FOR the overwhelming majority of South Africans who are considering a new-vehicle purchase, Chinese bakkies are nothing more than consumables – vehicles to buy cheaply, drive into the ground and then scrap after a few years. However, given our experience with GWM’s Steed 5 range, this perception is starting to wear a bit thin.

The subject of this test, the flagship Steed 5 DC 2,0 VGT 4x4 Lux, sells for a measly R242 990, which nets you a full-sized double cab packed with standard features such as leather upholstery, radio/CD/MP3 player, power steering, remote audio controls, electric windows, air-conditioning, remote central locking, dual front airbags and even ABS with EBD. Now consider the fact that it features a modern 110 kW turbodiesel engine as well as all-wheel drive with a low-range transfer box, and it’s clear the value proposition is very strong.

However, the question is whether these appealing features are just icing, and whether the Steed 5 remains too much of an unrefined workhorse underneath to be considered a genuine dual-purpose family/leisure vehicle.

To find out, the CAR team set out to give the Steed 5 a pretty tough test. Four taller-than-average CAR testers piled into the cabin and set off on a journey to Ceres (about 150 km from Cape Town). The plan was to drive it up the snow-covered Matroosberg, made very slippery by recent rain and snow. On-road comfort, as well as off-road ability, would be tested.

Previous versions of the Steed had very firm suspension, but this appears to have been improved on the latest model. Of course, it remains firm, and bumps or road imperfections are still transmitted to the cabin, but everyone who had a chance to spend time on the back seat commented that the ride quality "was actually not that bad". One comfort-related problem is the angle of the rear backrest; it is set bolt upright, which gets uncomfortable after a while.

The situation is better in the front. The basic facia design is copied from Isuzu and it has to be said that, in terms of perceived quality at least, the Steed 5 is impressive.

The big news is GWM's new four-cylinder 4D20 diesel engine, which is shared with the marque's H5 SUV. This in-house-developed engine boasts 110 kW at 4 000 r/min and 310 N.m of torque between 1 800 and 2 800 r/min. It features high-pressure, common-rail direct injection, a variable-geometry turbocharger (VGT) and exhaust-gas recirculation (EGR). Power goes to the rear wheels (or all four when 4H or 4L modes are selected) via a six-speed manual transmission.

It's quite a clattery unit at idle, but this smoothes out when it gets going. Bizarrely, the unit in the Steed felt more refined than the one we previously sampled in the H5 (see CAR, October 2012) and the six-speed transmission was also far slicker. There's good punch low-down and the performance figures are not bad for this kind of vehicle. Furthermore, tractability is surprisingly good; it performed our 40-60 km/h test in sixth gear without jerking in protest. Importantly, it's also economical. GWM hasn't made any fuel consumption claims, but the Steed 5 used 8,9 litres/100 km on our 150 km fuel-test route.

After completing the return trip to Ceres, most testers agreed that the Steed 5 could easily function as a leisure vehicle. In fact, some testers were of the opinion that the Steed 5 was more comfortable to drive than the marque’s own H5 SUV!

Upon arrival at Matroosberg, we took aboard another passenger and headed up the extremely tricky "road", made worse by dislodged rocks strewn across the surface. Four-wheel drive is engaged using conveniently placed push buttons on the facia. The Steed 5 is fitted with chunky looking Savero HT Plus 235/70 rubber on 16-inch alloys and the vehicle is claimed
to have a ground clearance of about 190 mm.

The GWM performed very well in this off-road test. There's good low-down torque and, combined in use with the low-range transfer 'box, the engine never stumbled. The approach and departure angles will also be sufficient for most owners’ needs. However, the low-range ratio is not quite low enough to allow for sufficient engine braking on steep declines. The vague steering also came in for some criticism (on-road, too).

Test Summary

This version of the Steed 5 is perhaps the most impressive GWM product we've tested to date, and this includes the H5 and recent C10 hatch. Ultimately, the long-term reliability of the turbodiesel engine still needs to be proven, but overall it’s hard to fault this vehicle at the price. So, should you consider this GWM as a leisure vehicle, in addition to it performing a workhorse role? Yes, if R250 000 is your budget (new or used), we’d certainly suggest it’s good enough to be added to any shortlist.

View other GWM road tests.