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Buying a Chinese vehicle has become as quick, as easy and as inexpensive as buying Chinese food. It's the same philosophy - simplicity and low prices - that is slowly starting to make Chinese-made vehicles just as appetising.
Hebei Zhongzing - simply, ZX Auto though it advertises as Grand Tiger - is a 22-year-old commercial-vehicle maker that inadvertently watched as a break-away group of executives left to form Great Wall Motors.
Though GWM is independent, their respective vehicles have - for better or for worse - a lot of similarities. ZX Auto is distributed in Australia by Perth-based John Hughes, the group that is also the national distributor for Geely, and already has five WA dealers and plans for a national network.
John Hughes' director, Rod Gailey, says national dealers will be announced in July and co-incide with the launch of a diesel version. He expects ZX sales of 250 a month by mid-2014.
At $24,990 drive-away, the Grand Tiger dual-cab petrol 4WD is about half the price of a comparative Hilux. Incidentally, the cheapest model is a cab-chassis single cab 2WD, with tray, for $16,990 drive away.
It has the industry standard three-year or 100,000km warranty which should ebb customer niggles. The dual-cab ute is also well equipped for its market with remote keyless entry, airconditioning, front and rear fog lights, Bluetooth and alloy wheels. Options include a tub liner, sports bar and tow bar.
Uncompromising Chinese in design, it is functional and built for its purpose. The test car's grille isn't pretty, though certainly distinctive. Access to the cabin is, again, industry standard while the cabin is spacious enough for up to five adults.
It gets a liberal dose of hard plastic - ZX is not alone in this practice - but has a functional and ergonomic flow to its operation, except for the unusual placement of the headlight height switch on the passenger-side console. The rear seat back folds down for extra cargo space and there's three child restraint hooks.
It follows rival Great Wall by sharing a Chinese-built 100kW/200Nm 2.4-litre Mitsubishi petrol four - a 2.5-litre turbo-diesel of Toyota origins comes later this year - and five-speed manual. It cruises at 100km/h easily at 2700rpm and claims - realistically - an average of 11.3 litres/100km.
It's a part-time 4WD with electric engagement of 4WD High and 4WD Low. There's no diff locks and the ute must be stationary to engage 4WD. Prodrive in Melbourne tuned the suspension for Australia. Simplicity extends to a double-wishbone, torsion-bar front and a leaf-sprung rear suspension, with front discs and rear drum brakes.
This has not been crash tested. It gets ABS brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, two airbags, full-size spare wheel and a rear park sensors. Electronic stability control is not required on commercial vehicles.
Better than I thought. The Grand Tiger feels more confident on the road and feels like it sits more solid than the equivalent Great Wall. The high driving position and excellent visibility is one of its best features. It is simple to the point of being dull but suits its role.
It has some downers - the plastic gauge cover sometimes reflects light and obscures the dials, the drivetrain warning lights are too small and the driver's side need a grab handle - and upsides, such as an excellent clutch action, quality of steering wands and seat comfort.
The engine power is weak and though the gearbox has a light and positive shift, performance is leisurely. Add weight - it's rated at a one-tonne payload and/or two-tonne tow - and progress is slow. Ride comfort rates well - a product of Prodrive's tuning - but they forgot the steering which is light and vague.
Tested in gravel, the ute is surprisingly capable with a good ground clearance and a grunty low-range transfer ratio. An LSD would be appreciated by buyers spending time in the dirt.
There's always caution with something new but the Grand Tiger is so much like the engineering in the Great Wall that it's more a sister vehicle. Good value for money and capable, though be aware of the leisurely engine.
ZX Grand Tiger
Price: $24,990 drive away
Warranty: 3 years/100,000km
Capped Servicing: No
Service Interval: 6mths/10,000km
Safety: 2 airbags, ABS, EBD
Crash rating: none
Engine: 2.4-litre 4-cyl petrol, 100kW/200Nm
Transmission: 5-spd manual; part-time 4WD
Thirst: 11.3L/100km; 95RON; 237g/km CO2
Dimensions: 5.0m (L), 1.8m (W), 1.8m (H)
|(4x2)||2.4L, PULP, 5 SP MAN||$5,610 – 7,920||2013 ZX Auto Grand Tiger 2013 (4x2) Pricing and Specs|
|(4x4)||2.4L, PULP, 5 SP MAN||$6,160 – 8,690||2013 ZX Auto Grand Tiger 2013 (4x4) Pricing and Specs|
Lowest price, based on third party pricing data