The introduction of the latest-generation GWM Steed to the local bakkie market is important for two reasons. First, from the consumers’ point of view, when considering the bakkie offerings from unestablished brands (read not Toyota, Ford, Isuzu, VW and Nissan), GWM almost certainly offers the best. Second, from the Chinese company’s viewpoint, about 75 per cent of GWM’s on our roads are bakkies, which means that the Steed forms the cornerstone of the brand’s expansion and growth in South Africa.

GWM has used this opportunity, thus, to reshuffle and expand its Steed line-up: The current Steed 5 continues as an entry-level/workhorse offering, albeit with the introduction of a new turbodiesel power plant. A slightly higher-spec and more refined Steed 5E is added as an affordable leisure bakkie and the Steed 6 now fills the role of flagship in the range.

Steed 5
Although not given the opportunity to drive the new turbodiesel engine during the launch, the importance of the WGT power plant cannot be understated. The company has not offered a turbodiesel in this highly competitive segment for some time and, with it, GWM undoubtedly have increased its competitiveness in the market.

The 2,0-litre WGT employs a simpler waste-gate turbo as well as a Bosch control system (as opposed to Delphi) as found on the VGT. It delivers 78 kW at 4 000 r/min and 225 N.m of torque from 1 400 to 2 800 r/min. It is mated with a five-speed manual transmission and the claimed fuel consumption figure is 8,1 l/100 km (for the single-cab) and 9,3 l/100 km (for the double-cab).

Pricing of new models:
GWM Steed 5 SC 2,0-litre WGT                                 R199 900
GWM Steed 5 DC 2,0-litre WGT SX                         R229 900

Steed 5E
The most obvious changes made to the 5E over the 5 are cosmetic (it looks really good), but also include updates such as the removal of the roof-mounted aerial, addition of quieter and more effective windscreen wipers, integrated side indicators, extra sound-insulation around the cabin and revised rear seat cushions to improve long-distance comfort.

Inside, the new instrumentation panel and modernised centre console layout with new audio and climate control interfaces offers a more European look. Piano-black trim is used throughout and leather inserts are used on the door panels. There are two trim levels, SX and Xscape. The SX offers climate control, radio/CD with USB support, dual front airbags and ABS/EBD, with the Xscape adding leather upholstery, a touch-screen media system with Bluetooth, rear diff-lock, side steps, roll bar and tyre pressure monitoring.

Power is by the company’s 2,4-litre petrol (93 kW and 200 N.m) and 2,0-litre VGT turbodiesel (105 kW and 305 N.m). A 4x4 version of the 2,0-litre VGT Xscape will join the local line-up shortly.

On the road the 5E’s improvement over the base 5 is obvious. The ride is more compliant and the cabin is quieter. The interior is comfortable and looks really good from a quality and design viewpoint.

However, the suspension did bump a lot over road undulations and off-road sections of the route (possibly exacerbated by high pressure in the tyres). Body roll was pronounced during cornering and the very light steering didn’t do much to instil confidence, with a lot of “neutral” time when entering a corner. The engine also has a fair amount of lag, not aided by the sensitive clutch and heavy accelerator.

Pricing of Steed 5E models:
Steed 5E 2,4-litre SX                                  R229 900
Steed 5E 2,4-litre Xscape                          R244 900
Steed 5E 2,0-litre VGT SX                          R259 900
Steed 5E 2,0-litre VGT Xscape                  R274 900

Steed 6
As mentioned, the Steed 6 targets the leisure market and, as such, prioritises cabin space, comforts, design and safety.

It certainly is attractive with sleek lines and chunky accents. The cabin is equally appealing. The facia features two deep-set analogue instrumentation gauges flanking a comprehensive trip computer. Unique to this segment is the leather-covering of the instrumentation binnacle, a detail touch that reinforces the Steed 6’s upmarket intentions, along with a leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel and piano-black trim.

There are two trim levels: The SX models offer climate control, radio/CD with Bluetooth, height-adjustable driver’s seat, Eaton rear diff-lock, 16-inch alloy wheels, dual front airbags and ABS/EBD. Flagship Xscape variants offer leather upholstery, electric driver seat adjustment, six airbags, cruise control, auto lights/wipers and, for the first time in a GWM product sold in South Africa, Bosch ESP (electronic stability) and hill-start assist. The exterior package of Xscape models further benefits from the addition of factory fit side steps, roll bar and roof rails.

Both Steed 6 derivatives are powered by the 2,0-litre VGT engine that delivers 105 kW and 305 N.m of torque through a six-speed manual transmission. The line-up will be further expanded in 2015 with the addition of 4x4 derivatives.

On the road the 6 is miles removed from its predecessor. The ride is more comfortable, quiet and reassuring. The steering is heavier (although still a little light) and body roll far less pronounced.

There is still some lag from the engine at pull-away and the clutch/accelerator work requires some thinking, but the 6 is a far more refined bakkie compared with the 5 and 5E. It is a great improvement and clearly indicates the great pace at which Chinese brands (and GWM, specifically) can improve their offerings in answer to consumer needs and the established competition.

Pricing of Steed 6 models:
Steed 6 2,0-litre VGT SX                               R294 900
Steed 6 2,0-litre VGT Xscape                       R319 900

All models include a five-year/100 000 km warranty and an optional 5-year/60 000 km service plan.