The GWM Ute arrives with sharp pricing and fresh features. 

Story Bruce McMahon

The Chinese-built GWM Ute has morphed from Great Wall’s Steed into quite a workable vehicle for Australian conditions and tastes. This all-new 4WD utility, with bluff-sided body, more power and more finesse, now has the competence – and price points – to be considered alongside more traditional offerings in this ever-competitive market. It is fitting that Great Wall Motors renamed it the Ute, with the three models being called Cannon, Cannon L and Cannon X.  

All three share the same mechanicals, which means 4WD on demand, a 2L, turbocharged diesel engine, eight-speed automatic transmission, plus four-wheel disc brakes, unusual in this class. All four-door bodies are 5.4m x 1.9m and 1.8m tall, with a 1.5m x 1.5m tub out back – similar dimensions to the likes of the Ford Ranger. 

The GWM Ute has a tidy design, with few swoops and curves, and minimal ornamentation aside from a huge chrome grille on the Cannon L and Cannon X. All ride on 16-inch alloy wheels and road-biased Cooper tyres.

While that four-cylinder diesel appears outclassed on paper, with 120kW at 3600rpm and 400Nm of torque, it rarely feels that far behind rivals on or off-road, thanks in large part to the smooth-shifting ZF eight-speed transmission. Engine and transmission can be caught out a tad when revs drop below 2000rpm, but, while the transmission can slip into higher ratios a little early perhaps, out on the open road the Ute is seldom found wanting. Fuel consumption for a bag of city, highway and paddock work came in at a reasonable 10.6L/100km with a fair load aboard. The fuel tank holds 78L.

Encouraging, too, is GWM’s on-demand 4WD system, which sends drive to the front wheels when the back pair lose traction – similar to that on Mitsubishi’s Triton – and a bonus on wet bitumen or back roads. Allied with traction control and stability control systems, plus a reasonable suspension set-up, the Ute is a confident, surprisingly quiet machine down most roads or tracks. 

The steering seems artificially heavy and could be more linear. It is not helped by an intrusive lane-keeping assistance system, which needs turning down at every start-up.

As with most 4WD utes, the new suspension runs with double front wishbones and coil springs up front, and leaf springs at the rear. Ride comfort is reasonable, up there with some rivals, but not as supple or subtle at the front end as the class leaders. Maximum payload is 1050kg and towing capacity is 3 tonnes – a little lower than most.

There are four driving modes – Eco, Normal, Sport and 4L – accessed by a centre console dial. Eco is two-wheel drive, Normal for 4WD on demand, Sport sharpens up throttle and transmission reactions, while 4L shifts the transfer case into low range for serious off-roading. Here, the GWM is helped out by 232mm of ground clearance when unladen (194mm when loaded), excellent gearing and drive train responses, rear differential lock plus good wheel articulation. It can pick its way over rocks, climb rutted tracks and slosh through rain-soaked paddocks as well as most. Hard-core off-road drivers may believe in suspension changes, and modifications such as more aggressive rubber, though that could well affect the Ute’s seven-year, unlimited kilometre warranty and five-year roadside assistance.

The cabin has a swag of gear usually found on machines with $15,000 higher price tags. Standard equipment runs from alloy wheels to push-button start, reverse and kerb-side camera, traffic sign recognition, tyre-pressure monitoring system and emergency brake flashing. On the convenience side there are two USB ports up front, a 220-volt outlet in the rear, a 9-inch touch screen for information (though no in-built satellite navigation), and entertainment with Apple Carplay, Android Auto and Bluetooth connectivity.

The driving ergonomics and cabin space for four adults are good, with a fair amount of high-class style finishes across the interior. How durable the trim is remains to be seen. Less welcome are over-protective warning bells and chimes for all manner of suspected dangers. Trawling through the on-board menu for vehicle data and settings is fiddly and not particularly intuitive. Chinese language appears on reverse camera warnings. 

The GWM Ute is a capable machine with a surprising amount of mechanical and equipment sophistication at a good price. Resale value may not be an issue, considering the GWMs’ showroom prices are well below similar offerings. 

Notwithstanding a sparse, albeit growing, dealer network, less towing capacity and some minor quirks, the GWM Ute has the potential to find a profitable corner of the dual-cab market. 

This story excerpt is from Issue #139

Outback Magazine: October/November 2021