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The Great Wall brand has always had two key attributes associated with it – that it’s cheap, and that it’s Chinese.
Now there’s a new pick-up from the brand, the Great Wall Steed – it’s still cheap, it’s still Chinese – but we want to know if it’s any good, this time around. So we got our hands on the most expensive Great Wall Steed you can buy, the 4x4 diesel, which is still very much affordable by dual-cab standards, priced at just $29,990 drive-away. That places it cheaper than the cheapest name-brand utes – if you shop around you can get dual-cab diesel versions of the Mitsubishi Triton, Volkswagen Amarok and Nissan Navara, for example, for less than $40,000.
It doesn’t look cheap, though: there’s a chrome grille, daytime running lights, side steps and 16-inch alloy rims. You also get a stainless steel sports bar and a protective tub-liner in the tray, no matter what spec you buy, and there are five different colours to choose from, none of which cost any extra.
In fact, it looks like you’re buying a lot of ute, partly because this is a bloody long pick-up truck: the overall length is 5345 millimetres – 310mm more than before – and the wheelbase is a huge 3200mm.
So not only is it big and budget-focused, it’s well equipped. And inside you definitely don’t feel like you’re sitting in one of the old Great Walls.
That’s because there’s (fake) leather trim, electric seat adjustment for the driver, heated front seats, auto headlights with LED daytime running lights, auto wipers, and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror.
Then there is the (real) leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear knob, air conditioning and cruise control. All Great Wall models get the usual Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, as well as USB connectivity and steering wheel audio controls. You even get carpet on the floor rather than vinyl!
Inside it’s a nicer place than, say, an Isuzu D-Max, but it's not all happy times inside the cabin. Sure, the materials are decent for this price point, there’s none of that nasty cheap plastic smell that can be sniffed in other cheapie utes, and the storage up front is fairly good too – but there’s no reach adjustment for the steering, and there’s no door storage in the rear seats, and up front there's a lack of usable storage: the door bins are shallow, and so are the central cup holders.
Speaking of the back bench, and despite its size, there’s not a heap of space back there. You’ll fit two bigger adults in the outer seats fine, but three across could be a bit of a squeeze, and knee room is tight, with those in the back forced to sit in a knees-up position. If you’ve got big feet, you might struggle getting in and out, too, because of the way the doors are shaped and the prominent B-pillar design.
But all the trinkets shouldn’t distract you from the fact that the Steed has seen a significant safety upgrade compared with the old V Series ute.
The new ute gets six airbags – dual front, front side and full-length curtain protection, the latter of which you don't get in a dual-cab Volkswagen Amarok! – and the electronic stability program is from Bosch (V9.0) and includes hill-start assist. It’s lucky that’s fitted – more on that later…
There are five lap-sash seatbelts – as there should be – and from next year you will be able to fit ISOFIX child-seats in the back: at this stage, though, there are no legal child-seat anchor points of any type: that is to say that there are ISOFIX style attachments in the seat bases, but no top-tether points as required by local laws.
You miss out on a rear-view camera as standard, though – that can be added as part of a $1000 media system upgrade that includes a touchscreen unit with satellite navigation. At least rear parking sensors are fitted from the factory, so that’s something.
That media system is decent for an aftermarket-style unit – the menus are easy to learn, the navigation system is a cinch despite its pixelated graphics. The camera is of a decent resolution, but the air-conditioning controls (which display on the screen for some reason) kept showing up, seemingly every time the exterior temperature changed. Weird.
Back to the physical dimensions of this thing: it’s huge. And its tray is a handy 155mm longer than it used to be, with a usable span of 1545mm, and a width of 1460mm (and 980mm between the wheel arches – meaning it’s too narrow to fit a standard Aussie pallet, which measures 1165mm x 1165mm), and a depth of 480mm. There are four tie-down points inside the tub, and heavy duty rails and hooks mounted on the exterior of the tub, too.
No matter which specification of Great Wall Steed you choose, the payload is more than one tonne – this spec, for instance, has a 1020-kilogram capability. But the towing capacity is piss weak, at just 2.0 tonnes – the best vehicles in the ute class have 3.5-tonne capacity. Our ute didn’t have a tow bar so we couldn’t test that.
The 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel engine under the bonnet of the new Steed is small for the class, both in terms of capacity and in terms of outputs. Most diesel utes in the market have engines ranging from 2.0 litres (twin-turbocharged) to 3.2 litres in size, and nearly every ute on the market has higher outputs.
The Steed churns out 110kW of power (at 4000rpm) and 310Nm of torque (from 1800-2800rpm), which is a touch more powerful but notably less torque-rich than a base model VW Amarok (TDI340 with 103kW/340Nm). And it’s done no favours by the fact that it’s only available with a six-speed manual transmission – that’s right, there’s no automatic available, which could be enough to rule it out instantly for some buyers.
Indeed, the drivetrain is pretty lacklustre. It lacks low-end pulling power and even feels sapped of some mid-range torque, too: below 2000rpm at low speeds it’s almost like there’s no engine present, such is the amount of lag. You often feel as though you’ve found a dead spot, and it’s particularly bad taking off up hills, even though there’s that hill-hold assistance.
If you’re at speed the engine is far less offensive, and on flat stretches of highway you won’t notice the lack of grunt. Once the road turns into a hill that wouldn't see you need to drop out of sixth gear in most utes, you’ll have to row back through the gears to fifth or fourth, maybe even third in the Steed. Thankfully, though, the shift action is light and easy, as is the clutch.
And all of that was with nothing in the tray… being a ute and all, we figured we should chuck some weight in the tray – 500 kilograms of sand bags, to be precise.
Those low-speed struggles were exacerbated with the weight on board, with the engine feeling even less impressive. The load had an effect on the steering response – with mass over the rear axle, the nose did feel a little lighter – but the ride was decently settled over sharp bumps.
The ride was a bit rough with nothing in the tray, particularly at the rear. That’s despite the fact that the suspension damping is quite soft, so there’s a fair amount of body roll in corners.
The steering when unladen was woolly, lacking precision and weight. It’s light, which is good, but you need to apply a lot of lock to get much of a reaction.
Being the 4x4 version we figured it would be good to get off-road, too – and it was surprisingly well sorted.
There’s a push-button four-wheel drive system with 2H, AWD and 4L modes: switching between the first two modes can be done on the fly, but to hit low range you need to be stopped, clutch in.
It all worked well on test, crawling down a steep descent (there’s no hill descent button) and ascending up hills decently, though in low range there was a bit of clunking on take-off. The most impressive element to the Steed’s behaviour off-road is its electronic stability control, which offers enough leniency to ensure you won’t get bogged down on loose surfaces, particularly in low range.
Further, the steering is improved with the front axle engaged, though it’s still slow, still lacking the on-centre immediacy and feel to offer great confidence at higher speeds.
Over our 1000km with the Great Wall Steed, we saw fuel use of 9.1 litres per 100km, which is respectable considering the claim is 9.0L/100km.
Anyone who has owned a Great Wall ute previously will know that the aftersales care required a bit of work, but this time around there’s still only a three-year/100,000km warranty, backed by roadside assist for that period, too. There’s no capped-price servicing, either.
The all-new Great Wall Steed is a fine budget ute, one with notably better safety than many cheapo competitors – but it’s not great, if you’ll pardon the pun. At $30,000 drive-away there may be some buyers that are keen to give the new Steed a crack, but if you can stretch your budget to $40,000, you’ll have plenty of considerably better options to choose from, like an entry-level diesel 4x4 dual-cab version of the Mitsubishi Triton (GLX+), Nissan Navara (RX) or VW Amarok (Core). And all of those utes can be had with automatic transmissions, too…
Click the Photos tab above for more images by Sam Venn.