HARTBEESPOORT, North West – GWM has taken a leap into a far more demanding sector of the South African bakkie market with the launch of its new 16-strong P-Series range. Does this Chinese bakkie have what it takes to trouble the big players? CAR magazine contributor Stuart Johnston finds out...

The new GWM P-Series is slightly longer, substantially wider and a bit taller than the previous GWM range-topper, the Steed 6. And it has a bold new face designed to make the brand instantly recognisable on our roads.

Actually, make that two faces. The Chinese firm's newest bakkie is offered locally in two model lines, which GWM calls the “Commercial” and “Passenger” versions. The Commercial versions feature what I'd describe as a rather tasteful black grille, while the Passenger models come with a far more "in-your-face" chrome grille. Both models boast distinctive new headlamp clusters, which GWM refers to as having a “panther eye” design.

The P-Series is all new, underpinned by a fresh ladder-frame chassis constructed of high-strength steel. The body, says GWM, also features high-quality steel, as well as crash-protection beams in the doors and in the passenger compartment bulkhead. The company says its new pick-up is far more torsionally rigid than the Steed 5 and Steed 6 models that have been available here for some time.

As we've pointed out in an earlier story, there are both single- and double-cab models in the Commercial range, while the Passenger line-up comprises only double-cab models. In total, there are 16 variants and all of these use a new 2,0-litre turbodiesel engine, producing 120 kW and 400 Nm of torque.

For the first time, GWM is offering an automatic transmission in its pick-up range, and this is an excellent eight-speed ZF unit. The so-called Passenger models announced at the launch all come with the new automatic transmission and these are available in both 4x2 and 4x4 form.

At the ADA off-road launch venue near Hartbeespoort Dam, we tested the 4x4 automatic as well as the 4x2 six-speed manual models. The former features an on-demand, full-time four-wheel-drive system, complete with low range (and a rear diff lock, too). We tested the off-road crawling systems through a mud splash and over axle twisters, and the new P-Series impressed. The only slightly untoward note was struck when the centre differential automatically unlocked with a rather resounding “clunk” after the water-splash manoeuvre.

In addition, we tested the 4x2 model on a skid pan for some gymkhana fun, and then it was onto some proper driving on tar roads, and on some rough dirt roads.

The new P-Series uses a double-wishbone front suspension, with traditional leaf springs located at the rear axle. The on-road ride is good, but on rough dirt I found the rear end too stiff, with noticeable deflection in bends if you happen to strike mid-corner road ripples at a brisk pace. Similarly, the front springs ran out of travel over one particular bump, and my initial impression is that GWM still has some work to do to compete with premium-level bakkies in the rough-road handling department.

Even more disconcerting was the noticeable lack of low-down power in the six-speed manual model, particularly when pulling away at an intersection. You have to wind the revs up to over 2 000 r/min and then slip the clutch to get going if a fast getaway is needed to avoid cross-moving traffic. The problem was not nearly as apparent with the eight-speed automatic model we sampled for a few 4x4 manoeuvres, as off-roading is all about a delicate throttle touch. I think the lower first- and second-gear ratios, as well as the torque converter action on the automatic, masked this big hole in the power band.

As for the rest of the vehicle, the interior design is good and well presented, although I found some of the touches on the more expensive Passenger model quite garish, such as the copper-coloured infotainment screen surround. But the GWM seems very well put together and features plenty of standard equipment, with the top model boasting items such as seven airbags, a 360-degree camera system, a nine-inch touchscreen and even wireless smartphone charging.

Pricing for the double-cab models starts at R369 900 for the Commercial 4x2 manual in SX trim. The top-of-the-range Passenger model, the 4x4 automatic in LT guise, sells for some R544 900. As well-equipped as they are for the money, this sees GWM enter some serious double-cab territory occupied by major players such as the Ford Ranger and Toyota Hilux, to name just a few. While the P-Series is certainly a massive step up from the broader Steed range, my initial impression is that GWM still has some work to do to take on these top-tier rivals.

Author: Stuart Johnston 



FAST FACTS

Model: GWM P-Series DC 2,0TD LT 4x4 8AT
Price: R544 900
Engine: 2,0-litre, four-cylinder, turbodiesel
Power: 120 kW
Torque: 400 N.m
Fuel Consumption: 9,4 L/100 km 
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Service Plan: Five-year/100 000 km