Large grille and swept-back headlights give the new GWM Steed some real presence on the road.
Large grille and swept-back headlights give the new GWM Steed some real presence on the road.
At 5345mm in length, this is one of the largest bakkies on the block.
At 5345mm in length, this is one of the largest bakkies on the block.
The cabin is neatly designed and you could hardly fault the quality.
The cabin is neatly designed and you could hardly fault the quality.

ROAD TEST:

GWM Steed6 2.0 VGT Xscape DC

Johannesburg - Now this is brave step out of GWM's comfort zone.

Over the years the GWM Steed models have built up a reputation for providing good, solid, no-nonsense value at the lower rungs of the bakkie price ladder and thankfully the previous-generation Steed5 and its facelifted 5E sibling will continue to cater for that market for the foreseeable future.

The new generation Steed6 that you see here steps proudly above its siblings as it wages its own war against the more established players in the 'upmarket' bakkie club.

Yet how does it measure up?

If we're talking sheer size, this GWM has undergone something of a growth spurt. Don't be fooled by the familiar-looking body shape, at 5345mm in length the new GWM is among the largest bakkies on the block. It also makes quite a statement, moving away from the VW-like faces of its predecessors with a bold new front end design. That huge chrome grille gives it some real presence on the road, while the shapely, swept-back headlights add modern flair.

NEAT CABIN

It's also a whole new ball game in the cabin, with a neatly-sculpted horizontally-focused dashboard that places two racy-looking deep-set instrument cowls in front of the driver. Build quality appears solid and I never got the feeling that anything was about to come loose, fall off or shatter in a Big Bang-style explosion. The tactile quality of the materials is also rather agreeable, by bakkie standards at least.

There's ample stretching space in the back, but the seat is set a bit low so passengers will sit with their knees slightly raised and headroom will be sufficient for those of an average size, but perhaps a bit tight for taller adults if I have to nitpick.

All in all it should prove more than sufficient for family road trips, although venturing into real rugged terrain won't be possible for now as it's currently not available as a 4x4, although it does have a diff lock. But don't pawn those gum boots, winches and Armageddon baked bean supplies just yet as 4x4 versions are expected to come on stream soon.

THAT LLLAAAAAGGGG

Powering those rear wheels is GWM's familiar two-litre VGT turbodiesel, which delivers a competitive-for-its-size 105kW and 305Nm. Once it's on the boil, it performs well enough for a mid-market diesel bakkie but it's the getting-going part of it that proves problematic - at altitude at least. It is frustratingly lethargic off the mark, to the point that it would be rather dangerous if it was fitted with an automatic gearbox. Thankfully the Steed6 only comes with a six-speed manual and you can mostly get around the lag problem by letting the clutch go at higher engine speeds.

GWM claims an average consumption of 8.8 litres per 100km, and I achieved 10.3 l/100km in a mixture of highway and urban driving, which is really not bad considering that my right foot wasn't exactly in economy run mode.

The rest of the Steed's driving components also leave some room for improvement. The steering, while nice and light for urban manoeuvring, feels very artificial and there is a teeny bit of play, while the ride quality can be uncomfortably bouncy over ripples and surface imperfections. Yes, it is a bakkie and bakkies do ride hard, and it's not the worst on the block by any means, but it's certainly not the best either.

One thing I really do applaud GWM for is the fitment of ESP stability control on the high-spec Xscape model. It's something that should be standard on all bakkies but the industry sets the bar very low here and well done to GWM for actually exceeding it.

Talking spec, the Steed6 is offered in two grades. The entry-level SX, priced a few coins short of R300 000, comes with climate control, audio system, Bluetooth connectivity, height-adjustable driver's seat and 16-inch alloys. Key safety features are dual front airbags and ABS.

The R329 900 Xscape that I drove ups the ante with side and curtain airbags, cruise control, leather seats (with electric adjustment for the driver), automatic headlights and windscreen wipers, and hill-start assist. On the outside, this flagship sets itself apart with roof rails, a roll bar and side steps.

VERDICT

The Steed6 is a mostly agreeable option. While not quite as polished all-round as the mainstream players, it's still a good R90 000 cheaper than the nearest comparable option from the Hilux or Amarok stable, albeit there’s no standard service plan. The GWM is also boldly designed and the cabin is well appointed, but its real problem is the multitude of options in the early R300 000s.

Personally, I'd rather have a low-spec Ranger or Foton's brawny Cummins-powered Tunland. But if you have your heart set on the GWM, then it's really not a bad option.

Right now I think that the lower-priced, older-generation Steed 5 and 5E still make the most sense to me, but if GWM continues along the same trajectory then I'll probably be eating those words by the time the next generation comes along.

FACTS

GWM Steed6 2.0 VGT Xscape DC

Engine: 2-litre, four-cylinder turbodiesel

Gearbox: Six-speed manual

Power: 105kW @ 4000rpm

Torque: 305Nm @ 1800 - 2800rpm

Consumption (claimed): 8.8 litres per 100km

Price: R329 900

Warranty: Five-year/100 000km

Service plan: Optional

ALTERNATIVES

Ford Ranger 2.2 XL DC (110kW/375Nm) - R314 900

Ford Ranger 2.2 XLS DC (110kW/375Nm) - R401 900

Foton Tunland 2.8 Luxury DC (120kW/360Nm) - R314 950

Mazda BT-50 2.2 SLE DC (110kW/375Nm) - R369 900

Mitsubishi Triton 2.5 DI-D DC (100kW/314Nm) - R349 200

Nissan NP300 2.5 TDi DC (98kW/304Nm) - R333 400

Toyota Hilux 2.5 D-4D Legend DC (106kW/343Nm) - R420 100

VW Amarok 2.0 TDI Trendline DC (103kW/340Nm) - R420 100