Chinese manufactured utes have been around in the Australian market for night on 20 years now and in fact the pioneering brand was the quaintly named Great Wall. We take a look at its latest flagship, the Cannon X and come away impressed, particularly for the price.
There were the typical sniggers and derision from blokes who vowed they’d never buy one of these bargain basement jalopies. Funny thing is that some of us are old enough to remember when similar things were said about Japanese cars and commercials back in the 1960s, and now they dominate the market.
This scribbler reminded many colleagues of this and the fact that Japanese quality improved exponentially and the early adopters who bought in cheap and found themselves with a reliable, serviceable if somewhat unexciting machine that just kept on going.
This week we found ourselves behind the wheel of the latest generation of that pioneering Chinese brand, these days called a GWM, not a Great Wall Motor as it once was.
The vehicle in question is flagship of the GWM Ute range, the Cannon X and we have to say it has come an awfully long way since both of the last two generations of GWM utes.
This by far the best Chinese made ute we have driven so far and is proof that Chinese makers are edging ever closer to the Japanese in terms of quality dynamics and styling. Key word closer, for while the Cannon X is a massive improvement it’s not quite on the same level as the Japanese utes in every department. Having said that, just like the olden days when the likes of Toyota, Datsun and Mazda arrived here, the Cannon does represent very strong value when it comes to price.
To get the money details on the table first up, the GWM Cannon at $43,490 plus on roads, is about the same as the pricing for entry level utes from some of the Japanese brands, but as we said, the Cannon X is the top of the line in the GWM line up and bristles with an equipment list that would make many other brands green with envy.
For that you get a handsome looking 4WD ute with a 1050kg payload, a 9-inch infotainment touch screen, 360 degree cameras, a 7-inch digital instrument panel, 18 inch alloy wheels, keyless entry and push button start, climate control air con, and a really clever and neat slide away step built into the tailgate, as well as LED exterior lighting, single-touch power windows on all doors, tilt and slide steering wheel adjustment, and a chrome grille, mirrors and door handles and a luxury feel that is only present on the top of the line models from the opposition at an extra $30,000 or more.
Now it might sound like the glowing prose of a GWM brochure, but it is excellent value any way you cut it, and sitting in the cab alone is enough to convince you of that. From the quilted leather seating upholstery to the overall fit and finish the GWM exudes a quality feel.
However there are coupe of downsides. Firstly the two-litre turbo diesel under the bonnet I a little shy of horses compared with its opponents, on paper at least. The Cannon has a claimed 120kW of power and 400 Nm of torque, which is down about 30kW and around 50 Nm on most of the other utes in this class. Having said that driving it day to day you just don’t feel like the GWM is lacking in grunt. The other point of contention with the Cannon is its three tonne tow capacity, which again is shy of what its opponents offer, most of whom boast a 3.5 tonne tow capacity.
Couple that quality interior with the fact that it also has plenty of room and the GWM will easily meet most people’s expectations. There is plenty of leg and head room both in the two front bucket seats as well as in the rear, where the benchseat has a really clever feature that allows the base of the seat to be folded up so that extra load can stacked directly on the floor.
These plenty of air vents, around the cab and a highy efficient air conditioning system, while there are also a brace of USB outlets including in the rear, while it also boast a 220volt outlet although it has an International outlet so you will need an adaptor for local plugs.
The front console also boasts a wireless mobile phone charging pad for your mobile phone, heated front seats, an auto-dimming rear view mirror and more USB points in the front console.
Behind the wheel the 7- inch instrument panel does a reasonable job , however the one in our test car wouldn’t allow us access to any trip computer information, such as average fuel consumption, distance to empty and other things that our tiny mind likes to play with while tackling longer drives. That may have been an issue with our car or a limitation of the system, we still haven’t been able to find out. Apart from that it delivers all of the basic info like speed, engine revs, odometer, fuel gauge and temps are all easy to read and decipher.
Move to the 9-inch infotainment screen in the middle and it also works fine, although it is still a little clunky in some areas of its interface, which just takes a while to get used to. The upside is that it is a big screen and delivers the driver and passengers easy access to all the info it is delivering.
The infotainment system gives touch screen access to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto but there is no built in navigation system, however with CarPlay and Android we find it easier to use Google maps or Waze for nav these days, they are generally easier to use and view, so no great issue there.
Of course there is Bluetooth as well as AM/FM radio, but no Digital radio, which again is no great issue these day when radio tune in aps on your phone offers similar sound quality and better coverage than terrestrial radio station signals.
In terms of safety the Cannon X doesn’t lack and actually has scored a five-star safety ANCAP rating and is equipped with all of the electronic safety features including autonomous emergency braking, lane-departure warning and lane-keep assist, lane-centring steering assist, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, traffic sign recognition linked to the adaptive cruise control and traffic jam assist.
As we mentioned earlier the Cannon X boasts a 360-degree camera with a nifty interactive 3D flyover view function, while there is also a door-open warning that alerts occupants to approaching vehicles or cycles that could help avoid collisions.
As we mentioned earlier, the GWM falls a little short on the spec sheet when it comes to power, but this doesn’t translate to seat of the pants feel and in fact when driving the Cannon X it performs and feels more than a match for its opponents. We covered more than 1000km on some challenging country roads and we really got to like the way this GWM performs and handles.
The flexibility of the engine is helped by the eight speed automatic which works particularly well and always seems to be in the right gear.
Although when you get moving th4er performance is more than adequate, the Cannon’s throttle is a little slow off the mark when you give it a big stab, although if you are a bit more subtle and roll into it then it does come on a bit more smoothly.
There are three drive modes on the cannon X with Eco, Normal and Sport. Select Eco and it is locked into 4×2 mode, while in Normal and Sport the system accesses the torque on demand transfer case to deliver drive to the front wheels when extra grip is needed. The Sport mode also gives better throttle response and will hold gears longer for better performance.
The Cannon does also have selectable 4WD although it doesn’t have an array of electronically controlled off road mode selection like a lot of other 4×4 utes seem to have these days. We aren’t that worried about this because we prefer to be in charge of this and use our own brain rather than something that an engineer in a lab has come up with.
Then Cannon’s diesel is a little noisy by comparison to its contemporary rivals, mainly at idle and low speed, but is not an issue at higher revs and at highway cruise
The Cannon X is a comfortable car to wheel through the countryside or in city traffic. It sits well on the road and. Is pretty well damped, particularly by comparison with previous Chinese attempts. It is certainly the match for the Japanese crop of utes, which are generally over sprung and under damped. Somehow the GWM engineers have got this ride and handling package pretty right.
Four wheel disc mean the Cannon is a step ahead of the opposition with most other utes in the class using a disc drum set up. We gave it a pretty intense workout over a couple of mountain passes and it never looked like fading or losing braking performance.
The one annoying thing about the GWM from our point of view is the slowish steering particularly around town, however it is not a major deal breaker, just. Something you need to adapt to. Again if you are saving $20,000 to $30,000 then we would find a way to get use to it.
It as a fairly large 13 metre turning circle so it si not the most manoeuvrable ute around but let’s face it’s not a sports car.
Another confidence inspiring feature of the GWM range is the seven year unlimited kilometre warranty and a five year roadside assistance and five year capped-price service plan. The peace of mind that delivers to some sceptical potential buyers could be the thing that gets the across the line. Certainly with that sort of protection and coverage along with those significant savings, it certainly waters down a lot of doubts.
The Cannon X might be a bit shy on power on paper but it certainly delivers strong economy on the road and on paper. GWM claim a rated fuel economy of 9.4 litres per 100km which we reckon is pretty good for a ute of this size and weight. We recorded an average of 10.2 litres per 100km during our time with the GWM which we were well pleased with.
Overall the GEM Cannon X provides a great value package with an impressive equipment levels much improved build quality and fit and finish, as well as reasonable handling and ride, with very good warranty and service coverage at a price that is unmatched for the package.
As we said at the outset this is the best Chinese ute we have driven and the quality is getting better all the time as the capabilities and standards of the Chinese makers like GWM continue to evolve . We have no doubt that in four or five years time the Japanese makers will have something to worry about, in fact they probably do now.
Would we buy one? Yep I reckon that for the price, even with some of its foibles the GWM is a very good package and clearly it is already starting to win over sceptical buyers.