2024 GWM Cannon Alpha Review

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Overview

 

GWM has been selling utes Down Under for quite some time; and as with most Chinese-made marques, the GWM utility range offers good bang for your buck, and a continual commitment to improvement, which has helped grow its volume in what it must be said is a bustling segment.

 

Now, with the Cannon Alpha – a vehicle that sits between the Ford Ranger and F-150 in terms of size – it also brings a more substantial dual-cab utility to the local market, offering both the size and the price to take on Australia’s best sellers.

 

Priced from $51,990 plus on-road costs in turbo-diesel form, and from $64,990 as a petrol/electric hybrid, Australia’s first hybrid ute is available in three grades, all offering four-wheel drive and a 3500kg braked towing capacity.

 

Diesel powered models run an all-new turbocharged 2.4-litre four-cylinder unit delivering 135kW and 480Nm while the 2.0-litre petrol/electric outputs a substantial 255kW and 648Nm, or 71kW and 78Nm more than the 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel found under the bonnet of Ford’s Ranger.

 

Interestingly, it’s the hybrid Cannon Alpha that uses more fuel than its diesel-powered sibling at 9.8 litres per 100km. The diesel variant consumes a respectable 8.9L/100km.

 

Both powertrains are paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission and on-demand four-wheel drive system with selectable low- and high-range gearing. The transfer case in the Cannon Alpha is produced by respected transmission manufacturer Borg Warner, while the nine-speed auto is built in-house by GWM.

 

An electronic locking rear differential is offered as standard across the range while high-grade diesel and petrol/electric hybrid variants add an electronic front locker.

 

As GWM’s largest Aussie-sold vehicle to date – measuring 5445mm in length, 1991mm in width, 1924mm in height and with a 3350mm wheelbase – the Cannon Alpha packs a respectable 3500kg braked towing capacity and up to 821kg of payload, depending on variant.

 

The load bed is access via a brilliant two-piece tailgate that may be opened to the side with a 60:40 split (on Ultra variants), or downward as per convention.

 

The Cannon Alpha Lux (diesel-only) grade is generously equipped with dusk-sensing LED headlights, auto high beam, fixed side steps, dual 12.3-inch instrumentation and infotainment displays, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, six-speaker sound, dual-zone climate control, faux leather upholstery, and a six-way electronically adjustable driver’s seat.

 

Standard safety kit includes a 360-degree camera, adaptive cruise control, AEB with cyclist and pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitoring, front and rear cross-traffic detection, lane-keep assist, traffic sign recognition, and tyre pressure monitoring.

 

The Ultra (diesel, from $57,990 + ORC) grade adds the 60:40 split tailgate, auto-folding wing mirrors, a larger 14.6-inch infotainment screen, electric eight-way driver’s seat adjustment and six-way passenger seat adjustment, heated, massaging, and ventilated front seats, leather-accented upholstery, LED front fog lights, a panoramic sunroof, self-dimming rear-view mirror, and a wireless phone charger.

 

Selecting the petrol/electric hybrid version of the Ultra grade (from $64,990 + ORC) adds a 10-speaker Infinity premium sound, 64-colour LED ambient cabin lighting, automatic parking system, head-up display, a heated steering wheel, power adjustable rear seating with heating and ventilation, rear-seat wireless phone charger, and wing mirror position memory.

 

Driving Impressions

 

We spent much of our launch drive sampling the petrol/electric hybrid Ultra version of the GWM Cannon Alpha, putting the vehicle through its paces on a rural drive loop just north-west of Melbourne with a section of the Lerderderg State Park thrown in for some off-roading good measure.

 

These are the very roads on which dual-cab utes owners spend their weekends and were representative of what we can expect in real-world conditions.

 

But – and it’s a mighty big but – we hasten to add that the drive program was undertaken entirely without a load, or a trailer, on the back. Driving an empty ute only tells you so much, but what it did tell us is that the Cannon Alpha shows a lot of promise.

 

What grabs you first about the Cannon Alpha is the refined action of its petrol/electric driveline. Both elements of the unit operate when and as required to provide the right amount of mumbo, delivering drive quite smoothly. However, in more challenging scenarios the combination does work quite hard, feeling the effects of the vehicle’s two-and-a-half tonne kerb weight when pushed to its limits.

 

That said, the four-wheel drive system proved very capable in getting up and over steep grades, and in distributing torque as required. The sensible spread of gear ratios never left us wanting in tough terrain, the level of traction found in rough going ably aided by the Cannon Alpha’s twin lockers.

 

On sealed surfaces it’s easier to understand what’s going on beneath. Electric power gets the Cannon Alpha up and running before being joined by the petrol engine. Again, delivery is smooth and is accompanied by an almost dual-clutch sensation from the automatic transmission. The revs rise, fall, and rise again promptly as the unit shuffles through its ratios, the decisive nature of the nine-speeder helping to build pace with little effort.

 

Push a little harder, and the response to kickdown comes, associated with higher (petrol) engine speeds to help gather pace. Overtaking is acceptable between 80 and 110km/h, but not as brisk as the output figures might suggest. As an educated guess, we reckon the Ford Ranger V6 mentioned earlier would be quicker against the same measure.

 

The electric regeneration provides good deceleration when cruising through highway hills and is aided by four-wheel disc brakes. The service brakes can, however, feel a little overwhelmed by larger inputs, giving far less confidence than a ‘standard’ diesel-powered ute. It may be a tuning issue, but we feel the Cannon Alpha may struggle to arrest a heavy load, something we hope to test for ourselves at some point soon…

 

It is also a little tough to adapt the Cannon Alpha’s electrically assisted steering. The action is light, and largely without feedback, feeling better suited to around town duties than the open road. Combine that lack of response with a firm chassis tune (particularly at the rear) and it is fair to say that the Cannon Alpha is no match for the likes of HiLux and Ranger, the latter beyond doubt the very best in its class.

 

The ride can be easily unsettled by rough surfaces and potholes, the standard tyres doing little to ‘bite’ into gravel roads in the way we’ve come to expect from the segment’s best sellers. With some weight in the back – and a good set of all-terrains – we reckon the Cannon Alpha would improve a great deal, and we’ll get back to you with more decisive notes on the matter when the opportunity presents.

 

On balance, we think the Cannon Alpha will be sure to find a place with Aussie buyers. It’s a terrific size, with more cabin room than the D-Max, HiLux, Ranger and Triton, and offers an impressive array of standard equipment and technology for the price. Add to that a generous warranty and a level of fit and finish that is now as good as any rival, and the GWM Cannon Alpha will be a contender we predict will take a solid chunk of dual-cab ute segment sales.

 

Let’s see if times proves us right.

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