GWM UTE 2021 cannon-l (4x4)
launch-review

2021 GWM Ute Cannon L review

Rating: 7.8
$37,990 Mrlp
  • Fuel Economy
    9.4L
  • Engine Power
    120kW
  • CO2 Emissions
    N/A
  • ANCAP Rating
    N/A
With a branding overhaul and a much improved product, GWM is ready to dive into Australia’s 4x4 dual-cab market and hopes to make waves with the simply titled Ute.
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The 2021 GWM Ute enters the market as the first product from a revised and rebranded Great Wall. In an attempt to distance itself from branding efforts of the past, GWM wants to be known for value, as opposed to Great Wall’s focus on cut-price.

The naming, perhaps, could have been a little better thought out. GWM’s ute is called the Ute. Three spec levels are available: Cannon, Cannon L and Cannon X – so then, why not just the GWM Cannon?

Adding to the confusion is the GWM’s domestic market name, Poer. That's why there’s a stylised ‘P’ logo on the grille, wheels, side steps, guard vents, and key – but the traditional Great Wall insignia on the tailgate and steering wheel.

Confusing branding aside, the GWM Ute hits the market with some of the sharpest pricing in the segment. The entry-level Cannon starts at $33,990, the mid-spec Cannon L shown here is $37,990, and the top-spec Cannon X is $40,990.

An automatic transmission is standard, prices are drive-away across the range, but metallic paint attracts a $585 surcharge. Still, that positions the Ute as one of the lowest-priced 4x4 utes in Australia.

While the LDV T60 automatic sits at $28,990 to $39,990 drive-away for ABN holders, depending on the variant, it’s a step up to almost anything else in the class. Similar 4x4 auto spec in a Triton GLX starts from $39,740 drive-away, or if you want the nation's best-selling vehicle, a Toyota HiLux, $48,790 plus on-road costs starts you out in a matching mechanical spec.

For a full list of features and specifications, read our price and features guide.

Those savings have to come from somewhere, and while GWM still has to earn a reputation, and needs price as a point of difference, there’s also a price to pay under the bonnet. Thanks to a 2.0-litre turbo diesel engine rated to 120kW at 3600rpm and 400Nm at 1600–2000rpm, the Ute sits behind most of the dual-cab class.

2021 GWM Ute Cannon L
Engine2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel
Power and torque120kW at 3600rpm, 400Nm at 1500–2600rpm
TransmissionEight-speed torque converter automatic
Drive typeTorque on demand 4x4 with low-range transfer case
Kerb weight2175kg
Fuel claim, combined (ADR)9.4L/100km
Fuel use on test10.2L/100km
Turning circle13.1m
ANCAP safety ratingNot tested
Warranty7 years/unlimited kilometres
Main competitorsLDV T60, Ssangyong Musso, Mitsubishi Triton
Price as tested (drive-away)$38,575

It’s nearly neck-and-neck compared to the 110kW/400Nm 2.4-litre HiLux, a step behind the 132kW/430Nm 2.3-litre Triton, and further still behind the D-Max, BT-50, HiLux 2.8, and either 3.2-litre or 2.0-litre Bi-Turbo Ranger. Closer to its pricepoint, the GWM has a win against the LDV that offers either 110kW and 360Nm from its 2.8-litre base engine, or 120kW/375Nm in 2.0-litre Trailrider guise.

The engine itself is a development of the one used in the Ute’s predecessor, the Steed, then rated at a paltry 110kW and 310Nm. So while it may not be a front-runner, it’s certainly been improved.

Putting spec comparisons and pricing battles aside, though, what’s the GWM Ute actually like? The Steed was something of a low mark in the ute segment, so bettering it shouldn’t be too difficult.

Indeed, GWM has leapt ahead by generations in the new ute. I expected improvements, but not quite to this level.

From the cabin fit and finish to the material quality and the overall styling, the GWM Ute convincingly puts its past behind it and settles alongside its 4x4 ute classmates, even leaving some in its wake.

All that tinsel counts for little, though, if the Ute can’t match rivals, and it’s here that things get more complicated.

The engine looks outgunned on paper, but surprisingly the diesel engine feels much more willing than raw numbers suggest, and the eight-speed ZF automatic gives it a spry set-off from a standstill, changes gears smoothly, and is well mapped in most conditions.

If you’re too eager with the accelerator and floor it, the engine tends to pause for a moment or two of lag before revving up. Roll onto the pedal progressively, though, and acceleration feels more linear.

From under the bonnet it sounds like a diesel engine, but a modern one, not a coarse old-school rattler. Refinement is on par with some of the better models in the segment.

The Ute also boasts four-wheel disc brakes, which stands out against most of the class that prefers rear drum brakes. Pedal feel is even and progressive with an empty tray – not wooden, not grabby.

Staying closer to the segment formula, front suspension is via a double-wishbone set-up, while the rear uses a leaf-sprung solid rear axle.

And it’s probably here that GWM needs to make the biggest improvement. Roadholding is stable and predictable, but dips and bumps in the road surface rattle the rear end and reverberate through the cabin.

Even smooth roads that normally wouldn’t bother most utes tend to feel choppy and vibey from behind the wheel of the GWM Ute. A little Aus-spec tuning here would make a world of difference.

Then again, you could take the plunge and, with the money saved compared to a rival ute, spend on some suspension tweaks. Hopefully, the Australian arm has this as a must-fix for the future.

For the most part, though, there are no major flaws or failings. The handling is respectable and neither alarmingly unstable nor class-leading in any way.

The steering is light, slow and not always consistent in its weighting depending on conditions. The turning circle is far from compact, too, at 13.1m.

The ride is certainly livable but definitely needs finessing.

Interior fittings, on the other hand, are closer to the passenger car realm than most utes on the market. In the same way the LDV T60 and Ssangyong Musso have ventured into SUV territory, the design and finishes of the Ute are a little less utilitarian and a bit more plush.

The Ute range packs in a healthy list of standard features. All models come with keyless entry and start, body-coloured bumpers and wheel arch flares, side steps, 18-inch alloy wheels, rear differential lock, air-conditioning with rear console vents, a 220-volt power outlet, dusk-sensing LED headlights and full LED tail-lights.

That list is already ahead of what most mid-to-high-spec rivals include, but the mid-grade Cannon L shown here adds in additional chrome trim on the mirrors, door handles and grille, a stainless steel sport bar in the tub, and gas strut-assist tailgate with fold-away rear step.

On the inside, the Cannon L adds heated front seats, single-zone climate-control air-conditioning, a powered driver’s seat, auto-dimming interior mirror and power-folding exterior mirrors.

The fold-out tailgate step is a segment exclusive, and makes scrambling in and out of the tub much safer and easier. It’s load-rated to 150kg, too, putting it on par with most industrial ladders.

The gas-assist tailgate is also unusual, and makes the tailgate even easier to operate than comparative torsion spring-assisted gates.

The interior trim is ‘Comfort-Tek’ faux leather, the steering wheel adjusts for tilt only, and auto up-down is on the driver’s window only in the two base grades. The top-spec Cannon X addresses all these items while adding wireless phone charging, a powered passenger seat, and a 7.0-inch instrument display (in place of the 3.5-inch low-spec unit).

GWM also takes points for its infotainment system. The 9.0-inch display is crisp but the touch sensitivity can occasionally miss or misread inputs. There’s AM/FM radio (but no DAB+) and Bluetooth built in, but no integrated navigation or CD player.

There is wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility stacked in. The vehicle menu access, to alter settings for safety systems and warnings, is quick and easy to access, as well as being clear and concise to adjust.

Not to point the finger, but Isuzu’s UI could learn from GWM’s.

There are some legacy quirks in some menus. Instead of ‘off, low, med, high’ settings for the heated seats, they’re labelled “close, 1 gear, 2 gear and 3 gear” for some reason – and despite all language settings in English, the reverse camera and some traffic sign recognition alerts are either bilingual or Chinese-only.

The Audi-style rocker gear selector might take a period of adjustment, but otherwise controls and buttons are laid out as you’d expect, though some of the climate-control markers are on the small side.

There’s an electric park brake with auto-release and auto-hold functions, too – a first for the segment in Australia.

The cabin is big, so there are no qualms with elbow space and key measures of head, shoulder and leg room all stack up well. I’m short, so I fit everywhere. I also tested with a 188cm passenger, who could sit in the rear behind their front seating position, and while knee room was slim, there was enough.

To really stress-test it, I also asked my 200cm-tall brother-in-law to try the Ute on for size. Front seat space was fine, but as with just about every other vehicle he’s ever ridden in, the rear seat had him wedged against the headlining and front seatback.

The rear seat has a few little quibbles. There’s no centre armrest (it's a Cannon X exclusive) and the seatbelt buckles drop into a recess in the seat base, meaning you’ll have to fiddle about to fish them out every time.

The seat base flips up to reveal a shallow storage nook, while the backrest also flips forward. There are two ISOFIX mounts and two top-tether child seat mounts in the back seat.

Trim quality seems up to snuff. The dash is covered in hard plastic, not the squishy type, and the stitched dash topper and two-tone leather shown in Chinese-market promo images didn’t make its way to Australia.

Padded sections on the dash face, door cards and squishy armrests on the doors and console lid make for comfortable and classy-looking accommodation.

Who knows, though, if the Ute is a roaring success there’s a luxed-up premium model and a more off-road-focussed model in the vein of a HiLux Rugged X available overseas. The latter comes with front, rear and centre locking diffs and additional off-road support tech, while the local range comes with a rear locker only.

Not everything in the interior is rosy. Long targeted by GWM/Haval in Australia, there are some market-specific quirks that Australian buyers could do without. The digital speedo and trip computer screen time-out, defaulting back to the driver support display.

Adjusting it to where you want it involves a two-button process. You have to hold ‘OK’ before you can unlock the centre display, then arrow through to the digital speedo. If you’re using adaptive cruise control, you’re locked out of the trip info, too. That’s odd, to say the least.

There are fewer beeps and chimes than Haval products of the past, but there are still confirmation chimes for things like drive-mode selection and cruise-control mode. The drive modes themselves are a bit odd, too.

According to GWM Australia, Eco is the only way to drive in 4x2, but it softens throttle response as well. Normal and Sport modes are 4x4, using a ‘torque on demand’ Borg Warner transfer case to send drive to the front wheels when needed.

On the plus side, this set-up means the GWM Ute can be driven in 4x4 modes on sealed surfaces, and still has a low-range transfer case for heavy going off-road (as heavy as the road-biased tyres will allow, at least). There’s no high-range 4x4 lock mode, however.

Perhaps the biggest concern is the remote-start system. While you can start the car remotely to pre-cool or heat the cabin, most systems of this nature require you to confirm the key is with the driver via a re-press of the start button.

GWM’s system lets you climb in and drive off… That seems a little risky.

To put the Ute to the test, we loaded it up in two stages to see how it stood up to a working load and a maxed-out payload.

The first load saw 420kg dropped into the tub, and while the rear suspension hunkered down a little, it didn’t sag in the rear at all. In fact, on the road the driving behaviour stayed pretty much where it should.

The rear felt more planted, but at no stage did the handling or ride fall apart. Adding a load to the rear didn’t solve all the GWM’s problems, though, and even with half a tonne between the tub and the driver, the jiggle-back over mostly smooth roads still appeared.

More worryingly, the brakes felt short on bite earlier than they really should have for the payload. Conversely, the automatic transmission held gears longer and demonstrated its nous with gradient downshifts on downhill runs, to bring engine braking into play, taking the load off the brakes.

Round two saw 825kg dropped in the tub and 180kg in the cabin. With a 1005kg on board, that’s near on the 1050kg payload maximum. It’s here that things should have really come undone, and yet they didn’t.

Yes, the rear dropped slightly, but not alarmingly, and on the road the GWM never once collided with its bump stops, and never exhibited any alarming handling behaviours. The steering lightened up with load off the nose, and brake distances stretched out a little further, as expected, but that was the worst of it.

Obviously by this stage the rear end was as settled as it could get, but still had some movement to keep the cabin stable over dips and bumps.

The engine was clearly working much harder, but again the transmission has the smarts to compensate. While progress was slowed a little, the 2.0-litre engine dug deep and worked with momentum.

Up front, the added load resulted in a bit of a chugging diesel soundtrack, but still nothing too grating.

I’ll admit, the Ute did much better than I thought it would. Colour me impressed.

Without a towbar fitted to the launch car, we couldn’t put the 3000kg max towing claim to the test, but for what it's worth, the GWM Ute falls short of most in the segment with 3500kg capacity.

2021 GWM Ute Cannon L
Length / width / height5410mm / 1934mm / 1886mm
Ground clearance232mm unladen / 194mm laden
Tow rating / payload3000kg braked, 750kg / 1050kg
Approach / departure / rampover angles27 / 25 / 21.1 degrees
Wading depthNot supplied
Tub dimensions, length / width1520mm / 1520mm

Official fuel consumption is rated at 9.4L/100km. On test, including the load testing, a balance of city and freeway work skewed slightly towards the latter, and a DPF burn cycle (there’s a manual purge button for this too), the Ute returned 10.2L/100km.

To ensure owners keep on smiling after their initial purchase, GWM has backed the Ute with an impressive seven-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty – putting it right near the top of the pack for factory warranty. Roadside assistance for up to five years or 100,000km is also offered.

A capped-price servicing program is in the works, but at this stage GWM Haval hasn’t finalised the pricing schedule.

In an effort to stamp out lingering doubts about safety, the Ute also takes a massive leap forward.

Standard on all variants is an autonomous emergency braking system with pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane-departure warning and lane-keep assist, lane-centring steering assist, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and traffic sign recognition linked to the adaptive cruise control with traffic jam assist.

The base model has a reverse and kerb-view camera, the Cannon L and Cannon X add a 360-degree camera with interactive 3D flyover view function. The Cannon X also adds door-open warning to let occupants know if a vehicle or cyclist is approaching to prevent door strikes.

That’s a long list of inclusions, and should probably embarrass some of the more expensive utes that still have gaps in their spec sheets. Better still, the systems all seemed to work well on test. No erratic behaviour, nor false alarms.

I’d like the adaptive cruise control to be a bit more alert when picking up speed from a slow start, but as far as gripes go that’s pretty minor. The L tested here also has the door-open warning function (as a small spec difference from an early build car), and it proved genuinely helpful when parked on a busy cycling route.

ANCAP hasn’t yet tested the GWM Ute. Its advanced safety tech should help it score well (there’s a centre airbag, just like the five-star BT-50 and D-Max), but without knowing how the Haval H9-based structure will stand up to an impact, we’re going to err on the side of caution (and keep the two-star Steed and four-star H9 in mind) and offer a 7.5 safety score until such time as ANCAP turns in its results.

What to make of the GWM Ute, then?

I have to say, the specification – especially given the sharp pricing – is an absolute highlight. Brands like LDV and Mitsubishi, with similarly value-oriented positioning, really ought to be worried.

Performance isn’t anywhere near the top of the class, and yet running around town the Ute never left me hanging for more. It’s not fast, but it’s swift enough for day-to-day use.

There are a few things, like the ride and steering, that need to be addressed. Still, they don’t present major issues, just minor disappointments, really.

There are also things to love, like the cabin fit-out, interior space and standard tech. Just a touch more electronics tuning to hush some of the chimes and take out the foreign language origins, and GWM shouldn’t have any trouble convincing buyers to the brand.

In an effort to instil some confidence, GWM drops plenty of hints about the established component suppliers it uses, listing Bosch stability systems, a Borg Warner transfer case, ZF transmission and Cooper tyres (265/60R18 Discoverer HTS highway terrain) among the big-ticket items.

While it may not quite go toe-to-toe with the best-sellers in the 4x4 ute class, the GWM Ute treads precariously close. This isn’t the dual-cab to put the HiLux and Ranger on notice just yet, but it is sure to lure plenty of buyers who don’t see the need to pay a premium just because established brands demand it.


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