The 2019 Great Wall Motors (GWM) Steed is Australia’s cheapest dual-cab ute, with an outrageously low current drive-away price of $19,990. You’d be doing well to get a five-year-old Toyota HiLux for that.
Of course, this Chinese commercial brand doesn’t have the proverbial runs on the board to justify higher prices. Nor is its product as sophisticated, safe or powerful as the newer T60 from Shanghai-based rival LDV.
So, the sharpest price is the best weapon GWM has to wield at this stage.
For those after a brief history lesson, it’s worth a reminder that the company once blazed a trail. In its former incarnation under an independent distributor, it sold more than 45,000 utes and SUVs over about six years. But the market has changed more than Great Wall’s product has.
The Steed 4x2 dual-cab tested here is 5345mm long, 1800mm wide and 1760mm tall, which is actually about the same dimensionally as a HiLux Workmate 4x2 petrol that we priced on Toyota’s website at $35,179. It’s even 115mm longer between the wheels.
While the HiLux’s 2.7-litre petrol makes 122kW and 245Nm, the Steed’s even older-design 2.4 makes 100kW at 5250rpm and 205Nm at 2500rpm, channelled to the five-leaf-sprung solid rear axle via a standard five-speed manual gearbox. If you don’t know how to drive a car with three pedals, tough.
GWM also cites a braked towing capacity of 2.0 tonnes.
While it’s a smooth enough old donk at idle, it’s raspy and lacking the guts of the also-available 110kW/310Nm Steed dual-cab diesel (said oil-burner 4x2 costs $23,990, and the 4x4 version with BorgWarner transfer case costs $25,990) as you progress through the gears.
The clutch take-up point takes some getting used to, and the lack of a taller sixth means you’ll be sitting at around 2800rpm at 100km/h, denting refinement.
GWM claims fuel consumption on the combined cycle of 12.7 litres per 100km using pricier 95RON, though on my 300km drive the Steed returned 12.4L/100km, including some time laden as I’ll discuss in a bit.
The diesel is claimed to use 9L/100km, so if you do 500km a week it will pay back the extra $4000 outlay in about three years.
The Steed’s ride and handling are a mixed bag. Its unladen ride quality is surprisingly good, since it absorbs and isolates you from corrugations better than many competitors and feels quite settled at the rear. It rolls on Chinese Giti Savero Plus tyres measuring 235/70R16, on 16x7.0-inch aluminium alloy wheels.
On the downside, the hydraulic steering is very vague for a few degrees off centre, and despite utilising a relatively sophisticated double-wishbone front suspension set-up, its body roll against cornering forces is pronounced.
The brake pedal feel (interestingly, the Steed has discs at both ends) was also notably dead on initial application before biting late in the pedal travel point.
The Steed has a GVM of 2732kg and a payload of 1010kg, getting just over the vaunted one-tonne barrier. The tub's dimensions measure 1545mm long, 1460mm wide (narrower between the arches), and 480mm deep, and the sports bar mounted to the tub sides is standard, as is the fairly flimsy plastic-covered rear step.
I performed a more realistic test by putting three 200kg water barrels in the tub (which incidentally comes with a standard plastic bed liner that's not the best quality, but has the benefit of being free), plus my own 105kg frame.
To its credit, the Steed handled my drive with this load competently. The rear stayed off the stops, the ride remains pliant despite the reduced suspension travel, and while the front lifted a smidgen and lightened the steering, it stayed flatter than some pricier utes I've tested (hello pre-facelift D23 Navara).
That said, any incline necessitates you drop back a few gears and pin the accelerator nearly through the firewall, because the Steed doesn't have a whole lot of guts.
So, what about the cabin? In an era where utes are increasingly offering all the mod-cons including big touchscreens, car-like ergonomics and lashings of driver-assistance tech, the Steed offers... None of the above, really.
The steering wheel lacks telescopic adjustment, though Great Wall is no orphan there. We'd also like a digital speedo. Further weakening the ergonomics is the configuration of the gearbox, which has a peculiarly long throw, meaning pulling it out of first requires quite a stretch.
Some of the surfaces are nice enough, such as the soft covering on the dash cowl, door armrests and console, and the chunky rubber ventilation dials. There are also big door bins and plenty of other spots to store your stuff scattered about. However, the plastic surrounding the gearstick was already coming loose.
The back seats offered sufficient head room and leg room for our 180cm photographer Joel, as pictured, and there are both top tethers and two ISOFIX anchor points. You also get lights and grab handles, though no air vents.
The multimedia system comprises six speakers and an old-school head unit controlled by buttons, meaning no touchscreen or reversing camera is available, although at least you get reversing sensors.
To the system's credit, the Bluetooth phone system did re-pair reliably enough, though the USB input only succeeded in adding charge to my phone about half the time.
The list of standard features beyond this actually isn't half bad. You get fake leather seats that are even heated for the driver and passenger (side note is this is the only car sold that has heated seats but no touchscreen?), auto-off headlights, LED tail-lights, fog lights at both ends, DRLs, an electrochromatic rear-view mirror, four power windows, a full-size spare wheel, and a tyre-pressure monitor.
On the safety front, you get both stability control and hill-hold assist, as well as dual front, front-side and full-length curtain airbags.
However, the shocking two-star ANCAP crash rating doesn't fill one with confidence, especially in an era where most utes (including said LDV T60) have attained five stars.
From an ownership perspective, GWM now offers a five-year and 150,000km warranty with three years of roadside assist from new, which should give some reassurance.
So, the verdict. On the plus side, the Steed petrol dual-cab's $20,000 pricepoint is absurdly low, its ride quality respectable both laden and unladen, the warranty is now where it needs to be, and it even has some desirable features such as heated seats.
However, you do get what you pay for, and it's nowhere near as sophisticated, safe or well presented as its more expensive and better-known competitors.
However, there is one GWM Steed that potentially makes some sense, and that's the $19,990 single-cab-chassis diesel model, especially if you can haggle even further. This petrol dual-cab is less impressive.
Final thing to note: the company this year revealed a brand new pick-up, which is going to be a massive step up when it hits the market in 2020. That offering should ruffle some feathers.