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HomeFeaturesFirst drive in the new GWM Tank 300 in South Africa

First drive in the new GWM Tank 300 in South Africa

The new GWM Tank 300 is an impressive value proposition with the looks and 4×4 credentials to compete with the very best in its segment.

I recently attended the launch of GWM’s new SUV, where I spent a day and a half behind the wheel trekking around Gauteng, North West and Limpopo on a mix of tarmac and dirt roads to see just what the brand’s latest vehicle has to offer.

First impressions

The 300 makes a great impression right off the bat thanks to its appearance, which manages to evoke a good balance between an older retro 4×4 and a modern one with its boxy design, 18-inch alloy wheels, and LED daytime running lights that cut through the circular headlamp housings on either side of the black grille displaying the Tank logo.

All of this is complemented by the off-road-focused additions like the large front and rear black bumpers, flared black wheel arches, side steps, and roof rails, and you’ll find the spare wheel mounted to the back of the side-opening boot door that gives way to a decent 400-litre boot.

It’s the same story inside, as the GWM exudes a premium atmosphere with its stitched synthetic leather upholstery, aviation-style gearstick, sunroof, ambient lighting strips, patterned front dashboard, soft-touch surfaces on the top of the dash and doors, dual-screens, turbine-look air vents, analogue clock, and leather steering wheel with paddle shifters.

The cabin is incredibly spacious and the driving position is appreciably high, especially if you make good use of the electric seats to suit your profile.

I’m not a tall person, but I had a good view of the road, excellent headroom, and a lot of space between me and the doors, which goes a long way to stop you from feeling cooped up on a long road trip with other passengers.

Hitting the road

The new Tank is available in three grades with two motor choices, and everyone at the launch was put behind the flagship HEV (hybrid electric vehicle) Super Luxury, which uses a 2.0-litre, turbo-petrol plant with an electric motor to achieve a combined output of 255kW and 648Nm.

That’s certainly a lot of power, but you won’t notice it at first since the semi-electric car has a silent start-up and only switches over to fossil fuel once you pick up speed.

Our route had us start in Gauteng near the Cradle of Humankind and out towards Hartbeespoort on tar roads, before we deviated on an off-road excursion to test out the car’s main selling points – its 4×4 abilities.

The 300 handles well with light steering for a bulky SUV, and it certainly has enough power to handle overtakes, steep hills, and cruising at high speeds, but you won’t be overwhelmed by its power, and I also found it best to leave the nine-speed automatic gearbox to its own devices rather than make forced corrections with the paddles.

Reaching the 4×4 course, we all switched to low range and enabled the front and rear diff locks with the push of a button. There are driving modes for Standard, Economic, Sport, Snow, Mud, and Sand, but we were told that the terrain settings are meant for extreme conditions and that Standard would be more than enough for the rocky and dusty tracks of the high veld.

It’s when you go off the beaten path that the GWM’s best attributes really come into play, starting with the phenomenally comfortable ride that trivialized the dirt paths and steep and rocky inclines on our route.

The Crawl function (off-road cruise control) is activated with a button and its speed can be adjusted with a switch behind the steering wheel; this worked exceptionally well as a form of hill ascent and descent control on a rocky hillside where the nose of the car was pointing at the sky.

The real star of the show, however, is the all-round camera system, which has separate cameras for the sides of both front wheels and on the grille showing what’s directly in front – all three of which are displayed at once while off-roading.

It’s a great system that made it easy to tell how close I was to the side of a narrow track and where any potential hazards were to the side or in front of the tyres.

Furthermore, the camera system can display a 360-view of your surroundings where it shows a transparent view of the car for complete spatial awareness.

The latter half of the day had us driving to our overnight stop in Limpopo, which was a chance for the adaptive cruise control and digital driver display to shine.

The screen shows an accurate visual representation of the car on the road, including its distance from either line, and this display populates itself with sprites of other vehicles in front of yours as well as in adjacent lanes.

It also provides instructions pulled from the navigation tool with distance estimates and directional arrows indicating upcoming turns.

The Tank is not without its faults, however, and there were a few issues that started to crop out throughout the day.

The driver and infotainment screens do not line up with the rest of the dash but are instead pushed further back. While this is fine for the instrument cluster, it means the touchscreen is another inch or so away from where it could be.

This meant that, in my sitting position, the steering wheel obstructed the view of the shortcut buttons on the right, and I couldn’t reach the side of the screen closest to me without leaning forward and stretching my arm, let alone the other side.

Storage space for devices is fine, though the door bins are a bit on the small side, and there’s quite a lot of wind noise at high speeds owing to the boxy design.

Another annoyance has to do with the camera system when pulling up at an intersection, as the display switches to the transparent 360-view when you indicate at low speeds. While it’s a novel safety idea, it means you lose the Google Maps screen when you’re about to make a turn.

Adding to this, the indicators do not automatically cancel themselves. Instead, you need to make a half adjustment in the opposite direction which more often than not had me indicating back and forth a few times before I switched it off properly.

Final thoughts

The GWM Tank 300 marks the South African debut of the Chinese automaker’s dedicated 4×4 division, and I’d say it’s off to a very encouraging start.

The 300’s ride and build quality are phenomenal, it is incredibly spacious, has an extensive spec sheet, and handles itself very well both on and off the road.

It definitely has its annoyances, but they don’t take away from the overall experience, and what’s left is an SUV with a solid foundation that has what it takes to stand alongside the industry’s leaders.

Needless to say, I’m very excited to see what else the Tank badge has to offer in the future.

GWM Tank 300 launch


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