The Chinese continue to strengthen their grip on the South African car market with extremely competitively priced vehicles such as the new C10 compact hatch which has just joined the growing GWM range of vehicles.
Generally, Chinese vehicles have improved considerably although there are still niggles about under-performance, ride quality and finish in some instances.
GWM (Great Wall Motors) already has a range of 13 single and double cab Steed bakkies, plus six H5 SUV's, a Florid and a Florid Cross, plus one CB150 flexing their muscles against established brands in this country and sales, generally, are on the up, along with the brand's image.
Generally, Chinese vehicles have improved considerably although there are still niggles about under-performance, ride quality and finish in some instances. No major issues have surfaced about the brand's after-sales service but there are also no records of long term vehicle reliability, availability of parts and re-sale values. However, there is some comfort to be had by the fact that the GWM products have the backing of solid, long-term warranties.
So, fairly typical of Chinese vehicles, first impressions of the recently unwrapped C10 are quite good but not without the odd niggle.
Check out that grille
In terms of looks it is very much carved in the image of the popular Toyota Yaris (which is actually not a negative at all in this tightly contested small passenger car segment). Attractive 15-inch alloys, rear spoiler, integrated exhaust outlet, indicator lights on the outside mirrors and a high-mounted brake light give it a bit of a nifty edge but the car's real look-twice feature is its big, bold, bright V-shaped chrome grille which is definitely going to divide opinion.
The C10 looks good in China's national colour.
When the car was launched to the local media recently there were more thumbs-down than thumbs-up over the car's front end with the majority of scribes describing it as "way over the top" and "much too garish."
Our "Media Launch Drive" was a disappointingly short stint at the wheel through the more seedy areas of Jozi jungle and a brief gallop on a motorway, so I have no idea of how the C10 will cling and corner. It did feel fairly solid on the road and it handled the bumps and holes without too much shudder and shake or excessive bounce.
What did impress us was the good insulation of the living quarters because even when we shovelled on the coals the noise levels never really became intrusive or irritating.
Power steering among the best
The hydraulic power steering "feel" is probably the best of any Chinese vehicle I have driven. The brakes are also not bad at all. The gear box is smooth and fairly quick, but it has one rather strange lay-out quirk: it is a five-speed manual shift and the reverse slot is straight back from the fifth slot, in other words, where the notch for a six-speed box would normally be, instead of to the left of neutral and then forward.
Power is supplied by a 1.5-litre VVT petrol engine which GWM claim will produce 77kW and 138Nm.
On the straight and level the C10 cruises quite comfortably but the slightest incline requires some cog-swapping down to fourth and even third. It certainly is nothing like as "sporty or nippy" as the publicity material would have us believe. Mind you, our launch drive was at altitude and down at the coast it might feel slightly less sleepy.
We have no information about the car's 0-100km/h time or top speed as these were "not available". However, at the risk of incurring the ire of the speed camera operators I can tell you that on a slight decline I pedalled extra hard for a brief spell and the speedometer indicated a top speed of well over the legal limit.
Although GWM claim "excellent fuel consumption" it could not provide back-up figures, saying these, too, were "not available". Nor did it provide emissions figures. For the engine to show a bit of life it needs to work in a high rev range of between 4200rpm and 6000rpm, which in itself is not usually conducive to fuel-sipping.
What's that whine?
During my shot stint at the helm of the C10 I did pick up a noticeable whine from somewhere in the oily-bits department at low revs but the drive was too short to pin-point the source.
Wide open and ready to load.
In the C10's favour, its slightly lethargic performance is not likely to bother its target audience too much because it's not the kind of car to appeal to fans of more energetic progress. First time new car buyers, young families, professional singles and the bridge-and-bowls brigade will be much more taken in by the car's looks, its extensive comfort, luxury and safety features and its attractive price tag of R134 990.
For this competitive price the C10 provides a spacious cabin equipped with a six-way adjustable driver's seat, height-adjustable rear headrests, electric windows, a multi-function steering wheel, air-conditioning and a good quality radio/CD/MP3 audio system with auxiliary and USB inputs, central locking (with rear child lock), door open alert, immobiliser, low fuel warning, a rear window demister and even reverse parking assist.
The full-width door makes loading large items that much easier.
To this list you can add an adjustable steering column, extremely flexible seating and luggage space (of the best in this segment), dual airbags and ABS with EBD.
GWM were hesitant to name its main competitors and wouldn't go further than saying "we regard the entire market as competition." They are undoubtedly very aware of the fact that the sub-R135 000 segment is the domain of some very strong brands and excellent products and that it is going to be a tough struggle to try and lure prospective buyers away from badges that come with hard-earned and well-deserved reputations.
Having said that, the C10 is undoubtedly the best Chinese vehicle I have driven to date. The price is right, its features are class-leading, it looks and feels good and it comes with a good recipe for peaceful sleep - a three-year/100 000km warranty and a two-year 24-hour roadside assistance back-up...So GWM's fortune cookies should all be predicting good times ahead.
Bizcommunity.com motoring editor Henrie Geyser () has worked as a journalist in Cape Town, London and Windhoek for the Argus Company (now Independent Newspapers) and spent 12 years at The Cape Argus in Cape Town. He then owned and ran a public relations consultancy for 13 years. He joined the online publishing industry through iafrica.com, where he worked for five years as news editor and editor. He now freelances for a variety of print and online publications, on the subjects of cars, food and travel, among others; and is a member of the South African Guild of Motoring Journalists.
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