FIRST DRIVE | New 2020 GWM P-Series is a value champion

09 December 2020 - 09:31
By Brenwin Naidu
The new GWM P-Series represents sound value for money.
Image: Supplied The new GWM P-Series represents sound value for money.

Life can be challenging in the SA pick-up arena if you are not a Ford Ranger or Toyota Hilux. There are fiercely loyal allegiances to this duo of nameplates, whose dominance on the monthly sales charts are as envied as they are unshakeable.

Not without reason, of course. Aside from an extensive dealership network established over decades, either product has a fair list of merits that keep buyers satisfied – even if neither is completely perfect.

However. if you are the kind of consumer who opts to survey the market outside this long-standing pair, take heart that as of this week, your list of alternatives has gained another member. One that warrants serious consideration.

Great Wall Motors (GWM) might have received press for all the wrong reasons this month, with its Steed 5 scoring a dismal zero stars in the latest round of Global NCAP Safer Cars for Africa crash tests. But the P-Series, which we sampled last Friday, is of no relation to the model with its generations-old technology and subpar safety credentials.

You can tell it ushers in a new direction for the brand just by looking at it. From the front, the model is edgy, contemporary – with an undisputable air of beefiness which is non-negotiable for a player in this category. Falls a bit flat in the rear, however, with a generic and nondescript template that could be confused with other offerings.

Of course, the kerbside appeal of your P-Series will depend on the specification you opt for. There are two versions: Commercial and Passenger. The former can be had in single-cab and double-cab, while the Passenger is served exclusively as a double-cab.

Passenger spec models are available exclusively as a double-cab.
Image: Supplied Passenger spec models are available exclusively as a double-cab.

Then there are the model grades, with SX and DLX serving on the Commercial side, while the more generously-equipped LS and LT specifications can be found in the Passenger models. Two-wheel or four-wheel drive can be had, in either manual (six-speed) or automatic (eight-speed).

First up, we hopped into the Commercial double-cab in 2WD manual configuration. Despite being one of the entry level derivatives, interior quality was commendable, with plastics of a decent texture and a modern layout. Fabric upholstery does duty and while the steering was adjustable for height, reach has been omitted. Even in this basic expression of the breed you still get cruise control and park distance control, as well as 17-inch alloys.

The safety bases are covered, with minimum specification including electronic stability control, traction control, dual front airbags and ISOFIX mountings. Higher grade versions get side and curtain airbags too.

Our test drive involved short stints up and down the R400 that intersects with the North West province, as well as a dirt track section and off-road obstacles. The most notable fly in the ointment of the P-Series is that there is just one engine choice – which is just a bit gutless.

It is a two-litre, turbocharged-diesel unit producing 120kW and 400Nm, although that feels less in the real world. From about 100km/h to 120km/h, the shove seems acceptable, but getting momentum from standstill can be a frustrating affair, and lag makes a noticeable appearance. The automatic transmission sourced from gearbox specialists ZF seems to better complement the power source, making lighter work of low speed activity.  With this pairing, the P-Series is undoubtedly more enjoyable to pilot.

Range-topping LS models are generously equipped with features such as a touchscreen infotainment system and automatic climate control.
Image: Supplied Range-topping LS models are generously equipped with features such as a touchscreen infotainment system and automatic climate control.

Pick the range-topping LS grade and the enjoyment levels spring even higher, into a realm that could easily match those of similar lifestyle-orientated, upmarket double-cabs. Aside from a more assertive exterior presence, the LS also features a cabin appointed with genuinely luxurious materials and fixtures, in addition to useful driver assistance systems.

You get adaptive cruise control, traffic sign recognition and a 360-degree camera, which proved especially handy over tricky off-road obstacle courses. With 4L and the differential lock at the rear axle engaged, the P-Series, with its 232mm ground clearance, put in a good show through muddy ruts. Driver and passenger get electrically adjustable seats (heated) and a nine-inch central infotainment system dominates the fascia.

There were two gripes. Mighty clunks were emitted as the differential-lock went about its business. This kind of thing is generally better disguised in rivals to the P-Series. Then there was the ride quality on gravel: definitely room for improvement to quell the jitteriness.

That said, this is an impressive product overall and some of the criticisms mentioned could almost be forgiven when you look at the pricing. The flagship model, for example, with every conceivable bell, whistle and flute you could want, comes in at R544,900. This is considerably less than equivalent top tier versions from other stables. You can get into the entry-level, SX double-cab (4x2, manual) for R369,900.

Pricing includes a five-year/100,000km warranty and service plan.