What is the GWM Ute?
Back in the day, our parents bought their big-ticket items from large, old-fashioned companies with big factories and even bigger reputations.
Straying from the norm was a risky move – but the savvy buyer could ignore convention and end up with a fridge or oven that would outperform their neighbour’s brand name item.
The car market has gone through a similar iteration over the last decade.
The Big End of Town still gets its fair share, but the fringe players are butting in at key junctures with compelling offers that are slowly but surely drawing new customers away from the mainstream.
It’s hard to call a company that builds more than a million cars a year a ‘fringe player’, but GWM – nee Great Wall – has been exactly that.
Now, with a new name and an all-new dual cab ute, it’s keen to move up from its fringe billing… and at first blush, its new Ute has hit the mark.
Here’s the slightly confusing part; this ute is actually a Ute. Its official model name is Ute. So it’s a GWM Ute… err, ute.
This variant of the Ute is known as the Cannon, and this particular one is called a GWM Ute Cannon L.
The GWM Ute is the reborn version of the Great Wall Steed – GWM stands for Great Wall Motors – and has been redesigned from front to back, offering – on paper at least – an outrageous amount of ute for the money.
GWM Ute spec details
There are three Utes in the range, and they all use a new two-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine that sends 120kW and 400Nm to all four wheels.
They’ve all got a properly good eight-speed auto from ZF, too, and all three are proper 4x4s, too, with low-range gearing and a locking rear diff.
And safety? It’s got all the safety. AEB, blind spot assist, rear-cross traffic assist, seven airbags including one between the two front seats, a 360-degree camera and more besides.
Want more? Leather? Keyless entry? Apple CarPlay and Android Auto? Done, done and done.
Add to that, the range kicks off from $33,990 drive-away, and includes a seven-year warranty.
Our Cannon L tester is $37,990 drive-away, while the top-spec version, the Cannon X, is just $40,990 drive-away.
The interior design of the GWM is really quite good. It’s actually quite sedan-like, and it’s easy to think of it as being nicer than some of its more contemporary competitors.
Smart use of satin finishes instead of piano black, for example, help to lift the cabin while the grained finish on the centre console is a nice touch.
The front seats are very comfortable and the driver seat is powered in most directions.
Front seater storage is okay; however, the door pockets are quite shallow and awkwardly shaped for bottles which will become an issue on bumpy terrain. There is a small phone receptacle under the centre console that is an awkward fit for larger mobiles when a charge cable is plugged in.
What don't we like about the GWM Ute?
There are a couple of irritations about the GWM. Small things like 5km/h increments for the cruise control, an air-conditioning system that struggles a bit in 30-degree weather, and incessant bings and bongs from the various safety systems that need to be manually switched off every time the car is restarted, are the chief irritants.
As well, accessing the digital speedometer – which hides itself away in the sub-menus - is more of an irritation than it should be.
This is something that should come on and stay on when the ignition is switched on, but it also feels like a simple firmware revision would sort this out quickly.
A small piece of insulation matting in the small oddments tray behind the shifter would also quieten down rattling from this area.
Tweaking the functionality of the GWM Ute is a matter of a combination of buttons, dials, and accessing the multimedia screen.
The screen is quick to respond and easy to navigate, but there is some unusual English phrasing scattered throughout. Again this feels like a firmware upgrade waiting to happen.
While we don’t advocate turning off lane keep assist, it’s a fact of life that not everyone likes to have the steering wheel moving underhand.
Having to dig through the multimedia screen menu to turn this function of every time a car is restarted can be frustrating, and is something that other makers deal with by adding a button near the steering wheel in the centre console stack.
The shifter is an odd combination of self-centring T-bar and buttons; it probably could be one way or the other, because not everyone likes a self-centring style shifter.
It can occasionally lead to confusion when trying to select the correct gear, although all the safety systems aboard the Ute prevent rollaway, particularly if the driver's door is opened or seatbelt is undone.
Driving the GWM Ute
The GWM‘s manners around town are actually surprisingly good. Sure, the suspension is a little bit firm in the way that all dual-cab utes can be, but it’s certainly no worse than others in the space.
Steering again is very similar to its rivals in that there is vagueness on centre that needs to be managed, while a lot of lock needs to be added to make anything happen at all. It also has a large turning circle; again not unlike its competitors.
Visibility around the cabin is great, the seat is comfortable even for larger gentleman driver, and everything is almost where it should be (except for the indicator stalk is on the left side of the column, not the right).
Reports from our back seat riders confirm there’s plenty of space across the rear bench of the GWM, and the Cannon LS tested offered includes a 220V socket as well as a single USB point and rear vents.
The rear windows are a little bit smaller than some dual cab‘s, which does restrict a bit of light into the rear end, but it’s only a matter of degrees.
It’s also possible to add to Isofix baby seats to the outside seats, but you will have to fish around the rear side of the seatback to find the centre seatbelt sash.
It’s an unusual two-buckle design, which will probably preclude the use of even a booster seat for the centre seat.
A big tick for the damped tailgate action, which uses two struts similar to those found on hatchbacks to control the rate of descent of the heavy tailgate.
The nifty little step that recesses into the tailgate is handy as well, and will actually provide a useful addition if you find yourself constantly needing to climb up into the tray itself.
The Cannon L also ships with a spray-on bedliner for the tub which negates the worst of the damage should you be careless with the contents chucked in the back.
There are four tie-downs scattered across the floor, and the sports bar is the cosmetic type that offers no real structural rigidity.
Thankfully, GWM has found a way to increase the tow rating of the Ute, jumping from 2500kg in its original spec to a more competitive 3000kg with a decent 300kg down-ball weight figure.
Yes, it is less than some of its competitors; the Mitsubishi Triton at 3100kg is probably the closest, while the majority of others offer 3500kg.
However, the Ute also offers a 1050kg payload, which tops many of its big-towing brethren.
The powertrain is a big step up over the old model Steed as well. An updated 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine now resides up front, with 120kW and 400Nm at its disposal.
It’s backed by an eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox, while a Borg-Warner 4X4 system that sends power on demand to the front axle has also been added.
We will leave the rough and tumble off-road stuff to our mates at 4X4 Australia magazine, but a brief foray on a bumpy fire road revealed that the GWM Ute can indeed go on dirt.
Unladen, it is a bumpy proposition, though, with hefty rear leaf spring rates not improving comfort inside the cabin.
Its highway-spec Cooper tyres, as well, will ultimately limit how far did you can venture off-road, but the addition of that rear differential lock and a decent 4X4 system means that the potential is there.
It’s also worth pointing out that the GWM Ute offers disc brakes at all four corners, unlike the vast majority of its rivals in the category, as well as the category's only electric hand brake.
A long highway stint aboard the GWM Ute reveals a comfortable cruiser with a relatively quiet engine, decent wind noise restriction and good all-round comfort.
Over 350km, our fuel economy figure measured 9.3L/100km against a manufacturer claim of 9.4.
GWM has made a point of ramming as much safety kit aboard the Ute as possible, and it certainly shows. There is not an assist or across traffic type of aid that the Ute appears to miss.
Particularly cool is the use of the 360-degree camera, which combines with a rear-view camera that is capable of a panoramic 180-degree view across the back of the car.
And once the reversing manoeuvre is completed and Drive is engaged, the camera flicks to a front-facing unit that displays what’s coming up ahead.
The resolution of the screen, too, is excellent. We were half-joking about taking still images from the camera to show on the website for the main image!
Other than some of the odd phrases that propped up in displays, the multimedia system ran faultlessly and with very little lag.
There is no ANCAP safety rating yet for the GWM Ute, however.
The world is changing. No longer do incumbents like Toyota and Ford spring to the top of mind when shopping for a new car. The truth is that even the entry-level models that would appeal to a family have become way too expensive for most.
This is where brands like GWM – and its rivals like SsangYong and LDV – can really make ground up.
And we’re not talking about a couple of thousand dollars here either – like for like, the difference in price could be as much as $15,000. And you just can’t argue with that.
So where does the GWM lose ground to cars like the HiLux or the Ranger? In truth, it’s about the very top edge of the engineering envelope.
The mainstream cars were built to tackle mine sites and construction yards, and are built accordingly.
This is not to say that the GWM is incapable of this level of torture, but where the HiLux and the Ranger walked back to becoming family cars from being industrial workhorses, the GWM has taken more of a family first approach.
It still has the ability to tow a decent load, it still has the ability to carry a decent amount of payload, it’s as safe - or safer – than all other dual cabs in the category, and its design, while a little derivative, is certainly not hard on the eye.
The GWM is perfectly poised to grab a bit of the dual cab pie from the big players.
Despite a few irritations in the cabin, it’s well specced, safe, decent to drive and represents astonishing value for money.
PLUS Astonishing value, decent specs, good to drive
MINUS Cabin computer foibles, firmly sprung ride off road
Model GWM Ute Cannon L
Engine 2.0L 4cyl turbo diesel
Max power 120kW @ 3600rpm
Max torque 400Nm @ 1500-2600rpm
Transmission 8-speed automatic
On sale now