Indian brand Mahindra started the trend with a modest range of utes a couple of years ago. Now China's Great Wall Motors has set-up shop on our shores.
Both distributors are banking on the fact that there are people out there who want to pay used-car prices for a brand-new ute with a three-year warranty. The question is will these new Asian utes be any more reliable than a second-hand vehicle from one of the established brands?
Great Wall Motors V240
Apart from its bold Audi-style nose, much of the Great Wall V240 has a familiar look about it. Side-on, you could be forgiven for thinking you were looking at a Holden Rodeo, right down to the door handles.
But, believe it or not, this is a completely unique design, albeit clearly inspired by someone else. In other words, no Rodeo parts are going to fit on this baby.
The V240 is the newer of the two Great Wall utes on the market, and the dearest. It's is available in 2WD for $23,990 drive-away or 4WD (the one we've tested) for $26,990 drive-away.
It comes with a 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, anti-lock brakes and dual airbags. First impressions of the Great Wall V240 are surprisingly positive. But, just as I was thinking the presentation and quality of the vehicle in general were impressive I discovered the horn didn't work and never did during our time with the car.
Leather must be cheap in China, because all Great Wall utes get leather seats as standard. I'm not sure tradies are going to appreciate burning their backsides on leather seats in summer. The back seat is a bit squeezy, with limited headroom.
On the road the V240 drives much like the average crew cab ute of a few years ago. That is, it bounces around a bit on bumpy roads and leans in corners. By today's standards it is at the lower end of the ute spectrum. At least Great Wall has attempted to put some reasonable tyres on the V240's alloy rims.
The engine is average to below average. It gets the V240 moving but it has a distinct lack of torque and there appears to be little difference in urge regardless of what revs it is doing. We reckon the V240s off-road duties are best restricted to well kept dirt roads and the odd forest trail.
Mahindra is building slowly but surely in Australia. The new model has dual airbags, front seatbelt pretensioners (with longer belts for beer-gutted Australians) and anti-lock brakes as standard.
Comfort and convenience upgrades include new seats, steering wheel audio controls and a tilt-adjustable steering column. The 2.5-litre turbo-diesel engine, the fuel rating average of 9.9 litres/100km, the vehicle's towing capacity (2.5 tonnes) and load capacity (1000kg to 1160kg) are unchanged from the previous model.
A new diesel engine and automatic box are coming though. We tested the crew cab 4WD cab-chassis ($28,990 drive-away) with an optional drop-side tray. Because there were no major mechanical upgrades the new Mahindra drives just like the old one, although the seats are more comfortable, especially in the back, and the convex side mirrors make it easier to see around you.
Anyone who has driven a Mahindra will relate to this next comment, the weird cabin smell has not improved with time. On the plus side, the Mahindra Pik-Up has the roomiest and most comfortable back seat of any crew cab in its class. Its enormous. It's just a pity that safety and comfort doesn't include the centre seating position, which has a lap-only belt and no headrest.
Neither the Mahindra nor the Great Wall utes are brisk (even by class standards) taking around 20 and 18 seconds respectively to reach 100km/h with a crew on board. Importantly, however, even though its slower to 100km/h from a standing start, the Mahindra moves along nicely once its up to speed; the torque of the diesel engine gives it enough urge to easily keep up with highway traffic.
As you might expect, with all that heavy-duty suspension and off-road tyres, the Mahindra gets the jiggles up pretty easily, even on a perfectly smooth road. In the wet it is deadset dicey. Bring on stability control, we say.
In rugged conditions, the Mahindra's more agricultural nature becomes an asset. The diesel grunt makes light work of tricky obstacles, although it is a big beast and doesnt like tight spots. We put both vehicles through a thigh-high water crossing; only the Mahindra leaked a bit of water through the door seals.
I was constantly asking myself if I would put my own money down on one of these. I'm a strong advocate of buying established mainstream brands, on the grounds of safety, reliability, resale value and dealer network support.
But the argument that gets thrown back at you with these vehicles is the large price gap to the Toyota HiLuxes and Mitsubishi Tritons and the like. So, on the one hand, what we are really talking about here is deciding between one of these new vehicles and a used mainstream brand name ute.
I know where I sit and, for now, it’s not one of these. If you must decide between them because of your budget, the Great Wall ute is more at home in the city, and the more agricultural Mahindra is more at home in the country.
Mahindra PikUp Dual Cab 4WD
Price: $28,999 (cab chassis), $29,999 (with ute tub)
Engine: 2.5L/cylinder 79kW/247Nm turbo diesel
Transmission: 5-speed manual.
Safety rating: 2-stars
Great Wall Motors V240 4WD
Engine: 2.4L/-cylinder 100kW/200Nm petrol
Transmission: 5-speed manual.
Safety rating: 2-stars