Great Wall SUV has the fundamentals

ROB MAETZIG
Last updated 05:05 07/08/2012

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I can't help thinking that the Great Wall X-200 is like the wannabe golfers you often see out on the golf courses.

They've got all the flash clothes, the designer sports sunglasses and the very latest golfing equipment - but their handicaps are in the teens, which means they've got a long way to go before they can truly mix it with the big boys.

But often the good news is that it is obvious the fundamentals are there, and you just know that sooner rather than later they'll get there if they continue to put plenty of effort into improving.

Now let's talk about the Great Wall X-200, which is my first experience driving a vehicle from China - the world's biggest vehicle market, and with an automotive manufacturing industry that is experiencing rapid change.

The best way I can describe this vehicle is as a wannabe SUV, very nicely built and chock-full of a huge amount of appointment and luxury. But as a motor vehicle, it has some way to go before it can truly mix it with the big boys.

GREAT WALL X-200

POWER PLANT: 2.0-litre four cylinder common rail turbocharged diesel, 105 kW at 4000 rpm, 310 Nm at 1800-2800 rpm.

RUNNING GEAR: On-demand all-wheel drive. Five-speed automatic transmission. Independent double wishbone front suspension, dependent setup at the rear. Full suite of electronic ride and handling aids. HOW BIG: Length 4649mm, width 1810mm, height 1735mm, wheelbase 2700mm.

HOW MUCH: $34,990.

WHAT'S GOOD: High build quality, stacked with specification for an exceptional price.

WHAT'S NOT: Old-generation turbodiesel, vague steering, brakes are hopeless.

OUR VERDICT: This SUV is so well priced it is a superior buy to low mileage used imports. That makes it an attractive vehicle, despite some obvious failings.

But the fundamentals are there, and you can almost guarantee that it won't be long before this sort of product from China will be right up there with opposition vehicles from such places as South Korea and Japan in terms of quality.

And, significantly, right now this vehicle carries a retail price of $34,990 which makes it thousands of dollars less expensive than equivalent product if compared spec-for-spec. That sort of pricing even makes it competitive against used imports from Japan, particularly when the fact it carries a three-year or 100,000 kilometre warranty is taken into consideration.

And with that knowledge, I know which vehicle I would buy.

Great Wall is China's largest producer of SUVs. Established in 1976, it manufactured only trucks until a few years ago because of a lack of the necessary government licence, but since then it has taken off as a producer of all sorts of utes and SUVs for domestic use and export.

These days it boasts more than 20,000 employees, exports to more than 120 countries, and has a very strong research and development programme.

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Great Wall importer Ateco Automotive NZ Ltd imports a growing selection of utes and SUVs, ranging from a 2.4-litre petrol powered single cab two- wheel drive V-240 ute which retails for just $20,990, through to the flagship 2.0-litre turbodiesel all-wheel drive auto X-200 that I've just been driving.

So what's it like to drive?

Try as I might, I couldn't find out the background of its 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine, but it took me back a few years when such engines were very sluggish at the start of acceleration before the turbocharging kicked in - much too violently for my liking, too. Steering is also slow and uncommunicative, and I didn't think much of the brakes.

The engine, which I suspect has a Mitsibishi background, offers 105 kilowatts of power and the maximum torque is 310 Newton metres, which these days isn't a lot - by way of example, the latest 2.0-litre twin-turbo diesel aboard the Volkwagen Amarok ute develops 132 kW of power and 410 Nm of torque.

Not only that, but the X-200's automatic transmission is a five- speeder whereas most other SUVs available in New Zealand have six- speed autos, with some now going to eight speeds.

Around town, I really didn't think much of the steering. It's too slow, and I found myself having to go to quite some effort hauling the SUV around the corners. And the brakes need to be more responsive.

But out on the open road, the X-200 rides and handles rather well. It's built on the same ladder- frame chassis as the V-series ute so you can expect the ride to be a little unsettled with only one or two aboard, but it can take on the corners and bends with some aplomb.

It has four-wheel drive too.

And the Great Wall is stacked with appointment. Upholstery is full leather, there's an excellent audio system, full connectivity, the air conditioning is a full climate-control system, and there's a touch-screen information system with reversing camera.

There's also very good room - once you get inside. The X-200's A-pillar is quite swept, and I found I always seemed to belt my head on it when trying to clamber aboard. But once you are settled in, this Great Wall is a very comfortable SUV.

The rear seats are quite unsupportive, but there is good legroom, and those seats are split 60:40 to open up extra load space if necessary.

So overall, although the Great Wall X-200 isn't there yet in terms of competitiveness against other product such as the Hyunda ix35, Honda CR-V, Kia Sportage, Toyota RAV4 and Nissan X-Trail, it is quite obvious that the marque is on the improve.

I didn't drive the first- generation X-series, but I'm told this model is much improved. So you can rest assured that the next model will be even better and that it won't be long before Chinese product will be able to line itself up against product from Japan, Korea and Thailand.

But in the meantime, it would be hugely unfair to describe the Great Wall X-200 as cheap and nasty.

It's probably more cheap and cheerful - and even now I suspect that this vehicle has the ability to last for years.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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