By Andy Enright
It had to happen eventually. As soon as people start talking about the Chinese manufacturers flooding our markets, you couldn't help but think of Richard Burton narrating the introduction to War of the Worlds with those "intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us." Last time I checked, the Chinese hadn't pitched up on Hampstead Heath with a tripod. Nope. Instead, they came with a cheap pickup truck - the Great Wall Steed. Does it make a worthwhile used buy? Read on to find out.
5dr pickup (2.0 diesel [S, SE, Chrome, Tracker])
At this point you're probably wondering who this 'Great Wall' crew are. Well they're no newcomers to the car building game. In fact they've been at it since 1976 when they started building trucks. Back in those days, the Communist Party in China controlled everything, from how many children you had to whether you were entitled to a bicycle. They certainly weren't dishing out too many licences to build cars. So Great Wall stuck to what it was good at and made pick-ups instead. By 1998 in fact, it was the biggest producer of pick-ups in China. It then became the first Chinese automotive manufacturer to go public, being listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange in 2003. Back then, exports had yet to take off, possibly because of model names like the Wingle, the CoolBear, the Cowry and the Sailor. Still, they seemed to go down well in China. Come 2010, Great Wall produced the most popular SUV in China, the Haval H Series, and the brand produced 468,800 vehicles in 2011, making it the tenth biggest vehicle maker in China. Given that Volvo produced 315,000 cars in the same period, you'd have to see Great Wall as a manufacturer with some clout. We first felt this in the UK in 2012 when the company's Steed pick-up arrived in a hand-picked selection of British dealerships and Great Wall started offering the vehicle for sale for a mere £1 down payment. In March 2013, two special editions were announced - the 'Steed Chrome' and the 'Steed Tracker'. Building on the impressive array of standard equipment found on the entry-level Steed S, both models featured the Steed's uprated towing capacity of 2,500kg (braked) and a 1,050kg maximum payload. In addition to the standard Steed S equipment list, the Chrome got chrome side bars and sports bars, chrome fog-lamp surrounds, chrome rear-lamp finishers, stainless-steel door entry guards, an over-rail bedliner, tinted windows, metallic paint and carpet floor mats. The Tracker was fitted with General Grabber All-Terrain Tyres, an over-rail bedliner, a tow bar with audible monitor, front and rear mud flaps, rubber mats and metallic paint. The Steed was treated to a six-year/125,000 mile warranty deal in April 2013, comprising the 3 year/60,000 mile manufacturer warranty plus a further 3 year/125,000 mile powertrain extended warranty but was only offered on Steeds purchased between April and the end of June 2013.
What You Get
One day China will make resolutely Chinese cars that Western markets will love. Until then, it cribs what works in the rest of the world and that's why the Great Wall Steed looks like a Mitsubishi L200 or a Isuzu Rodeo or a Toyota Hilux. The plus side of this is that you'll have paid less and got something that doesn't really look all that different. Okay, you could say the same about the £15 Breitling you bought on a stall in Bangkok but the Great Wall isn't all that different in the mechanicals either. Under the galvanised body is a ladder-frame chassis, strengthened and braced by reinforced middle cross-members, an impact-absorbing rear beam and a reinforced cargo bed. The Steed's actually one of the better looking pick-ups. We like the chunky wheel arches, the clearance on the high rear end and the front end styling is very well executed with a contoured shape running from beneath the headlights down to the intakes under the number plate holder. It's actually a lot more assured than you might be expecting, although the chromed rear bumper doesn't look all that substantial. Climb inside and you're greeted by a dash board that's functional and tough looking but probably isn't going to win any design awards. This leather seating feels as if it could handle a hundred thousand miles without too much of a problem and although the dash is built of some hard plastics, it's probably appropriate given the stick this car is likely to get in the working environment. The controls are easy to figure out although we'd have liked to have seen the audio and ventilation controls mounted higher up to avoid taking your eyes off the road for too long. The speedometer looks a bit cluttered as well, but other than that it's hard to complain. All in it's a good showing, especially at this price point.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
There have been issues with shock absorbers giving up if the Steeds sees a lot of off-road driving, but on the whole it's mechanically quite tough. The cabin plastics aren't the best quality and the seat adjusters and dash trims aren't the sturdiest. The oily bits seem fairly bombproof, as everything is in a pretty low state of tune. Check for fluid leaks and make sure the transmission isn't doing anything unexpected.
(approx based on a 2012 Steed 2.0) Parts aren't too badly priced. You'll need around £148 for a set of front brake discs and £52 for a set of front pads. A fuel filter is £46 and a set of carpet mats is £30. An oil filter is £23 and an air filter will cost you £17.
On the Road
As a drive, you might be expecting the Great Wall Steed to be terrible. How could it be anything but? It's a big, cheap pick-up, you think, and corners must have been cut somewhere to make the price so low. Surely the acid test will be how it goes down the road. Sorry to disappoint, but it's actually not bad at all. Okay, so it's not as refined as a Ford Ranger or a Nissan Navara, but seriously? You pay your money and you take your choice. About the biggest compliment that you can pay the Steed is that if you couldn't see any badges, you'd never guess that it wasn't an Isuzu, a SsangYong or any one of the more affordable pick-ups. The 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine isn't any great hardship, although the 145PS it generates isn't amongst the class best. The 305Nm of torque that's available from 1,800rpm again isn't quite as good as something like a Hilux but it's enough to give the Steed enough pulling power whether you're got the bed loaded or not. It'll get to 60mph in around 12.5 seconds and top out at around the ton, so it's not lethargic. True, you never really forget that you're in a commercial vehicle and you'll need to give the throttle pedal a good prod when you're on a long motorway incline but if you ask, it tends to deliver. The manual gearchange isn't the sweetest thing we've ever used and needs a firm hand but the brakes are pretty strong despite being discs up front with drums at the rear. Anti lock brakes with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution are part of the package, so they tend to get the job done effectively. On-road refinement? That's better than quite a few pick-ups we've driven. As with most of them, the ride quality on bad surfaces can be a bit pattery when the bed's unladen but that's due to the fact that fairly firm springs are needed in order to cope with the weight when you've got something like a tonne of pea shingle on board. Fire the Steed up and it sounds a bit agricultural at first but soon settles into a workmanlike thrum. What's more, it doesn't send too much vibration into the cabin and the engine develops enough low down torque that you tend not to rev it to the point it sounds harsh. The steering's one of its best features. All too often pick ups have steering that's vaguer than a BBC chief at a parliamentary inquiry but the Steed is easy to place through corners and has decent feel. We like the fact that there's a bit of heft to the wheel. It lets you know what's going on at the front wheels. Most of the time, the front wheels are steering and tasked with the job of deploying power. Four-wheel drive is electronically selectable on-the-fly via dash-mounted buttons and there's a set of low-range gears provided for real off-road capability. We say on the fly, but you're not really going to be flying when you engage all-wheel drive as there's a mandated top speed of 12mph to switch over. With decent approach and departure angles and respectable ground clearance, the Steed is well up to the demands of some fairly serious off-road work. In fact, we can't think of many other vehicles that get close to its off-road ability for this sort of money.
The Great Wall Steed will do the job if you just want no-frills workhorse. No, it's not going to feel as fresh at 120,000 miles as a Toyota Hilux but then is that any great surprise? You get what you pay for and it's worth bearing that in mind when judging the Great Wall. As we've seen with later versions of the Steed, it's rapidly improving. As a used purchase that might help you out of a spot for a six-month or year tenure, the Steed has something to be said for it. If you're looking for a longer term investment, we'd shop elsewhere.