What is it?
GWM (formerly known as Great Wall Motors) is one of several Chinese brands on the rise in Australia. The likes of MG, Haval and BYD are all making in-roads on the established players with a combination of rapidly improving quality and strong value.
The GWM Ute is the brand’s second attempt at cracking Australia’s lucrative ute market, following up from the underwhelming Steed. But whereas the Steed disappointed with its quality and driving dynamics, this new Ute – or Cannon, to give it its other name – is a significant step forward.
So much so that in 2022 the GWM Ute 4×4 out-sold the Volkswagen Amarok and Jeep Gladiator and wasn’t too far behind the likes of the Nissan Navara and Mazda BT-50, so it’s a ute on the rise.
Does it have any racing pedigree?
But GWM isn’t exactly a newbie in the car industry, it’s been around since 1984 and is now one of China’s largest vehicle producers. It also has several related brands too, including Haval and Ora (which are now in Australia too) as well as Tank and Wey.
What’s under the bonnet?
The Ute, including the higher-grade Cannon-X model we tested, are powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel engine that makes 120kW of power and 400Nm of torque. It’s paired to an eight-speed automatic transmission and has a four-wheel drive system which includes a rear differential lock.
While it’s hardly a class-leader in terms of performance it’s a perfectly adequate drivetrain and does a solid job pulling the Ute along. It’s a little gruffer than its Japanese rivals like the Navara and BT-50 and it struggles to get going off the mark, but pulls strongly enough when you’re rolling. The gearbox helps extract the best from the engine, with its broad spread of ratios allowing it to be quite flexible.
How does it handle?
This is another big leap forward for the Ute over the Steed, with a much more refined driving experience. It’s still a two-tonne, dual-cab ute riding on leaf-spring rear suspension, so don’t expect a pampered limousine-style ride, but it does a good job for what it is.
The steering is nicely-weighted, not too heavy as some utes can be, and the ride is firm and a little bouncy (especially with no load in the rear) but didn’t feel crashy or unsettled.
Towing capacity for the Ute is rated at 750kg unbraked and 3000kg for braked trailers, which is below the new industry standard of 3500kg.
Where would you most like to drive it?
Unfortunately our test drive didn’t allow us to take the Cannon-X off-road, so it would be nice to head off the paved roads and test out how the GWM handles itself in the Australian bush or outback.
What’s the interior like?
First impressions are good, the design looks modern and cohesive, which isn’t something you would have said about Chinese vehicles in the not-too-distant past. The layout is user-friendly and there’s decent small item storage.
However, closer inspection reveals the quality isn’t up to the same standard of the more-established competition from the likes of Isuzu, Nissan and Mazda. The steering wheel feels thin in your hands and the plastics used in the cabin look and feel a bit cheap, so there’s still room for improvement.
How much does the GWM Ute Cannon-X cost?
The key for GWM has always been price, with a sharp entry-point a key to attracting new buyers to try an unproven brand in Australia. The Cannon range begins at just $33,990 drive-away, which is very competitive in the current ute market, while this better-equipped Cannon-X is priced at $43,990 drive-away.
That puts it up against those more established names, but it does a good job of holding its own. When you consider GWM is offering a seven-year, unlimited kilometre warranty plus five years of roadside assistance it’s understandable why so many Australians are giving GWM a chance.
Would I buy one?
It depends how budget-conscious you are with your ute purchase. If you’re looking to save every dollar and are willing to accept some of the Ute’s weaknesses, it’s certainly worthy of consideration.
But for all of its improvement – and it has taken an enormous leap forward from the Steed – the GMW Ute Cannon-X still falls short of its key competitors in some crucial areas, notably the cabin quality and the powertrain refinement. So if you have some financial flexibility there are other, more proven utes, worth your attention.
However, if GWM continues this trajectory of improvement it wouldn’t surprise me if it became a major player in this market in the near-future.