Great Wall Motors Co Ltd (Great Wall) based in China is not a household name on a global scale yet despite making great strides in producing vehicles based on several platforms such as sedans, sports utility vehicles and double cabin pickup trucks.
This may change soon as the Chinese marquee which manufactures 500,000 vehicles annually has made its debut in Malaysia with the Wingle 5, a competitively priced dual cabin pickup with lots to offer given its relatively low price tag.
The vehicle features powertrain and control electronics components by various renowned brands such as Isuzu, Mitsubishi and Bosch.
Final stages of assembly and finishing are done locally at a plant in Gurun, Kedah.
The Wingle 5 is currently available in four variants: four-wheel drive (4WD) standard, 4WD premium, 2WD standard and 2WD premium; all variants feature a 2.5-litre diesel engine and a five-speed manual transmission.
This week’s focus is on the 4WD standard variant.
The vehicle’s exterior looked quite robust and sturdy on the outside and I took it to be an indication of its build quality, putting aside my initial skepticism of the ‘Made in China’ quality.
I could not help but give it a ‘knock test’ on the body’s sheet metal with my knuckles to ascertain the body’s strength and robustness.
The results certainly led me to believe it did not feel like a soft drink can like most entry level vehicles (the so-called matchbox cars) here.
In the cabin, I found attractive leather seats, a straightforward centre console and clearly visible dials of the meter cluster.
The seats gave ample legroom up front and in the rear seats as well.
The driver’s seat was quite comfortable and accommodating, giving me the best possible ergonomics and reassuring me that a long drive would be made more relaxing.
This is one of the features of the truck that impressed me the most.
There were remote buttons on the steering wheel, giving hands-on control of sound system volume, station and source selection.
This was definitely a welcome feature in a pickup at this price range.
The sound system comprised a CD player/radio receiver with USB source interconnections powered by a four-speaker array which sounded quite decent.
Bluetooth connectivity would have been nice but I was willing to overlook its absence.
During the actual test drive under way, I found that reversing, manoeuvring and merging were quite manageable for a vehicle of this size.
The steering wheel was adequately smooth and responsive.
Truth be told, the initial acceleration was on the sluggish side for a truck at this price range, but then again I was initially meek on the accelerator and was more restrained on gear changes.
Getting bold and more liberal with the accelerator and gear changes, I found that the peak of the acceleration came in a bit higher in the tachometer from 2,000 rpm onwards.
Revving the engine up to 3,000 rpm in lower gears gave the best results, in my opinion.
The peak torque was said to be from 1,800 rpm to 2,400 rpm.
This was in the middle of the ‘green’ zone of the tachometer, marked from 1,250 rpm to 2,500 rpm.
In simpler terms, optimal fuel economy could be had at the optimal peak torque range, pointing to a rather sensible engine design.
The five-speed manual transmission felt a little sticky and fussy at first but I quickly got more comfortable and more adept in smoother gear changes during the course of the test drive.
Switching to different drive modes was made quite easy via electronic control buttons right above the stereo set, enabling a change from 2WD to 4WD (high) or 4WD (low) almost instantly without having to struggle with manual drive shifters.
Going on to main trunk roads, I found that maintaining cruising speeds up to upper three-digit speeds was not a problem at all as going 100km per hour in fifth gear kept the tachometer needle in the green zone.
This pointed out the strongest feature of the truck – fuel economy – which at a stated 7.8 litres per 100km could potentially give a range of well over 800km on a full tank of 70 litres.
Given the initial ruggedness and overall integrity of the vehicle, the overall after sales support system was encouraging as well as it came with a three-year warranty, three year free maintenance package and a three-year Auto Assist service.
I was also brought to understand that there are seven service centres in East Malaysia; all located in major cities and towns (four in Sarawak and three in Sabah).
This was indeed a decent starter network, given the recent arrival of the truck here.
In a nutshell, the Wingle 5 is a good value entry level pickup truck which has one major challenge to overcome: changing the mindset of the local market which tends to be doubtful of build quality of products made in China.
This was said of Japanese vehicles only several decades ago.
I take it to be a calling card of sorts, heralding the arrival of more Chinese vehicles on our roads as China is aiming to take the lead in the global automotive industry.
Times are changing indeed.