I recall a time as a little boy, playing with my toy cars in my grandparents’ yard. Almost all of my cars had that little inscription on it; the infamous three words that often times would have small kids cracking with laughter: Made in China. If ever you wanted to get a crack at a friend, throw it in their face that their toys were made in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Sadly, though, these toys were often times a bit flimsy and poor in execution. If you touch it the wrong way or get too overzealous with your “driving” in the sand, you risk losing a wheel or having the car’s underside come loose.

Twenty years on and the toy I was playing with for a week was a bakkie; a double-cab from China: the GWM Steed 6 Xscape. When it was delivered to my door, its imposing presence stood out like a pole above water. There is no getting around it. It’s bold. When I drove it, I’d find pedestrians and other drivers staring at the vehicle; undressing it with their eyes. And those daytime running lights were just the cherry on the cake.

However, moving to the rear the same type of imagination went amiss. It does not impose the bakkie’s presence in the same manner that the front does. To me, at least, it’s a bit too plain. Being a bakkie I realise that the designers can only do so much, but if the front styling is anything to go by, then it’s as if they put all their effort there. It’s not discerning. You just get the sense that they kind of held back.

The interior was a major surprise. The perceived quality was encouraging and at times I forgot that this was a vehicle from China. There is automatic climate control, Bluetooth, an AUX and USB ports, the steering wheel is rake adjustable with satellite controls, leather trim, auto headlights and –wipers. This was anything but a vehicle from the East! Did I mention that the driver’s seat is electronically adjustable?

Ample of space fills the cabin and front passengers had more than enough room. Rear passengers will have a different experience, though, as space in the back is a bit limited. This will not be disheartening for prospective buyers, but for long-legged family members it can be problematic.

The GWM Steed 6 Xscape is geared toward the recreational side of the bakkie-market. The levels of comfort GWM implemented in this vehicle is evident. They wanted this bakkie to transport its occupants in the best possible way; in the best comfortable way. There is no all-wheel drive nor a diff-lock, but there is Electronic Stability Control (ESC). Harsh off-road driving will not be the most ideal venture, but the Steed 6 Xscape will tackle any gravel road placed in its way.

I drove the GWM Steed 6 Xscape on both tar and gravel and there was one thing that really niggled me. An irritation of monumental proportions. Each time I’d cross a speed bump or clear a ditch, a sharp jolt will rush up my spine. The bakkie is so tightly sprung at the back that it really undermines the absorption of the front-suspension. Passengers in the rear and in the loading bay will have a much worse time of it. Regardless of how slow you try to transverse the obstacle, there will be a jolt. I did find, however, that to counter the jittery rear, the loading bay should carry some weight.

On the road, at speed, the Steed 6 Xscape will maintain momentum. Its 105 kW and 305 N.m 2,0-litre diesel engine will jog along at a leisurely pace. At start-up the engine does have the characteristic diesel-clutter, but once it gets running and up to temperature, it starts to mute out. The vehicle is also nicely insulated from road- and wind noise, making the travel experience one of worth. The cruise control is a welcome feature; helping to bring fuel consumption down.

I was rather nervous upon taking the Steed 6 on gravel. If it behaved like it did over speed bumps, then surely the characteristics of the gravel should upset the vehicle. Let me just say that it was as if the Steed 6 Xscape came into its own.

With ESC disengaged (allowing slip of the rear-wheels), I went about chasing the gravel. I was pleasantly surprised at how the GWM Steed 6 Xscape behaved. Yes, there are shakes, but it does not detract from enjoying the experience this bakkie offers. Recreational? Definitely! This bakkie is fun. It wants to explore the outdoors. It wants you to kick up some dust. It’s as if the contrasts between gravel and tar each bring out a different side of the Steed 6 Xscape. You can keep the ESC engaged, but it will damp a bit of the fun-factor. Be daring, disengaged the ESC. You won’t regret it.

Summary

I have a thing for big, bold cars. There are fewer things as fun as driving something that make all others take note. It is also worth noting that the GWM Steed 6 Xscape is not on the level of the Toyota Hilux and Ford Ranger, but it does have its own place in our bakkie-obsessed market. GWM realised that the Steed won’t dampen sales of these two protagonists, and have thus focused the Steed 6 toward a different direction. A direction set for leisure, recreation, fun. Interestingly, though, a similarly specced Hilux will cost nearly R100k more than this model.

If you grew up with toys from China you would know how that a ridicule was not far away. I can, however, vouch that the toys from China has come a long way and that just as you were growing up, these toys did, too.

*For more pictures of the GWM Steed 6 Xscape, visit the Shootout Facebook-page.