Driven - Jun 2021

A complete guide to the GWM P-Series range

You will struggle to find as iconic a pairing as a South African and their bakkie. It is a mode of transportation that propels businesses forward and easily handles most domestic jobs for individuals. Regardless of where you find yourself in Mzansi, these capable and practical automotive choices litter the road at a ratio greater than any other type of vehicle available in our market. New to GWM’s stables is the attractively priced and well equipped P-Series range. We spent a week in the driver’s seat of each derivative using them as they were intended. 

Our market is no stranger to Asian manufactured bakkies as we know them today, kicked off by the Toyota Hilux just over 50 years ago. As can be expected, the recipe for success has been nailed down to a tee for any outsiders looking to enter the hotly contested segment which boasts brand loyal consumers. Reliability, accessibility, configurability, suitable amenities, relative comfort (for a bakkie) and most importantly an equally attractive price point is the name of the game and the P-Series ticks most boxes.

While the segment may have originated as a pure totalitarian single cab offering back then, decades of evolution have warranted the need for more comfortable and luxurious options or configurability. The GWM P-Series range seeks to be capable of both, including the commercial single cab, the commercial double cab and the well equipped passenger double cab. 

This variety means that over the years, bakkies have become an all encompassing local subculture which includes the compact front wheel drive courier vehicles delivering Takealot bundles to their shopaholic purchaser, all the way through to the eternal Ranger vs Hilux rivalry. They will continue to be the vehicle of choice for many in the years to come and thus a lucrative frontier for any automaker if they can get the recipe right. 

As China’s largest producer of SUV’s and bakkies, GWM is not new to the world of durable totalitarian vehicles, or way of governance for that matter. Although previous attempts have never dispensed a truly formidable opposition to the likes of Ford, Isuzu or Toyota, the new P-Series range may sway some non loyalist consumers away from the other reputable brands. 

It is now for the first time in the brand’s history, equipped to compete in the league it has always been yapping at the heels of, which includes the premium bakkie segment. Their previous attempts appear nameless and mundane, struggling for an identity. 

While there has been limited success with the Steed 3 (also called Wingle in other markets), the somewhat characterless Steed 4 and Steed 5 have proved to be one of the better entry-level and affordable bakkies for the masses in the past decade.

Our test cars were the top of the range and most expensive options from each spec, with other highly configurable and more affordable choices in both 2×4 and 4×4 available too.

  • Commercial Single Cab 6MT 4×4 LT priced at R412 900
  • Commercial Double Cab 6MT 4×4 DLX priced at R432 900
  • Passenger Double Cab 8AT 4×4 LT priced at R554 900

The P-Series has taken a confident stride forward in styling, with an imposing grille and clean linework – it looks the part to compete with its intended competitors yet still looks durable enough not to be a pushover. 

The commercial single cab and the commercial double cab are styled identically employing the same headlights, mesh style front grille, taillights and rims. The passenger double cab is easily differentiated by its slat-styled front grille, LED headlights and taillights while the fender includes a chrome detail and the rim options can be two-tone specced.

Despite general improvements in aesthetics over its predecessors, the single cab P-Series still looks quite odd from a ¾ view. Partially as a result of the dark colour of the side step ending awkwardly at the front cab leaving everything between that and the rear wheel hanging visually lower. 

The smooth, vast expanse of metal surrounding the rear wheel also appears to have it equipped with trolley-sized wheels, even though they are not – this is just a massively oversized bakkie. Look at it as the Chinese version of an XL American pickup. This is a gripe that not many of its potential buyers will be particularly focused on but be sure to struggle to fit into parking bays or garage interiors from its sheer length if you ever get behind the wheel of one. 

On the plus side, the extra size loading bin is capable of hauling any number of items in, enough to make actual small commercial trucks envious – although whatever is loaded in will need to be secured since the bin is not rubberised. Fortunately it is equipped with a rudimentary looking guardrail and a cargo goods rack for safe measure.

While the details are the same between both commercial derivatives, the double cab seems more proportionally correct – although with a significantly limited loading bin, obviously. There aren’t many other cosmetic or mechanical changes between the two, save from a radial knob on the interior center console of the commercial single cab which controls the high and low range off-roading options and a few other buttons. The graphic design and user interface of the infotainment is also far more appealing than its competitors in the segment.

Speaking of the interior, all of the commercial derivatives we tested were well-equipped with comfortable synthetic leather interiors, electric drivers seats and a sensible layout. The infotainment in the P-Series mimics the overall dimensions of the vehicle, equipped with a whopping 9” touch screen which also operates the climate control. While it takes the system a while to boot up when the ignition is engaged and laggy in certain operation, the large screen and high-quality reverse camera with PDC makes navigating the mass into tight spaces a less anxious process.

The analog tachometer and speedometer are clear and simple, but lack of a deep enough recess results in sun glare which hinders their function somewhat. The commercial single cab also has a large B-pillar which by default limits side visibility when driving. The overall premium intention is let down by some wobbly buttons and easy scratch plastics, but as a whole the interiors remain pleasant and well put together places to be. 

While these were the well-equipped top of the range models from each derivative, less kitted out but more affordable options can be had from as little as R347 900 in the commercial single cab and
R377 900 in the commercial double cab form. This means that the P-Series could start littering the roads donned in courier colours or the liveries of small businesses in the near future. 

The full range of P-Series is powered by a 2.0 turbo diesel motor churning out a maximum power output of 120kW at 3600rpm while its maximum torque of 400Nm arrives between 1500-2500rpm. While on paper these figures are admirable for a 2.0-litre four cylinder motor, the single powertrain option is the Achilles heel of what has so far shaped up to be a great product. 

The turbo lag is most significant, with liftoff at full throttle in the peak torque range rendering a violent and jerky experience. There is also no torque before the motor achieves approximately 1750-1850rpm which makes quick pull aways near impossible and stalling on inclines very easy – even without a load. 

The turbo lag is further noticeable when shifting gears on the 6-speed manual gearbox as any throttle liftoff requires significant time to generate the previously lost boost. Out of the full range, the 8 speed ZF automatic gearbox on the passenger double cab mitigates this and has the most pleasant ride – although it is still not perfect. 

The sole turbo diesel option does no better in the economy department either with a claimed 9.4l/100km being significantly higher than any of its competitors with similar sized and more versatile motors. Between all derivatives, we achieved around 10.0l/100km average economy with considerably more open road driving than that of the usual urban stop-start.

While the interior of the two commercial P-Series options is seemingly identical too, the experience in the passenger double cab is elevated to the next level. With a completely redesigned centre console and gear shifter, the rest of the interior includes plush colour-coded fittings and diamond stitched leather seats and door cards matched to the exterior paintwork. It feels vastly superior and refined even though comfort levels remain exactly the same as the more affordable commercial option, save from electric heated seats. 

The passenger double cab also includes a non configurable digital display which is well integrated to the more luxurious interior. It is however difficult to toggle basic information such as average fuel economy and the lack of configurability seem like an opportunity missed for the automaker to flex their technological prowess. 

The driving experience in the whole range is as comfortable as can be for bakkies of this size, with the lack of weight above the rear axle in the commercial single cab rendered the most uncomfortable over speed bumps and road imperfections.

The seating position is higher than most other commuter vehicles on the road too, putting you above eye level of just about everything else. While it is good for visibility, this makes road and wind noise fairly prominent in the cabin with an additional hum from the sunroof on the commercial double cab when travelling anything in excess of 30km/h.

As a whole though, GWM have elevated themselves and brought the fight to the big bakkie sellers locally. They are well equipped vehicles offered at a competitive price point that should keep the other brands honest. While this is a stride forward, it still leaves out a few of the boxes in the bakkie recipe for success which we can perhaps enjoy in a mild update in the near future.

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