It's been some time coming but the Chinese have finally landed on the local market with the launch by Ateco of two utes manufactured in China by ute and SUV specialist Great Wall Motors. Both are dual-cab models and they follow the very successful formula of affordable pricing combined with a long list of standard features that Ateco used when selling the Kia brand before the Koreans took it back.
Ateco Managing Director Ric Hull was the driving force behind Kia's early success then, which saw the Kia Pregio become one of our top selling vans, and is now driving the push into Australia by Great Wall Motors. It shouldn't be a surprise then that Hull is employing the same formula to sell the Great Wall utes, and he's confident it will deliver similar results for the Chinese brand as it did for Kia.
"We've got no thoughts of taking the market by storm, it will be a gradual process, but I think it will be easier than it was with the Koreans," Hill said. "Everything we buy now is made in China so people are comfortable with buying Chinese."
Variants and pricing
The three-model Great Wall ute range kicks off with the SA220, which is an older generation 4x2 ute aimed at tradies who are shopping for a second hand HiLux or similar model from one of the established ute brands, but who might be tempted by a new vehicle with plenty of fruit and a full warranty for under $20,000 on the road.
For those who want a ute that can be used for weekend pursuits as well as work, and have more to spend, but not necessarily enough to get into a high-end dual-cab model from one of the established brands, there's the V240, which comes in two and four-wheel drive variants.
The V240 is of a later generation of dual-cab utes than the SA220 and sits more comfortably alongside the current models from the mainstream ute brands. It too follows Hull's tried-and-true formula of affordable pricing with a host of standard features. The 4x2 is priced at $23,990 while the 4x4 is stickered at $26,990.
Styling and fit-out
Both models are neatly styled and comfortably fit into the local ute landscape. The build quality, while not quite at the level of the main Thai-built players in the market, is quite good with a decent paint finish and good panel fit. Being an older generation ute the interior plastics of the SA220 are hard and lack the subtlety of those in later models, but they all fit together quite well.
Surprisingly for a model at this end of the market the seat facings are trimmed in leather, but Hull said it was cheaper to leave the leather in than it was to delete it at the factory, so SA220 buyers will enjoy the luxury of hide.
They also get to enjoy standard air-conditioning, four-speaker CD sound with MP3 compatibility, power windows and mirrors, cup holders and a centre console. Unfortunately they don't have the protection of airbags in the event of a crash.
Driving the SA220
The SA220 gets its power from a 2.2-litre four-cylinder engine putting out a modest 78 kW at 4600 revs and 190 Nm at 2400-2800 revs. It's no fireball and lacks mid-range grunt, but from a brief drive it appears it is able to hold its own in traffic or out of the highway. Ateco claims the SA220 will return a combined average of 10.8 L/100 km. A five-speed manual gearbox is the only option available and it's a decent unit with a smooth, if rather long-throw, shift.
Underneath the SA220 is built on a conventional ladder chassis with the familiar combination of torsion bar front suspension and solid rear axle on elliptic leaf springs. It rides comfortably with little of the firmness that characterises most one-tonne utes.
The standard power steering is well weighted while still giving the driver a good feel of the road. A combination of front ventilated discs and rear drums provide the braking power, but unfortunately ABS antilock braking is not available. With a payload of 855 kg and a towing capacity of 1800 kg the SA220 is ready made for work.
Driving the V240
Stepping from the SA220 to the V240 is a journey in time from one generation to the next. While the SA220 has been in production in China for a number of years the V240 is a relative newcomer and much more refined as a result.
The interior has a softer, more modern feel with better quality plastics than those in the SA220, and the fit and finish is of a higher quality. As with the SA220 the V240 comes with a long list of standard features, including air-conditioning, six-speaker CD sound, leather trimmed seats, cup holders, centre console, power windows and mirrors, but no airbags or ABS braking.
The power comes from a 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine that puts out 100 kW at 5250 revs and 200 Nm at 2500-3000 revs. When compared to the older, smaller engine in the SA220 there's a substantial jump in power, but the torque only increases by a modest 10 Nm and it too suffers from mid-range sluggishness. It's quite spritely off the line and when wound up rolls along nicely on the highway, but it struggles a little when asked to accelerate in the mid-range. Hull said he expects to have a diesel engine available in the coming months and that should improve the mid-range performance when it arrives.
Like the SA220 the only gearbox option is a five-speed manual, but in the case of the V240 there is the choice of two or four-wheel drive. Four-wheel drive is part-time with high and low range with a two-speed transfer case, and is selected by pushing a button on the dash.
Underneath there's a ladder chassis with torsion bar front suspension and elliptic leaf springs at the rear, with a combination of front discs and rear drums. On the road it rides more firmly than does the SA220, but it isn't in any way uncomfortable. The payload of the V240 is 1000 kg and the towing capacity is 2250 kg.
Warranty and dealer network
All three models in the Great Wall ute range have a warranty of three years or 100,000 km, there's 24-hour roadside assistance for the warranty period, and Ateco will provide a free loan vehicle if a Great Wall ute is off the road for repairs for more than 48 hours.
At the time of launch Ateco has appointed more than 40 dealers to handle the Great Wall utes in all major centres, and Hull anticipates more will be appointed in the coming months.