The GWM C20R was recently launched in South Africa and our short stint with this quirky hatchback has taught us that most preconceptions regarding Chinese cars could well be cast aside.

For one, no longer can we accuse (some of) these manufactures of being outright copycats. The C20R, while borrowing some styling cues from other B-segment hatchbacks, is still fresh and funky in it’s own right. It has a good-looking front end, with a smart, but almost smiley-faced, grille and airdam treatment along with integrated foglamps and an SUV-style scuff plate. The profile is given a more purposeful look thanks to the the increased ride height (a total 172 mm), roof rails, and black wheel arches that house 16-inch alloy wheels.

The interior is equally impressive with neatly laid out controls, chrome-look accents that lift the ambience and two-tone imitation leather. I was impressed with the almost European look of it all and the quality of fit and finish is of a good standard.

Many of the Chinese vehicles that have come before this one have let us down when it comes to the powerplant and their gearbox have always left us wanting. It’s one of those things you keep in your mind every time you take delivery of another “made-in-China" vehicle. So, when I decided to take the C20R for a weekend to pile on as much mileage as possible (we received it on a low 400-odd kms and I wanted to loosen things up a bit), I was hoping for the best, but preparing to be disappointed. But that was not the case.

Power comes from a 1,5-litre VVT unit that delivers 77 kW at 6 000 r/min and torque of 138 N/m at 4 200 r/min. Admittedly, it takes some work to really get going as you have to work the engine and the five-speed manual ‘box to reach that 4 200 r/min sweet spot whee the maximum torque comes into play. I didn’t mind it all that much, though. The gearing is short and the engine is eager to rev, so I found it to be a lively little car. You would think that working the engine like this would impact on fuel consumption, but we were able to match GWM’s claimed figure of 7,7-litres/100 km in our real-world fuel test. It’s just slightly higher than such similarly packaged VW Polo Vivo Maxx.

The C20R comes packed with standard features such as air-conditioning, an MP3-compatible audio system with auxiliary and USB inputs, electric windows all around, rake adjustment on the steering column, front and rear foglamps, park distance sensors at the rear and steering wheel-mounted audio controls. GWM has also thrown in a three-year/45 000 kms service plan and a three-year/100 000 km warranty as standard, making the C20R a good value-for-money proposition.

I will admit that I was quite taken by this vehicle. It’s a clear indication of how far the company has moved along when it comes to the development of its vehicle engineering. The thing that stands out the most for me, however, is the pricing. With a price tag of R154 900, the C20R isn’t the “cheap alternative”. It’s right up there with its competitors (the Renault Sandero Stepway is R149 900 and the Vivo Maxx is R164 300). It shows that GWM believes that this product has what it takes to compete with the market favourites. And I do too.

The C20R is a vehicle that has the potential to change people’s pre-conceived ideas about the brand and maybe all Chinese vehicles. Personally, I think the Chinese are about to give the other manufacturers a run for their money. Things are about to get interesting...

Specifications (manufacturer’s claim)

Engine: 1,5-litre VVT

Power: 77 kW @ 6 000 r/min

Torque: 138 N.m @ 4 200 r/min

Top speed: 162 km/h

Fuel consumption: 7,7 L/100 km

CO2: 179 g/km

Be sure to get your hands on the November issue of CAR (on sale 21 October) to read a full road test of this car.