ROAD TEST: GWM M4 1.5
Johannesburg - Why Great Wall Motors would name its new crossover car the M4 is a curiosity, since no one of sound mind would associate this pedestrian-paced hatch with a certain high-performance Beemer.
Perhaps it’s just a cheeky name for a cheeky car which is trying to break free of the image that Chinese cars offer little more than cheap frills and utility, and speaks to the Chinese car industry’s ambition to start being taken seriously (at least outside of China).
After testing the new GWM M4 for a week I found it follows the trend of the last few Chinese cars we’ve driven. They’re getting better in styling and interior execution, but there’s still work to be done on the mechanical side.
Great Wall Motors has done a great job in styling this compact crossover car, giving it a cheeky “urban adventurer” look with its gaping airdam flanked by large fog lamps. Front and rear skid-plates in a contrasting silver hue, roof rails, and black cladding around the sills and wheelarches complete the SUV-style look.
The M4 also gets SUV-rivalling ground clearance of more than 180mm. It’s a two-wheel drive so there’s no off-roading on the menu, but the extra ride height makes the car theoretically deal better with rough roads and potholes. Theoretically, I say, because the ride’s quite firm and choppy, and this Chinese car doesn’t deal too well with less-than-smooth roads, even with its high-profile tyres. Somehow GWM hasn’t hit the sweet spot with this suspension, while the car has a somewhat flimsy character and doesn’t feel as torsionally rigid as its established rivals.
The same goes for the rest of the mechanical package, and the M4 trails its opposition when it comes to the drivetrain and chassis. The power-assisted steering has an unpleasantly artificial feel and the five-speed gearshift is notchy and doesn’t like being hurried.
NOT EXACTLY PERKY
Power-wise the M4 offers rather pedestrian pace from its 1.5-litre normally aspirated petrol engine, which peaks at 71kW and 138Nm, and has a claimed fuel consumption of 7.2-litres/100km. Urban commuting is handled in a fairly fuss-free way if you’re not in a hurry, and while there’s not much of a powerband, the torque curve is relatively flat and there aren’t any dead spots.
On the open road the M4 is able to cruise at the national 120km/h speed limit most of the time and has a claimed 170km/h top speed, but its occupancy of the fast lane is limited due to a very unhurried overtaking pace. The engine is reasonably vocal without being a screamer, and wind and road noise are also acceptable; the noise isn’t so intrusive that you have to crank up the audio system to compensate.
Space inside the M4’s cabin is reasonably tight. A pair of adults will squeeze into the back but the rear seat’s better suited to children. The 310-litre boot’s quite compact too.
The interior trimmings are a lot better than the earlier cheap-and-nasty efforts from the Chinese, and this is where you’re seeing real change taking place. The dash and fascia are modernly styled – I particularly like the rotary-style air vents – and the finishes are quite neat.
No problems there, but I wish GWM would discover reach-adjustable steering; this car has height-adjustment only, and I battled to find a comfortable driving position that didn’t have my legs scrunched and arms stretched out.
Bells and whistles are otherwise fairly plentiful, and all the expected conveniences are there including remote central locking, electric windows and mirrors, audio system with USB and Bluetooth connectivity, rear park assist, and aircon. There’s an onboard computer which gives instant (but not average) fuel consumption readings.
On the safety card are dual front airbags and ABS brakes. A five-year/100 000km warranty and five-year/45 000km service plan come standard.
BUT THAT PRICE!
It doesn’t come cheap though, and the GWM M4’s R189 999 pricetag is far from a bargain when a more powerful and more established rival like the VW Polo Vivo Maxx 1.6 goes for R171 000.
GWM reckons the M4 should rather be seen as a slightly cheaper alternative to a Renault Duster or Ford EcoSport, both of which sell for just over 200 grand.
But I’m not buying this; the Vivo Maxx is a far more natural rival.
GWM’s hatchback with hiking boots has funky styling and a decent interior, but the intended benefit of the extra ride height is somewhat negated by the M4’s unsettled ride on rough roads. Weak performance and nasty steering further erode its appeal, and it’s way overpriced. GWM, it’s back to the drawing board on this one I’m afraid.
GWM M4 1.5
Engine: 1.5-litre, four-cylinder petrol
Gearbox: 6-speed automatic
Power: 71.3kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 138Nm @ 4200rpm
Top speed (claimed): 170km/h
Consumption (claimed): 7.2 litres per 100km
Price: R189 999
Warranty: Five-year/100 000km
Service plan: Five-year/40 000km
Chery Tiggo 1.6 TX (80kW/147Nm) - R199 900
Ford Ecosport 1.5 Ambiente (82kW/138Nm) - R204 900
Renault Duster 1.6 Expression (75kW/145Nm) - R199 900
VW Polo Vivo 1.6 Maxx (77kW/155Nm) - R171 000