It’s well short of the norm for the mainstream marketplace – Isuzu’s long-serving D-Max looks muscular by comparison at 130 kW and 380Nm, Nissan’s single-turbo-diesel entry-level Navara offers 120 kW and 403 Nm, and the Triton delivers 133 kW and 430 Nm.

The Steed claims fuel economy of 9.0 litres per 100 km (it hovered about 1.5 litres above that for most of our time in the vehicle), but its thirst is not class leading and doesn’t make up for the lack of grunt.

The lined tray has four tie-down points to restrain a payload of up to 1010 kg, and there’s a braked towing capacity of two tonnes – the latter also well down on the segment average – but the underdone outputs would mean compulsory patience when fully laden.

In contrast to its alleged target market of tradies and cockies, the standard features list is far from bare, as it sits on 16-inch alloy wheels, with man-made ‘leather’ trim, carpeted floors, power windows and heated exterior mirrors, heated front seats, climate control, side steps and a sports bar.

There’s also a six-speaker sound system with USB (although not capable of charging) and Bluetooth, which has not been given the easiest pairing procedure to complete; the wheel-mounted volume and track selection controls are also not easy to use without getting unintended consequences.

The infotainment and climate control is contained within a centre stack that is clean in layout, if a little old fashioned in overall appearance.

The driver gets a tilt-only leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift knob, cruise control (part of a suite of illuminated steering-wheel-mounted buttons) and a centre display with trip computer and plenty of other information, but no digital speed readout.

Great Wall also includes a reversing camera – part of a $1000 option pack that also adds satellite navigation – but the former should be standard.

The cabin is reasonably quiet and not unrefined, so as to make not a bad place to reside, with carpet beneath the feet and man-made ‘leather’ under the rump, as well as some soft-touch plastics (and some not-so-nice plastic bits as well).

Low-set steering conspires with the high-set driver’s seat to sit a little higher than is ideal, but there’s enough headroom to spare, even though width within the footwell is a little tight.

The seats themselves are well cushioned but you sit on them rather than in them, with not much xin the way of lateral support. Due to the lack of spirited performance, that’s not as much of a problem in this ute as it is for those that can corner with intent and a few more horses in harness.

Seated in the rear behind my own driving position left me without having to struggle for space for legs or head, but neither is it cavernous. The seat angles are also a little too close to 90 degrees for absolute comfort, but for short trips it wouldn’t be an issue as seat comfort is reasonable.

A double-wishbone front with a leaf-sprung rear suspension delivers a reasonable ride quality, but that improves with a few hundred kilos placed strategically in the tray.

The handling side of the equation is also below par, impacted most severely by the over-assisted power steering that leaves the driver with little idea as to what’s happening with the nose.

If the driver is prepared to stir the gearbox and assign some faith to the front end, then slow-vehicle lanes aren’t going to be required, but load it to the hilt and that will change.

Unsealed surfaces are going to present more issues for the driver as the steering vagueness is compounded by a paranoid stability control system.

Slow speed with city work is fine, but once on a country road the over-involved power steering quickly erodes confidence in the front end – undue body roll and a twitchy unladen rear don’t help either.

Gruntier off-road work is viable with low range, but ground clearance sits at a low 171 mm. Not even a match for a Passat Alltrack, which claims 174 mm, and that’s designed more for snow bunnies than rock hoppers, so caution when clambering over rocks would be advised.

Crash test rating organisations and the Chinese manufacturers have not always seen eye to eye, and, as yet, the new Steed’s rating has not yet been announced by ANCAP.

xThe 2016 version’s safety features list suggests it would go closer to a five-star ranking (it’s last test some time ago yielded two stars), but the new model now includes six airbags, stability and traction control, tyre pressure and temperature monitoring.

There’s also a full-size spare wheel, automatic headlights and rain-sensing wipers, an auto-dimming centre mirror, halogen headlights, LED tail lights, daytime running lights, front fog lights, hill-start assist, lap-sash seat belts for all five occupants, rear parking sensors, but, as mentioned previously, no standard reversing camera.

The headlights are below par on both beams, and even at the highest point of adjustment were too low. The forward illumination also suffered in automatic mode as it refused to implement high beam – finally accomplished by switching to manual lighting mode. The car also kicked off warning chimes for the lights being left on when in full automatic mode.

Servicing with a capped-price scenario is not available, but attention is needed every 12 months or 15,000 km, while the manufacturer covers the vehicle with a three-year/100,000-km warranty, which includes three years free roadside assistance from the resurrected dealer network now numbering more than 50 outlets.

It may well fall to the Mahindra Genio dual-cab to go head to head with the Steed, given it’s priced from $27,990, as the odd-looking ute from Mahindra drives better than many expect, while offering better interior space. Like the Steed, it isn’t over-endowed with horsepower, but the Genio is a reasonable alternative for the outlay.

A budget stretch into the $30-40K range is the alternative, into the likes of Mitsubishi’s Triton GLX+ dual-cab, which is sharply priced from $36,990, or an Isuzu D-Max SX dual-cab, from $42,900.

Both the Triton and the D-MAX will deliver around 130 kW and decent amounts of torque – 380 Nm for the Isuzu or 430 Nm for the Mitsubishi – as well as automatic options and better towing capacities.

There’s obvious improvement from the Great Wall breed with its new Steed, but it still has some way to go before it starts to cause serious concern for other LCV brands. Drivability remains an issue in comparison to the ever-improving segment leaders, and, while it is priced to attract buyer interest, its powerplant and capacities fall short.

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