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New GWM Tank 300 review – The thirstiest hybrid in town

The new GWM Tank 300 Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV) is a proper off-roader with all the bells and whistles of a luxury SUV.

The Chinese SUV employs electrics to fill in the shortcomings of its turbocharged petrol mill and while it has copious power and performance, frugality is not its strong suit.

This may very well be its only shortcoming, as for all its thirstiness, it remains a 4×4 I would have in my garage any day of the week.

A 4×4 first and a hybrid second

The Tank is motivated by 2.0-litre petrol block combined with a small e-motor and battery; GWM doesn’t provide the actual specifications of the electric bits but altogether the hybrid driveline produces a heady 255kW and 648Nm that lends the 4×4 a liveliness unbecoming of its size and heft.

Unlike its stablemates with eight-speed auto-boxes, the HEV employs a nine-speed cog swapper and provides a selection of exclusive propulsion modes including an electric-only (EV)  setting. It chooses the correct mode itself, it’s not really something you have control over, but it usually starts up in EV mode and then switches over to hybrid power as you pick up speed.

The EV mode deserves recognition, I found it useful to crawl through parking lots without burning any fuel or even through an entire town at low speeds – granted it was one of the smaller rural towns in the country but it was nonetheless possible to go from one end to the other without once waking the petrol mill, even getting up to speeds of 60km/h.

Another important tool is the intelligent all-wheel-drive system with a rear diff lock and Standard, Eco, Sport, Snow, Mud, Sand, and 4L modes that tune throttle and steering response to the situation at hand; there is no two-wheel-drive setting in the HEV, though, a consequence of the e-motor bolted to the rear axle.

You can’t fault the Tank on ride comfort, either. The dampers are highly versatile and retain suppleness on and off the tarmac, with plenty of suspension travel and high ground clearance bolstering its breadth of capabilities.

Completing the GWM’s arsenal are two innovative features called Crawl Control, essentially an off-road cruise control that keeps a steady pace while you focus on navigating tricky terrains, and Tank Turn.

Tank Turn which is activated with a button next to the gear lever functions exclusively in 4L and locks the inside rear wheel when rounding a bend to shorten the 4.8m-long SUV’s turning circle by a noticeable amount.

I didn’t get to test it out on any particularly challenging tracks but did have a wide open space to see what the feature could do, and at low speeds it reduced the turning circle by well over a metre.

Where the off-roader starts losing points is with its propensity to vaporise petrol.

Getting the reading into the low 10s requires practice and restraint, don’t have these and you’re looking at bi-weekly trips to the filling station.

The 80-litre fuel cell hit reserve at 543km with the average economy standing at 11.0l/100km, with well over half this driving taking place on the freeway in Eco mode where it is supposed to be at its most thrifty.

Looking at its 30-day history in the handy central display shows that two other journos had this particular Tank before me in the last month, with the combined fuel usage of all our testing working out to 13.9l/100km.

Powertrain refinement is also behind the Europeans and Koreans to a small degree.

The switch between EV and hybrid mode isn’t always the smoothest and every now and then you feel a momentary dip in power before the petrol motor kicks in at full force.

The iBooster Intelligent Brake System that recovers energy during deceleration to charge the battery facilitates near one-pedal driving thus allowing you to use the brake pedal far less than usual which extends the lifespan of the discs and pads, though it does lead to unpredictable stopping behaviours.

Sometimes it would be smooth and others it would bite hard unexpectedly and bring the SUV to a rather jerky rest.

The cabin of the 300 fits its exterior aesthetic well with large flat surfaces, metal bolts for the door handles, a grab handle affixed to the dash, a rugged-looking gear shifter, round aircon vents eerily similar to those on the Mercedes G-Wagen, and an illuminated central analogue clock.

It provides a commanding seating position with the tall ride height, short dash, and upright pillars seeing you look down on most other 4x4s on the road, literally and figuratively, and noise insulation is top of the pecking order.

Buyers are also treated to a variety of nice-to-haves in the GWM as every model in the family at the very least offers automatic LED headlights, keyless entry and start, a sunroof, synthetic leather upholstery, a leather steering wheel with paddle shifters, electric front seats, dual-zone climate control, 7-colour ambient lighting, a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, and a 12.3-inch infotainment screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

There are minor complaints, such as the physical media controls being haptic buttons that are positioned on the right side of the central display where they are tough to see and reach from behind the steering wheel, as well as far away from the passenger.

It has an extensive list of electronic helpers, too, including adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, and front-collision warning – but the HEV puzzlingly gets no blind-spot monitoring while its petrol siblings do, which in my opinion is one of the better advanced assistance systems on the market.

A new contender enters the fray

The Tank 300 is a trailblazing entry for Chinese automakers in South Africa’s 4×4 scene.

It has real substance, presence, and personality we have rarely seen in other vehicles coming from the land of the rising sun.

There is stiff competition in the R800,000 price bracket from the most established players in the game, but should you not want your daily driver to look like every second car on the road, and if you can manage its passion for petrol, the Tank is definitely worth your time.

GWM Tank 300 HEV


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