New car review: GWM Cannon-L 4x4 Ute
Rebranded Chinese ute steps out with a bold new face, plenty of flair and impressive value.
In a decidedly ironic economic twist, at the very time when China is pulling down the iron trade curtain and blocking the import of a range of high-profile Aussie imports, motorists here are snaffling up Chinese-built vehicles at a pace never seen before.
Earlier this year MG Motor became the first Chinese car maker to crack the monthly top 10 of Australian new car sales, signaling a slight loosening of the lock-tight grip Japanese and Korean car makers usually enjoy on mass-market purchases.
Another rising Chinese automotive star is the artist formerly known as Great Wall Motors, which now goes by the simpler, and snappier moniker of GWM.
Students of the game will recall that Great Wall Motors has had a presence here since 2009, but its early products weren’t that good and for a long time it was near impossible for journalist to get hold of cars for review, which always rings alarm bells.
That all seems to have changed, however, with the establishment of factory-backed operations here for GWM and its sister company Haval.
Both brands have big plans for the Aussie market with the first significant new product from GWM being the Cannon ute tested here.
The Cannon is in fact a replacement for the previous Great Wall Steed and, aside from its heavily revised four-cylinder turbo diesel engine, it boasts an all-new chassis, sheet metal, and safety systems.
Tall, blocky and with suitably strong and muscular looks, the Cannon doesn’t stray far from tried and proven contemporary dual cab ute design, except for liberal dashes of glitzy chrome on its grille, door handles and mirrors.
The only notable design quirk is a stylised P-shaped logo in the grille centre, which we presume house the car’s camera and active cruise control systems.
Turns out the logo stands for “Poer”, which is the ute’s name in its home market but makes little sense to the uninformed observer here.
It’s not exactly news that dual cab 4x4 utes have been among the hottest new vehicle sales properties for several years now.
With healthy sales volumes and high profitability, the category is proving something of a honeypot for many car makers, ensuring fierce competition.
GWM’s lure in these highly competitive waters is a price point that ensures it will get noticed, starting with the Cannon 4x4 auto at $33,990 and topping out with the Cannon-X at $40,990.
In between is the mid-spec Cannon-L 4x4 auto we’re testing here, which rolls out of the showroom at $37,990 drive-away.
The pricing is impressive enough, but even more so when you add a seven-year unlimited kilometre warranty and five years roadside assistance into the equation.
That warranty is the equal of the best on offer from the likes of Kia, MG Motors and SsangYong, while the GWM’s pricing undercuts many established players by a good $10-$15k.
By way of comparison, the Ford Ranger dual cab 4x4 starts at $48,490 and goes to $67,990, while the Toyota HiLux starts at a similar $46,790 and rises to $62,420 for an SR5+.
It's a similar story with other established brands, meaning that a top-spec GWM with all the fruit will set you back six or seven grand less than an entry-level model from some of these rivals.
Despite its low price the Cannon L doesn’t skimp on standard features, which begins with a rear differential lock, four-wheel disc brakes and an electronic parking brake with auto hold.
Other standard equipment includes a leather-wrap steering wheel, heated front seats, six-way power adjustable driver's seat, climate control with rear vents, front parking sensors, 360-degree camera, electric folding door mirrors, privacy glass, and an electric anti-glare rear-view mirror.
Crucially, the Cannon-L also comes with a full suite of the latest safety and advanced driver assist systems, matching those recently rolled out by the Mazda BT-50, Isuzu D-Max and Toyota HiLux.
The safety kit extends to seven airbags, including a front-centre airbag, forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, lane change assist, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, traffic sign recognition, vehicle stability control, tyre pressure monitoring, reverse and kerbside camera, rear parking sensors, hill start assist and hill descent control.
The Cannon-L’s largesse doesn’t stop there, either, adding quality Cooper Discoverer tyres on attractive 18-inch alloy rims, aluminium side steps, body-coloured wheel arch flares, roof rails, chrome sports bar and a durable spray-on tubliner coating.
The decent-sized bed features a quartet of tie-down points, an easy up-down tailgate with gas struts and a handy cargo ladder, which is a small step that pops out from the lowered tailgate to assist with stepping up into the tray.
Keyless entry and start are standard and the view from the driver’s seat is of an attractive and well-laid-out dash and an impressively appointed and finished interior.
Finishes include leather-like Comfort-Tek seat coverings and strips of aluminium effect on the doors and dash.
There’s plenty of space in the cabin and a wide range of electrical adjustment for the driver’s seat, along with good oddment storage in the doors and centre console.
The four-spoke multifunction steering wheel is a touch over-sized but behind it sits paddle shifts which provide manual control of the quality eight-speed ZF automatic.
The now ubiquitous central touchscreen is a high-resolution 10-inch unit with a mostly logical and easy to use interface that’s compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
A 360-degree camera is a handy addition in such a big vehicle and provides excellent vision when reversing or manoeuvering in tight spaces.
The appearance of Chinese script on the screen when you select reverse is one of the few clues as to the vehicle’s origins.
There are no major ergonomic glitches to speak of and rear-seat passengers are well treated with plenty of head, knee and foot room, plus generous door bins, individual air vents and a single USB charger to match the pair up front.
Performance wise, the 2.0-litre turbo diesel engine is smooth, strong and responsive, summoning outputs of 120kW/400Nm, which is down a bit on the Hilux’s 150kW/450Nm but close enough to be competitive with the likes of the Mitsubishi Triton (133kW/430Nm).
Power goes to the rear wheels unless otherwise directed via an eight speed ZF automatic with the choice of Eco, Normal and Sport modes.
The default Normal mode delivers smooth and relaxed performance and a tendency to shuffle up into the higher cogs as quickly as possible to aid fuel economy.
The latter is a claimed 9.4L/100km for the combined cycle and we saw an average of 10.6L/100km during our test.
The Sport mode sharpens throttle response and auto shift pattern but hangs onto gears too long to be comfortable for our tastes.
Off-road capability is via competitive ground clearance with decent approach, departure and ramp-over angles, along with a hill descent mode and a Borg Warner dual range transfer case with standard rear diff lock.
Dynamically, the GWM features standard ute fare of independent front suspension with a leaf sprung and live axle rear suspension.
The latter is designed to facilitate decent load carrying ability with a 3000kg braked towing limit falling shy of the 3500kg on offer from many others in the class.
The workhorse rear end means unladen ride is predictably firm, bucking frequently over bumps, but it isn’t noticeably worse than most of the competition. The steering feel is rubbery and a bit artificial and it can feel slow to turn into bends, but none of this is a deal breaker in our view.
The keen pricing of this new GWM Ute is sure to capture plenty of attention, as is the impressive seven-year unlimited kilometre warranty and five years of roadside assist.
It’s tempting to look for the “catch”, given the low purchase price and extensive list of standard features, but after a week at the wheel we came away largely impressed and with few meaningful criticisms.
There will always be an understandable reluctance among some buyers to take a leap of faith with a little-known brand but GWM has effectively countered this with is excellent warranty, roadside assist and capped price serving schedule.
A spokesperson also pointed out the GWM Group is China's largest SUV and pickup truck manufacturer, with the Great Wall brand claiming to be the country’s number one ute brand for the past 21 years, so it’s had plenty of experience building workhorses in its own market.
It’s worth remembering, too, that back in the 1950s brands like Toyota and Nissan were viewed with the same sort of hesitance and skepticism by Australian buyers that might today be reserved for GWM. And look where they are today.
MLP: $37,990 (driveaway)
ENGINE: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel with variable geometry turbo (120kW/400Nm)
ANCAP CRASH RATING: Not rated
FUEL CONSUMPTION: 9.4L/100km (249g/km C02)
FOR: Keen pricing, excellent warranty, extensive standard equipment list, strong safety features.
AGAINST: Limited dealer network, unproven reliability, rough unladen ride, slow steering, no crash rating.