Tested: GWM's Steed 5 2.5 TCi 4x4
SENSIBLE STEED: Hardly cutting edge, but at R100 000 cheaper than its nearest Japanese rival, wouldn’t you want one?
Steed 5 2.5 TCi
80kW @ 3 400rpm
300Nm @ 1 800-2 600rpm
Yes, with EBD
3 year/100 000km
Author: Lance Branquinho
"Buy a second-hand bakkie instead, it’s less trouble." It’s the standard refrain isn’t it?
How many times, since the South African market was flooded with Chinese product, have you heard this sage soundbite of advice when somebody at the braai mentions the (low-price) allure of "another" new People’s Republic-sourced bakkie?
Truth be told, much of the scepticism and scorn has been just deserved.
Too many fly-by-night operators with non-existent parts inventories, a crucial oversight when supporting products of dubious durability, have seen an awful lot of disappointed customers – all lured by the same purchasing rationale, extraordinarily low prices compared to the traditional Japanese 1-tonners.
Chinese bakkies, then, have hardly endeared themselves to South Africans. Most of the initial wave of brands that entered during through 2007/08 went bust. Logic dictates those who remain are of greater quality but the question is whether the idea of greater quality is relatively Chinese or of a concept of absolute value?
This brings me to the latest Chinese bakkie from GWM, its Steed 5. One of the few emerging market brands to establish something approaching a credible presence and expanded product portfolio (nine models, even including the rather ridiculous Hover limousine), GWM’s bakkies are considered the vanguard of Chinese utility vehicle engineering - although, considering conventional logic, that's not saying much.
PLENTY OF GEAR
The Steed 5 double-cab 2.5 TCi 4x4 Wheels24 had on test is very much GWM’s headline bakkie. Finished in luxury trim it retails for R217 990 and has rather comprehensive specification.
It’s cabin has leather trim (of dubious origin, admitedly), access is secured by motion-sensitive central locking and dynamic safety buoyed by ABS brakes with electronic brake force distribution, whilst there are two front airbags in the event of a collision. Infotainment's catered for by a CD/MP3-enabled sound system and steering-wheel satellite controls.
All things considered, the Steed 5’s specification is hardly your typical utilitarian bakkie fare. It’s rather obvious, therefore, that GWM has very (lofty) ambitions for its latest child: to attract traditional Japanese double-cab customers, who have become price sensitive to the fact that you cannot buy a new Oriental double-cab 4x4 for less than R300 000.
Unsurprisingly, then, the Steed 5’s been configured to (shadow) match Toyota’s Hilux, Mazda’s BT-50 and Isuzu’s KB feature for feature.
LOOKS OK- BUT HOW'S IT GO?
HELLO HILUX: Most of the cabin bits are imitation Japanese parts and components, such as the Hilux-like wheel and satellite controls. Is that really a bad thing, though?…
With (most) Chinese vehicles first impressions have an inevitable element of déjà vu
about them, plainly, because most Chinese cars and bakkies are simple facsimiles of established Japanese, European or American products. With the Steed5 this is not as obviously the case.
It doesn't look overtly like any other bakkie. The Steed 5’s most pronounced feature is a reshaped nose. There are rectangular headlights and a more traditionally shaped grille, a notable improvement over the first-generation Steed’s gaping-mouth styling.
Access the cab and, finally, the expected (and dreaded) Chinese imitation design becomes perceptible. The Steed 5’s fascia, switchgear and instrumentation are a shameless copy of Isuzu’s current KB-series bakkie
; the steering wheel (including its left-thumb configuration satellite controls) will be awfully familiar to Hilux owners…
Settle into the thinly padded leather driver’s seat, slip the key into the ignition barrel, turn it over, wait five seconds for the glow-plugs to warm and the Steed 5’s 2.5-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel engines clatters into life. Featuring Bosch’s common-rail technology, it’s good for 80kW and 300Nm.
Now, although those numbers sound rather weak, when you unpack the class average for 2.5-litre turbodiesel bakkies it’s actually not that bad. Nissan’s Navara 2.5 dCi is easily the most powerful bakkie of similar capacity (120kW/403Nm), followed by Mitsubishi’s Triton (100kW/314Nm), Hardbody 2.5 HDi (98kW/304Nm), then Isuzu’s KB 250 D-teq (85kW/280Nm), Mazda’s BT-50 (80kW/257Nm) and Toyota’s D-4D 2.5-litre (75kW/260Nm).
Although it’s a trifle bothersome not to have the convenience of near instantaneous start-up (like most sophisticated modern turbodiesel engines), once those glow-plugs have warmed and you’re under way the Steed 5 has a wonderfully rugged, old-school bakkie feel to it.
Although the 2.5-litre engine’s exhaust note is a combination of typical four-cylinder bakkie roar and diesel clatter, the cabin’s sufficiently insulated to ensure cruising at the legal limit is never (overly) migraine-inducing. Our family always owned bakkies, in mitigation, so perhaps my perception of what are acceptable workhorse noise, vibration and harness levels are a touch more tolerant than most lifestyle buyers.
In terms of power delivery the Steed 5 operates in a very narrow band of forced-induction addled performance. The tachometer has its power band guide highlighted in green from 1500-2500rpm and below or above those values performance is rather lacking, despite 80kW peaking at 3400rpm. Fortunately the five-speed manual transmission has a chunky shift action and is easy to manoeuvre through the H-gate, something you are often required to do from fifth-to-fourth gear when there’s a gradual inclination in the road surface’s run angle.
Around town the narrow power band requires a high frequency of shifting
to manoeuvre with agility between traffic, yet the chunky five-speed
transmission, with its tall shifter, is a classic bakkie H-gate – firm
to shift, but reassuring mechanical as you guide it through the gate
A tell-tale sign of the 2.5-litre engine’s lack of sophistication is a smokescreen of diesel smoulder that fills your rear-mirror field of view each time urgent roll-on acceleration is required… it must be said, though, if you like your turbodiesels with an indestructible (though not altogether utilitarian) feel I think the Steed 5’s 2.5-litre is as close to your requirements as you’ll likely to find.
The steering, even at the lock-to-lock end of the motion range, remains mechanically untroubled and is as true as you could expect a bakkie’s to be; in other words: it tracks properly without wandering all over the N1 at highway cruising speeds.
RIDE (WITHOUT THE REQUIRED QUALITY)
BUILT TO WORK: Neat feature is the round bar framing all the loadbox’s rim tie-down loops, ensuring a badly threaded rope does not slip and lift. Rear window instruction bars a welcome safety feature, lacking on most Japanese double-cab bakkies…
If the Steed 5 has a weakness it’s the rear leaf-sprung suspension set-up’s oscillation control.
Admittedly all contemporary double cab bakkies are of similar configuration: Macpherson struts up front and a leaf-sprung live axle at the rear.
Only Land Rover’s Defender manages to differentiate itself by being quite sophisticated, featuring all-wheel coil-sprung suspension (from the first-generation Range Rover) – a technical detail not sufficiently recognised by most bakkie enthusiasts.
If all bakkies are essentially of the same configuration, why is there such a marked difference in ride quality between them? Well, it’s due to the level of fine-tuning engineers manage to refine into what is a rather antiquated element of mechanical design – considering the leaf sprung rear axle has been with us for more than a century.
Unfortunately, Steed 5's ride quality is terribly unsettled at cruising speeds when unladen. All leaf sprung double-cabs move around a touch over surface irregularities at 120km/h but the Steed 5’s composure is severely upset by them. At one stage I actually pulled-over on the N2 to check if the tyres were OK.
As with any bakkie, as soon as you have 100kg or more (the Steed double cab’s rated to carry 800kg) above the rear axle the ride settled down remarkably. Considering that the Steed is going to appeal to a buyer who has authentic utility/touring/working requirements instead of leisure bakkie double-cab pursuits , logic dictates that it’ll be loaded more often than not, and as such, the poor unladen ride quality will not be of much consequence.
For the rest it’s an entirely credible bakkie driving experience. The ABS-boosted brakes are powerful enough to confidently decelerate the Steed 5 (even when laden) and although I wished the seats were of a more ergonomic design (and better padded) long-distance driving is not a prospect to dread. One-touch up front windows (especially on the driver’s side) would have been nice though. WORKS ON-ROAD AND OFF
Ultimately, though, the Steed 5 does many things well. Perhaps most impressive is the lack of pungent polymer toxicity, often the bane of many emerging market manufacturers – even some Korean cars still smell like a plastic acid trip when you get inside after they’ve been left out in a sun-drenched car park (or construction site).
GWM’s obviously managed to source its plastics from a premium supplier and in so doing averted a crucial ownership debit, as farmers and artisans (who generally park their vehicles in direct sunlight) simply would not have been able to tolerate the chemically overpowering aroma afflicting many entry-level bakkie cabins.
Off-road the Steed 5 features Isuzu’s KB push-button transfer case.
It’s awfully easy to use but hardcore off-roaders will tell you that, unlike a proper secondary shifter, the push-button system (actuated by solenoids) will at times not be able to change between low and high range if you are cross-axled and some chassis flex is hampering drivetrain alignment. The flip-side to this argument is that one should, and I firmly believe this, always have your vehicle set up properly (in the correct gear) before attempting a challenging obstacle.
BARGAIN BUY: Performance is fair. Comfort is fair. Components feel robust. Value proposition incomparable. Is this the first proper Chinese bakkie? Probably…
Although ground clearance is (rather) scant at 198mm (the class leading Hilux D-4D
double cab boasts 212mm), Steed 5’s off-road ability is credible.
It has a rugged ladder chassis and should, with properly deflated tyres and the low-range transmission’s workmanlike partnership with the 2.5-litre engine’s 1 800rpm torque peak (valued at a not at all insignificant 300Nm), go most places any other 4x4 bakkie would.
The lack ultimate rear axle traction security, offered by a mechanical locking differential, will limit its ability to climb in very tight, broken terrain. A PROPER CHINESE BAKKIE? FOR REAL?
GWM’s Steed 5 is an interesting product. Haters will make it off as a cheap Isuzu KB clone, with hand-me-down technology sourced from who-knows-where. In summary of my experience, though, it offers outstanding value.
Yes, I wish the engine start-up was quicker (especially on cold winter’s morning), and the unladen ride was more settled, but if you are planning to purchase it as a workhorse or touring 4x4 vehicle, it has many points of appeal.
The styling’s neat. Perceived build quality is fair and, crucially, the cabin’s an entirely passable environment to transport people over substantial distances. The engine appears to be a quality slogger (albeit with the required common-rail injected turbocharged urgency) and there’s nothing in the dynamics (steering, transmission or brakes) to indicate any waywardly unreliable assembly or substantially sub-standard engineering.
Fuel consumption hovered in the (very) low teens during my time with the Steed so I’d guesstimate a ballpark figure of 11 litres/100km should be achievable.
Considerably better executed than Mahindra’s Scorpio
(which offer a rear 'locker but is R33 000 more expensive), GWM’s Steed 5 is not only a good emerging market product, it’s a good bakkie in absolute terms and six figures cheaper than a similarly equipped Japanese double-cab 4x4, something sure to (justifiably) worry Isuzu, Nissan, Mazda and Toyota. Especially considering the superfluous levels of finessing visited upon most contemporary double-cabs, which are, (simply) out of touch with the requirements of owners.