The Great Wall Steed then. Ever heard of it?
No, I thought not. And why would you? After all, Chinese-made pickups arent common in the UK (even those produced by the worlds largest SUV and pickup manufacturer) so unless youre a cheapskate builder it has probably slithered under your radar.
The Steed is a double-cab pickup, a design that has become popular in recent years thanks to its ability to carry five adults plus a tonne of whatever floats your boat in the back. Itll tow 2,500 kg too, which is probably enough, unless your hobby involves steam engines.
It is also very cheap, with prices starting at just 13,998 (plus VAT, of course, given that it is a commercial vehicle), so it should, in theory, be very popular with those who lead an outdoor life -or at least those who would like other people to think they lead an outdoor life…
So, nothing ventured, nothing gained, I booked one for a week. My expectations were low but after the surprise that was the MG3 I was in a receptive, if cynical, frame of mind.
Picture a double cab pickup in your mind and youve nailed the Steed. Its not exactly handsome but when was the last time you looked at any commercial vehicle with lecherous eyes?
Alloy wheels and a nice paintjob go a long way to lifting any bargain-basement motor and the Great Wall Steed benefits as much as anything that has gone before on this well trodden path. Look closer and youll see that its a clean design with tight, even shut-lines and the judicious use of chrome. It looks good and more expensive than it is; many people thought it was a Ford Ranger. No concerns about the way it looks then.
Things take a slight downward turn inside. Imagine a pickup from the early twenty-first century and youve probably got it spot on. That might sound gratuitously rude but there is a lot to be said for an honest, bling-free interior.
The driving position is excellent with seats on the good side of average. Theyre trimmed with leather too, which doesnt necessarily add a premium feel (it isnt very good leather, if truth be told) but it does make them very easy to keep clean. Theyre heated too, which I wasnt expecting, and rear legroom is excellent.
Niggles are few: it doesnt have a clock, which is more annoying than it sounds; the doors lock automatically as you drive away and need to be manually unlocked using a switch, rather than pulling on an interior door handle; the cabin tends to mist up unless you have the air conditioning on; and the stereo, an aftermarket Alpine jobbie, isnt the last word in sophistication.
The Steed is a pickup, so it doesnt handle like a sportscar and understeer is the name of the game – and quite strong understeer at that. However, Im not convinced that playing with the tyre pressures wouldnt help enormously as the General Grabber AT tyres (unique on the Tracker edition that I tested) can be quite sensitive in that way.
The steering is a bit slow and ponderous but given its likely role as a dual-purpose workhorse/family car it is as good as most of its competitors.
The ride is, of course, a bit bouncy unless youve got some weight in the back and traction sometimes becomes an issue on leaf-strewn country lanes, but flicking the four-wheel-drive switch sorts that out, something that can be done on the fly.
When you need to cross the muddy stuff low-range, four-wheel-drive and those great tyres kept me moving in dire conditions. So capable was it that it was used for everything from a tip run to feeding the livestock through to acting as a support car for a spot of light forestry work. It lapped it all up, although I did, as a result, send it back to the press office in a disgusting state. Sorry
The two-litre diesel engine is probably the weakest link in the Steed chain. Developing 140bhp and, more importantly, 258lb/ft of torque it doesnt feel like anything near to that; the steep hill that leads to my house reduced me to first gear, which is a first. Having said that, performance is fine once youre under way even if it is a bit coarse and noisy.
Economy is good, though. I got mid-thirties, which is bang on the official consumption figure of 34mpg.
Value for Money
The Steed is enormous value for money. My special edition Tracker (14,998 including General Grabber tyres, a towbar, load liner, rubber mats, and mud flaps) is several thousand pounds cheaper than its competitors and the basic Steed S is a grand cheaper than that.
In fact, I cant help thinking that Great Wall is missing a trick here. If they could strip the Tracker of its alloys and fit steel wheels instead (and bolt some heavy-duty tie-down points into the rear, something the Steed is sorely lacking) youd have an incredibly versatile and capable working vehicle.
Price it at around 13,500 plus VAT and theyd fly out of the showrooms into the hands of canny workmen whod appreciate an honest, rugged pickup that is backed up with a six-year/125,000-mile warranty.
The Steed is almost perfectly judged. Yes, it could be fitted with disc brakes and coil springs at the back instead of drums and leafs. Yes, the stereo could be better and the steering improved and yes, the quality of the interior trim isnt brilliant – but then it would be much more expensive and pitched against newer models from more familiar manufacturers. By keeping things simple Great Wall has engineered the Steed into a niche that makes it almost unbeatable.
The well heeled will still enjoy the superior thrills of the Toyota Hilux but for those on a budget (which is -lets face it -most small sole traders these days) the Steed is the best pickup youve never heard of.