ROAD TEST: GWM C20R
If I had a yuan for every time I’ve heard that Chinese cars will one day be the next Hyundai or Kia, I could buy a beautiful temple in the affluent Cantonese city of Zhongshan in the Guangdong province. Not that I’d want to.
It’s a fact; the quality of Chinese cars is getting better all the time. The GWM C20R in this road test proves it. It’s not terrible at all. In fact, it’s totally acceptable. But just by using terms like “getting better” and “one day”, we’re saying that Chinese cars aren’t there yet, and they’re not.
Based on Great Wall Motors’ little C10 city car but given a high-riding crossover treatment typical of so many hatches these days, the C20R will blend in nicely with other traffic even if its cute lines are unashamedly borrowed from the front of Suzuki’s SX4 and the back of a Toyota Yaris.
The crossover bit, like a Cross Polo or Sandero Stepway, means it gets more butch-looking black wheel arch trims, slightly taller springs and 16” wheels that GWM says make it more suited to the occasional gravel road. But the truth is that even with its offroad-ish looks, the front-wheel drive C20R is hardly more capable off beaten paths than its C10 sibling. Neither are Cross Polo or Sandero Stepway any kind of dirt-tamers either, by the way.
This GWM’s build quality isn’t bad. Doors close with solid thunks, radio switchgear operates with precise turns and clicks, and the seats are well made with bolsters that support in the right places. That’s worth mentioning only because this just isn’t the case in some other Chinese models.
That said, GWM’s also getting better at disguising some of its quality shortcuts. The dashboard is made of hard, scratchy plastic but it’s textured to look more upmarket. The speedo cluster gets flashy chrome rings and indeed looks well made, but at night is backlit inadequately along with the rest of the facia’s instrumentation. And items like cubbyhole and ashtray doors appear neat and tidy when closed, but hinge flimsily when opened.
Other cost saving measures like no-name tyres, cheap-feeling vinyl upholstery, a complete lack of traction and stability-control systems, and a steering column that’s height but not reach adjustable (although many rivals in this price category have the same problem), don’t do the C20R any favours in terms of appeal either.
There’s a fairly low-tech 1.5-litre engine residing under the C20R’s stubby bonnet, which like other Chinese-built motors feels a little harsh and gritty in its upper rpm range. GWM quotes 77kW and 138Nm outputs, and if you’re willing to rev it up it’s actually quite zippy. Just don’t use the airconditioning if you’re in a hurry, as the compressor loots more than its fair share of total engine power. It’ll also kill the prospect of obtaining average fuel consumption claims of 7.7l/100km.
It’s an easy car to drive. The controls are light, the steering spins freely and the seating position, in tandem with its raised ride height, offers good perspective of surroundings. I found it especially easy to park, and it slaloms traffic like a Shaolin warrior through kung fu bad guys. The clutch is a weak point, though. It feels poorly made with a lifeless action and little differentiation between freeplay and engagement. A higher quality unit would greatly improve driver satisfaction.
I’m impressed with the way the back seats have been engineered, though. They fold flat, like in most hatches, but also slide forward and back to adjust boot space according to passenger/cargo ratios. They also work independently from each other with a 60/40 split, and I was able to fit two big suitcases and their owners with a clever three-up configuration. With the rear seats in their most comfortable and spacious position, the boot is very small, though, and a marie biscuit spare wheel under the floor, although nice to have, hogs a lot of space.
Often regarded as the best of the Chinese bunch sold in our market, Great Wall Motors’ cars are getting there in terms of quality. But, they’re also getting there in terms of money, and at R154 900 I think GWM is asking an “already there” price. It’s still well within the entry-level bracket, but similarly priced offerings from Volkswagen, Toyota, Hyundai and Kia are certainly more attractive at this point in time.
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