I’ve only had my GWM H5 long-termer for about three months and already it has accumulated more than 6 000 km with us. I say “us” because I haven’t been responsible for all those kilometres. You see, the H5’s vast cabin space and practical nature have made it quite popular with the CAR team, members of which have used it for everything from transporting a large television set to Mossel Bay to trekking into the Karoo for a photo essay on the whole fracking debacle.

It was on the Karoo adventure that the H5 hit trouble, or a sturdy bush, to be more precise. While reversing in the dark an overhanging bush (hiding a few thick branches) punched the rear window to smithereens. It was quite a sorry sight when it arrived back at the office, with its back-end taped up with plastic. Following colleague Ian McLaren’s recent long wait for a part for his previous long-term Kia Sorento, I’ll admit to having visions of a similar fate awaiting me. Thankfully, it didn’t happen. GWM had a windscreen in stock immediately and I was only without the vehicle for less than a week as the windscreen got replaced and the necessary repair work (to the tailgate, and the fixing of another small dent on one of the doors) was made – and very well done, I may add. This is very important because a major concern regarding Chinese vehicles remains back-up. GWM has invested heavily in this – it has a large parts warehouse in Durban stocking R150 million-worth of parts, has established a large dealership network (65, and counting), and every vehicle is backed by a three year/100 000 km warranty.

Since its return I’ve had a few colleagues ask for it again, and I’ve come to appreciate why. It’s not only about the space. It’s got a thick, easy-to-clean rubber matt in the boot, a tow-bar (optional) and can tackle a rough road when necessary. It’s also relatively comfortable. The driving position initially feels odd, but I’ve done plenty mileage now and have never stepped out feeling tired.

As the kilometres have been added, the gearlever’s “grrrrrrrrrr” vibration has become less intrusive, but the major annoyance with the vehicle remains its relatively poor refinement. One colleague described the gearshift action as being a cross between that of a Lotus Elise and a Massey Ferguson tractor. When cold, the gearbox is quite reluctant to engage first gear.

The engine has seemingly loosened up a little, but not too much. There’s as little oomph as the meagre output figures of 100 kW and 200 N.m indicate, so overtaking needs some planning and patience. And because you have to work the engine quite hard, fuel economy suffers – I’m still achieving around 12,0 L/100 km, though admittedly I’ve mostly been using it for short distances in town.

The interior has remained free of rattles thus far – this alone will surprise some. I still find the design non-offensive, which is a good thing, and there are some neat touches. The instrumentation, for example, is simple and neat. The built-in touch-screen info-tainment system works quite well and the climate control is very effective. There are few small irritations, though. For example – and I bow my head in shame for moaning about this – I’d like to have a cupholder in the centre console. Also, the indicator stalk sounds like it’s going to break off when used.

Overall, I think the H5 shows massive promise. Considering the price (just under R210 000), it offers impressive value for money and can be forgiven most of the niggles encountered thus far. More importantly, perhaps, it would not take much to improve this vehicle significantly. All it really needs is a more powerful and refined engine/transmission combination. This may already have happened, as I see the new 2,0-litre VGT (turbodiesel) models are now available, powered by a new engine that delivers 110 kW and 310 N.m of torque, and which is mated with a new six-speed manual (or five-speed automatic) transmission. Prices start at R239 990 for the 4x2. I’m looking forward to driving that model, as I think it will address many of my concerns.

Mileage: 7 500 km

Pros: Space, value for money, standard specification, feels rugged

Cons: drivetrain refinement, lack of power

Fuel economy: 11,9 L/100 km