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Review

First Drive: Great Wall Steed car review

14/08/12

LET’S not beat around the bush; Great Wall is a brand that at the moment is only hoping to make small inroads into the British pick-up market.

As one of the biggest markets for pick-ups in Europe, Great Wall figures that if it can sell them here, it can sell them anywhere on the continent so we’re one of the first markets outside of Great Wall’s native China to see the Steed.

The Steed is the first of the company’s products to roll onto these shores, but more than that it’s the first volume-produced Chinese car to be officially imported to the UK at all.

As you might expect, it’s cheap. But don’t let that fool you into preconceptions the car doesn’t deserve. Looking at the Steed as closely as possible without taking it apart in a workshop, there’s a lot going for it.

You can get two models; the S and the SE. The entry-level S only costs £13,998 on the road excluding VAT, for a double-cab pick-up with a surprisingly economical diesel engine, switchable four- and two-wheel-drive, a low-range gearbox, a one-tonne payload limit and a two-tonne towing potential.

Whichever way you slice it that’s pretty impressive. As standard on the S you also get 16-inch alloy wheels and tall, chunky off-road capable tyres, daytime running lights, remote central locking, a Thatcham category one alarm, electric windows all round, an Alpine CD/Radio system with Bluetooth link-up, audio controls on the steering wheel, air conditioning and even leather seats, the front two of which are heated.

It’s a crazy specification for something so inexpensive, and it takes a little explaining to ease some of the natural scepticism. Labour costs are a big part of why cars are so expensive and at the moment Chinese labour is an awful lot cheaper than European labour. The plastics are also on the utilitarian side, but at least you won’t worry too much about knocking them around.

Nor have there been massive research and development costs, with much of the design learned from Great Wall’s own 35 years of experience making vehicles for the Chinese and other East Asian markets. The suspension is a mixed bag with independent double wishbones at the front and old-fashioned leaf springs at the back to minimise intrusion into the load bay.

But the result of all the relatively low-tech engineering and bizarrely high specifications is a vehicle that’s actually quite charming. The 2.0-litre Great Wall-designed diesel isn’t the gutsiest and needs a boot full of revs to pull its hardest, but it’s flawed in an endearing way and works perfectly well on the daily drive around town.

The out-sourced gearbox has been designed for tough environments and hard work, so along with the low-range gearbox for serious off-road tasks the high-range unit uses shorter ratios than a typical car would, allowing the engine to more easily overcome heavy loads.

For an extra £2,000 plus VAT the Steed SE has a body-coloured hard-top canopy for the load bay, a load bay liner, chrome side bars, rear parking sensors and a bundle of visual enhancements. It’s the flashier of the two models and sits well even alongside pick-ups costing almost twice the price.

Driving the Steed is an oddly enjoyable affair. It’s hardly quiet; the engine in particular makes its every noise heard in a way that we European softies aren’t used to with our soundproofing and advanced injection systems. The Steed has an array of mechanical whirrs and whines that feel refreshingly old-school. With plenty of motorway miles into the bargain the test car hit 39mpg over 300 miles.

The steering is light and slow, so corners must be taken with care. Its turning circle is ponderous at best, with a long wheelbase dragging out behind the front tyres and an overall length of more than five metres. But with a high driving position, a satisfying six-speed manual gearbox and comfortable seats, it’s immensely likeable.

A lot of builders, joiners and other tradesmen out there on a tight budget would love the Steed. Although it’s stuffed with luxury gear of questionable relevance, you never get the sense that you’re paying over the odds for extra degrees of refinement you don’t really need in a working vehicle.

What’s yet to be proven is the Steed’s longevity under pressure; the quality of its nuts, bolts and inner workings. Costing so little in the first place buyers will never be in danger of losing too much money on it, but the early signs here, on top of sales passing 700,000 in China, give a more positive impression than some might want to afford it.

Remember, people laughed at Japanese motorbikes in the early 1970s and look how that turned out. Don’t write the Steed off, but actually go and drive it. You might just find it fits the bill.

FACTS AT A GLANCE Model: Great Wall Steed SE, £15,998 on the road plus VAT.

Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel producing 141bhp and 225lb.ft.

Transmission: 6-speed manual gearbox with high- and low-range ratios driving the rear or all four wheels (switchable, low-range uses four-wheel-drive only).

Performance: Top speed 87mph, 0-62mph in 17 seconds.

Fuel economy: 30.1mpg.

CO2 rating: 220g/km.

  • Enginesdiesel
  • Power1 (low performance)
  • 0-60 mph
  • Economy3 (average fuel economy)
  • CO2g/km
  • Insurance groups4 (lower than average costs)
  • Airbags
  • Seats5

Motors.co.uk value verdict:    stars

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