WATCH: Hauraki's Chris Key walks the Great Wall Cannon
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GWM Cannon Luxury
- Viable alternative to mainstream utes
- Smooth 8-speed gearbox
- Check out the tailgate step
- Intrusive lane-keep assistance
- Can't brag about power at the pub
- Needs better branding on the outside
It’s an interesting time for those of us watching the emergence of Chinese carmakers into export markets. Or the “Western mainstream” as you might like to call it.
Basically, we’re all watching out for the next great leap forward from these brands. One happened earlier this year with the MG ZS EV from Government-owned giant Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC); it’s now NZ’s cheapest pure-electric vehicle, as well as being an impressively well-equipped compact-SUV – right on point for Kiwi tastes.
And now here’s another leap from Great Wall Motors. GWM is the China’s largest maker of utes (under the parent GWM brand), SUVs (Haval) and more recently has launched in the luxury market (Wey, a brand we don’t see here).
The all-new GWM Cannon is the replacement for the Steed ute, which was famous (infamous?) for being NZ’s cheapest one-tonner.
Price will still be a big factor in Cannon purchase: it starts at $29,990 and even the flagship Cannon Luxury 4WD model featured here, which is loaded with 360-degree camera system, leather upholstery, stop/go adaptive cruise, blind-spot warning and lane centring, is just $39,990.
To put that into context, among auto-transmission 4WD double-cab utes, that money will get you into a base-model Mitsubishi Triton (currently $41,990 on special offer), but you’ll need $49,990 for a billy-basic Toyota Hilux SR or $59,170 for a similarly stripped-out Ford Ranger XL.
The obvious rival is that “other” Chinese ute, LDV’s T60; it tops out at $35,990.
However, the claim for Cannon is that you wouldn’t just buy it because it’s cheap; indeed, the gap to the mainstream is much smaller than it was with Steed. This model aims to take on those big-name utes on driver-appeal and ability too.
We’ve just spent a few days in the Cannon and the consensus is that it’s a shot successfully fired at the establishment in terms of design and driveability. The car-like interior scores, too: the materials are still very “durable”, but the styling and switchgear look quite upmarket.
With 122kW/450Nm Cannon is nowhere near the likes of Ranger, Hilux and Isuzu D-Max for power. But the driving experience is impressive all the same thanks to a smooth 8-speed automatic transmission. It really keeps the 2.0l turbo diesel on the boil and even does some nice downshifting under brakes. That 8-speed is all the more impressive when you consider that there wasn’t an automatic Steed of any kind available.
The Cannon’s chassis is fidgety on urban roads, but not noticeably worse than a Hilux. The steering could do with some work and is made worse by the intrusive lane-keep assistance on the motorway, but that’s easily disabled on the centre-console touch screen. The new D-Max has a similar problem, so it’s not unique to GWM. And complaining about the nuances of high-tech driver-assistance functions on one-tonne utes does seem like a bit of a first-world problem.
At higher speed the Cannon chassis is assured and predictable, dealing with tricky mid-corner bumps and keeping up momentum when required.
It looks the part and garnered plenty of positive comment during our few days – although most had no idea what it was, despite the Steed’s long-standing presence in the market. The GWM logo – basically a big blob – is not that recognisable and the ute caries no “Cannon” badging at all. Although its domestic-market name of Poer is all over the handbook and Bluetooth menus...
Cannon's tow rating isn’t quite up to the 3500kg of its mainstream rivals, but at 3000kg it’s still a pretty decent workhorse.
It also serves up a few surprise-and-delight features, like an extendable step on the tailgate for easier access when loading – a familiar feature for larger American-style pickup trucks, but unique among one-tonne utes in NZ.
There’s more to come in 2021 and beyond. It’s well-known that there’s a dressed-up Ranger Wildtrak-style Cannon in the works, but when the ute was launched at the Auto Shanghai Show last year much was also made of a 2WD EV version. Given China’s expertise in all things electric, that’s surely a starter as well.
GWM CANNON LUXURY
ENGINE: 2.0-litre turbo diesel four
GEARBOX: 8-speed automatic, 4WD