Vastly im­proved Chi­nese SUV

Mis­guided xeno­phobes who re­sist buy­ing made in China prod­ucts won’t know what they’re miss­ing with Great Wall’s much-im­proved SUV, writes

Kapi-Mana News - - MOTORING -

When I first drove Great Wall’s prod­ucts about two years ago, the com­pany only had petrol en­gines and man­ual gear­boxes, and no ex­pe­ri­ence of ei­ther diesels or au­to­mat­ics. The paint was grim in ar­eas that were cov­ered by doors and bon­net lids, and not much bet­ter any­where else.

I men­tioned this, and a clutch of note­book wield­ing GW acolytes took ev­ery­thing down, as they prob­a­bly do with vis­i­tors all the time.

Over­all, the me­chan­i­cal side of the ve­hi­cles – mainly utes and a pro­to­type new SUV – was not bad at all. The en­gines wouldn’t set the world on fire but they were easy to op­er­ate thanks to ob­vi­ous at­ten­tion to driv­ing and pedal po­si­tions, slick, nicely set trans­mis­sion levers, and steer­ing that while rather light, was ac­cu­rate. Brak­ing was a lit­tle less good, and over­all my re­port card was on or be­low five out of 10.

What a dif­fer­ence two years make. That pro­to­type SUV has grown into the X200. It now has the wheel on the right for ex­port, has al­ready had a styling facelift and, although most of the mod­els im­ported into New Zealand have been petrol man­u­als, the car can now be op­tioned with a two-litre 110kw tur­bod­iesel four with man­ual and five-speed au­to­matic choices.

The Great Wall me­chan­i­cally out­specs ev­ery Ja­panese light to mid­sized SUV on the mar­ket, save for the re­cently launched Mazda CX-5. And that’s be­fore you count the power seat­ing, leather trim, cruise and cli­mate con­trol, Blue­tooth, au­to­matic lights and wipers, tyre pres­sure mon­i­tor­ing, and re­vers­ing cam­era with big screen CD/MP3, DVD AM/FM ra­dio.

Though the X200 only prof­fers two airbags, it does have ESP and ABS, and scores a com­mend­able four-star NCAP safety rat­ing.

At 4649mm long, the car is about the size of a se­ries II Toy­ota Four­run­ner and the com­pany ad­mits that its de­mo­graphic for the car was ex­actly that catch­ment.

Look, it isn’t per­fect. The seats are too flat, and un­sup­port­ive for me, but the leather’s con­vinc­ing and that stereo can make your ears bleed if you let it. The diesel en­gine clat­ters a lit­tle when cold, but once hooked-up and warmed-over it will main­tain a sur­pris­ingly re­laxed cruise-con­trolled 100kmh in fifth at un­der 2100rpm, and it can kick down to pro­vide a brisk over­tak­ing ma­noeu­vre when re­quired.

With just 110kw on tap it’s no rocket ship, but its torque of 310Nm means it shouldn’t shrug at up to 1700kg tow­ing jobs. The X200 tips the scales at a hefty 2550kg but it didn’t feel that heavy and seemed quite nim­ble on the road.

The still rather over-light steer­ing doesn’t self-cen­tre very well, so it’s best to guide the helm back into po­si­tion, but the in­de­pen­dent front, beam-axle rear sus­pen­sion works quite well and it’s bet­ter at cop­ing with pock-marked sur­faces than some more ex­pe­ri­enced Ja­panese brands.

The fixed, torque on de­mand, all­wheel-drive set-up ap­pears to cope with the light dirt work I man­aged to put the X200 through dur­ing my brief drive. Clear­ance is ad­e­quate, and though a high-low range fa­cil­ity would be use­ful, for a fam­ily week­ender it’s well sorted for riverbed and gravel road sor­ties.

It’s also very well-priced at $34,990 with a three-year 100,000km war­ranty, and with bril­liant paint­work, and vastly im­proved in­te­rior fin­ishes than I re­mem­ber in China, I’d feel com­fort­able with the X200 as a fam­ily prospect. The X240 petrol car starts at $28,490 in man­ual form.

For those con­cerned about re­sale value, which is a fac­tor, it has to be said, with all new brands – Great Wall has a use­ful $2000 down and $180 a week ar­range­ment. They might be fresh to the au­to­mo­tive fray but Great Wall ap­pears to have thought of just about ev­ery­thing, and you get the feel­ing that within a few pro­duc­tion weeks, the steer­ing and seat­ing will have been noted and on the way to be­ing fixed, such is the steep­ness of the Chi­nese learn­ing curve.

Great Wall X200: Well-styled full-frame SUV is a re­fresh­ing new­comer to the seg­ment.

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