Let’s be honest, the GWM (Great Wall Motors) brand doesn’t inspire much confidence; most South Africans respond to the name with a snigger, smirk, or as I discovered during this test, a condescending look that says, “Ag shame, can’t you afford a real bakkie?” Well, I had the same reaction towards our test vehicle when it arrived, but after climbing into the driver’s seat of this made-in-China bakkie I suddenly tasted humble pie.
The Steed 5 will cost you roughly R218k, brand new. This buys you leather seats, aircon, electric windows, a CD / MP3 / radio, dual front airbags, a fair measure of storage space, steering wheel satellite controls and a cabin layout that proves reasonably comfortable for small- to medium-sized blokes; bigger guys will be less thrilled.
As a narrow-bodied bakkie there’s not much shoulder room for broader than average passengers. What’s more, passengers seated at the rear can’t be more than 1.8 metres tall as that’s roughly the headroom limit. On the upside, legroom throughout the cabin is pretty darn good. With the two front seats adjusted all the way back I still enjoyed a spacious 60 mm of knee space sitting in the second row. The same scenario in the Hilux DC leaves me with zero leg room.
Build quality is the Steed’s most surprising feature. When it comes to Chinese-built products one often expects shoddy craftsmanship, poor finishes and the use of low-rent materials. Well, there ain’t much to critique in this cabin – the panels, plastics and overall sturdiness is far better than I expected. Sure, it’s not packaged as well as a Hilux, but it isn’t far behind those brands that sit slightly lower in the rankings.
For the most part, things look good on the surface and the controls / dials feel up to the challenge of a workhorse bakkie, but there are a few telltale signs that remind you it’s a budget buy, like the overly loose windows that wobble and rattle when opened and closed.
In my opinion, the exterior is a huge improvement over the previous model. Sure, it looks like the love child of an Amarok and an Isuzu, but hey, it beats the Steed 3 hands-down in the looks department.
The Steed 5’s front portion looks great: very contemporary with a slight belligerent demeanour and definite traits shared by the VW Amarok. Moving to the side; it’s Isuzu through and through; in fact, we’ve been told that the Steed’s doors are a perfect fit on the Isuzu chassis.
As for the rear? Well, it doesn’t remind me of anything in particular, but it’s the ugliest of the very few ugly parts on this DC; the knobbly taillights and oversized rear step cheapens the whole look.
The Steed’s 2.5-litre motor ain’t the most powerful diesel around but it does offer good bottom-end torque, coming alive at 1 800 rpm and maxing out at 3 800 rpm – at this point a rev limiter kicks in and reins in further abuse.
Although not many diesel motors rev past 4 000 rpm, in the Steed’s case the limiter feels premature, as if the motor has a bit more to give but something’s holding it back. That said, the engine limiter affects sand driving performance, especially in second-gear low-range. For this reason, the Steed 5 felt more comfortable in third-gear low-range, keeping engine torque at its optimum while offering plenty of revs to work with.
Unlike most pick-ups, the Steed 5 doesn’t feature a rear diff -lock, so good ol’ momentum is needed for those cross-axle situations. However, rear axle articulation is commendable and in most cases proved more than adequate on uneven terrain. On that note, the Steed 5 scored 352 on our RTI ramp, a touch behind the Amarok’s 366 and the Isuzu’s 380.
The Steed’s approach and departure angles of 32° and 24° respectively are on par with other DCs but the break-over angle (which was unavailable at the time of writing) did prove troublesome on several occasions where the undercarriage scraped its way over various ridges. Ground clearance stands at 208 mm, measured below the centre diff .
The Steed 5’s biggest failing is its suspension. In fact, the suspension system is so crude it overshadows the vehicle’s many creditable qualities. Whether it’s on gravel, a tweespoor track or a rocky path, the Steed’s suspension setup is raucously rickety. And it’s not just bad on long journeys, you’ll notice its harshness from the moment you leave your driveway.
I can’t say for sure, but much of the Steed’s suspension problems feel related to the shock absorbers. I described the Steed’s poor ride quality to our suspension guru, Ronald Hairbottle (TAC 4x4 Traction), and he concurred that poor damper performance could be the culprit. Basically, it feels like the suspension’s movements are travelling into the Steed’s chassis in the form of an aftershock.
To compound this problem, the Steed lacks a gradual spring rate. Most pick-ups have a two-stage leaf pack at the rear where the first provides a comfortable ride with minimal loads while the second stage caters for full payload scenarios. Although the Steed does have a two-stage leaf pack the flexibility of the first stage feels very unyielding. How bad is it? Well, it makes the new Hilux – which has fairly stiff suspension – feel like a Bentley. Maybe I’ve gotten soft over the years but when driving this vehicle on a rocky trail I found myself involuntarily holding my breath, like I was waiting to be sucker punched in the gut.
Our co-driver, PG Groenewald from the Goodyear Off -road Academy, was also overly keen to get out of this bakkie when our test was complete. Things do settle with some weight in the load bin, but I wouldn’t want to drive this vehicle on a long journey over corrugated roads.
While on the subject of weight, the Steed boasts a praiseworthy load capacity of 1 000 kg, but you have to be smart with your packing arrangement as the load bay is a bit small (145 x 140 x 48 cm) for a DC. In terms of floor space, the load bin will allow you to pack seven standard-sized ammo boxes closely together.
If you’re considering a Steed 5 for overland use you should fit alternative recovery points. The vehicle does feature a bracket at the front and rear, but they’re too flimsy for my liking and not bolted directly to the chassis. What’s more, apart from the thin plastic guard protecting the sump, there’s almost no underbody protection and the transfer case is very much exposed.
As mentioned earlier, the Steed’s biggest failing is its rudimentary ride quality and if I owned one of these bakkies I’d definitely consider aftermarket suspension or at the very least, aftermarket shock absorbers – hopefully that’ll solve the problem. On top of this, the Steed’s steering is vague and sloppy; it’s not helluva bad, but bad enough to make you feel detached from the driving experience.
The suspension system at the rear is a spring-under setup, which doesn’t do much to help ground clearance but it does lower the Steed’s centre of gravity – combine this feature with a firm suspension setup and the Steed does well to minimise bodyroll through tight bends.
On urban commutes the 2.5-litre turbocharged engine does what’s required of it; however, on the open road the Steed’s no stallion with just 80 kW @ 3 400 rpm and 300 Nm @ 1 800 rpm. Expect an acceleration time of 6.5 seconds to get from 100 to 120 km/h and 15.31 seconds for the 0 – 100 km/h ‘sprint’ when unladen and on a flat road.
On the upside, the Steed’s fuel consumption figures are worth noting. We used a full tank of diesel commuting around town, on the freeway and driving an off-road track (sand and rock); during this time we recorded a combined fuel figure of 8.96 l / 100 km. With a fuel tank capacity of 70 litres that’s a potential range of 781 km.
There are two 4x4 models to choose from: the 2.5 TCi diesel – as featured in this test – and the 2.4 MPI petrol. Both engines are coupled to a 5-speed manual transmission.
In double-cab form the Steed 5 offers great value for money. But there’s a lot to consider when shopping for a new 4x4: build quality, longevity, parts availability, after sales support and resale.
In a price war, the Hilux 3.0 D-4D stands little chance against the Steed 5 but apples must be compared with apples and in this case we’re talking about the Hilux 2.5 SRX, an often overlooked bakkie that offers excellent bang for your buck and great overlanding potential.
At R333 800 the Hilux SRX is a no-frills double-cab which offers buyers the chance to purchase the reliability and capabilities of a Hilux without paying for superfluous items such as alloy wheels, leather seats, colour-coded bumpers, running boards, electric windows and a few other nice-to-haves.
The SRX is roughly R70k cheaper than the D-4D and approximately R115 000 more expensive than the Steed 5. However, the SRX comes with a 5-year / 90 000 km service plan so it’ll save you bucks on maintenance. Then there’s the issue of resale value; unfortunately, it’s impossible to say what you’ll get for a used Steed 5 in a few years from now, but it’s hard to believe that it will hold its value better than the Hilux.
While testing the new Steed I encountered plenty of naysayers towards the brand but each time they scoffed at the bakkie I’d jump to its defence by rattling on about features, respectable build quality and favourable price. The response I got was usually a look of intrigue, followed by another smirk and the question, “Ja, but would you buy one?” Unfortunately, at that point the hammer would fall and my case would shut.
The Steed 5 surprised me on many fronts and if I was a business owner I’d consider it as a possible fleet vehicle, but as an overland 4x4 that has yet to establish itself in our African arena, I’d feel more comfortable driving a popular alternative, even if it meant buying second-hand.
PG Groenewald at the Klipbokkop Mountain Reserve for providing valuable insight into the Steed’s abilities and allowing us the use of their word-class facilities. The Goodyear 4x4 Academy at Klipbokkop offers 4x4 training, trails, wonderful conference and accommodation facilities and a diverse mix of terrain types including sand, rock and gravel. For more information go to www.klipbokkop.co.za or call 082 579 4515.
Article published in SA4x4 August 2011 issue.