Great Wall Motors Company Limited (GWM) is a Chinese automotive manufacturer that was born in 1984, a relative latecomer to the modern automotive scene. However, with tenacious effort and after having carved a name for itself in the 4×4 industry, GWM began to venture into passenger vehicles and now, SUVs. Back on our shores, the GWM Haval M4 (in future it will be known only as Haval M4, dropping “GWM” from its nameplate for global appeal) is brought in by a joint venture between Go Automobile Manufacturing and GWM China. The M4 was previewed in the country on January 2014 in its original left hand drive form, and less than a year later at the end of 2014 local CKD production begun at Go Auto’s manufacturing plant in Gurun, Kedah. And thus, the newly developed Haval M4 officially entered the local scene in January 2015.
A total of 6 variants are on offer with on the road (OTR) prices ranging from RM49,739.59 to RM64,950.00 inclusive of GST, insurance and road tax, for private registration. As for color choices, a total of 6 snazzy colors are available to choose from; Pearl Black, Sky Silver, Ocean Blue, Titanium White, Jazz Red and Fashionable Orange. It’s a good thing that Haval stuck with simple naming conventions for their colors on offer instead of going for something exotic-sounding but clueless to most locals.
At such unbelievable prices and an attractive, contemporary design, the new Haval M4 will surely attract a good portion of the population, giving them a chance to own and drive their first SUV without causing a huge dent in their monthly monetary commitments. Unlike Haval’s previous variants, the M4 heralds a new age for the young manufacturer, and this is reflected in the high levels of trim and conveniences offered in the M4 lineup, especially the top of the range AMT Premium line that is endowed with features you cannot find anywhere in cars costing less than RM150,000, let alone an SUV.
Haval M4: Designed to Impress
With the huge presence of Audi and Volkswagen in China, some Chinese manufacturers would no doubt draw their inspiration from these renown carmakers. Without a doubt, the Haval M4 borrowed design elements from VW to create their award winning SUV. The façade has that overall VW family look to a certain extent, that much cannot be denied, but Haval did it in a subtle way, unlike a certain other Chinese manufacturer whose controversial SUV borrowed too heavily from a popular luxury SUV, the Range Rover Evoque, so much so that pundits are calling it the Evoque for the man on the street. The M4 on the other hand did not suffer from such an identity crisis, standing out on its own accord to carve out a niche for itself. Having said that, its headlights appear rather VW-ish, but the other frontal design elements combine to dispel any outright accusation of it being a doppelganger for Vee-dub. The test unit happened to be the 6AMT Premium variant that sits on top of the M4 hierarchy. A telltale sign of the 6AMT Premium’s pedigree is that little camera poking out from underneath the front bumper and on top of the lower bumper garnish. The reflector-based headlights on the M4 deserve praise, not just for its sturdy good looks but also because they literally light up the night, in spite of the fact that they are halogen based.
Viewed directly from its side, the Haval M4 strikes a solid and compact stance, with a sturdy front business end complemented by a stylish and practical back end, replete with curved quarter glass ala Citroën. Another popular SUV that pops into my mind at a glance is the Suzuki SX4, a one-time favorite among the budget-conscious crowd. The Premium variant gets a sportier set of alloy wheels with Continental ContiComfortContact tyres with a 205/60 R16 profile while the more affordable variants make do with a heavier looking wheel and Chinese sourced tyres. Chromed door handles and roof rails add to the impact of the M4, while chromed side steps adorn the door sills. A welcome addition are the provided window visors which add a touch of sophistication to the overall package. Wait a minute, are those red-painted calipers poking out from behind the front and rear wheels? The thin spokes of the wheels on the Premium variant make sure you won’t miss those. No, they aren’t fake Brembos, they’re original Haval disc brakes with red calipers, something you don’t usually see in any other manufacturer’s lineup.
With the 6AMT Premium, you get a car that has almost everything you’ll ever need in a car, except a good security tint. A chrome-colored decorative plastic air vent adorning either side of the front hood completes the rice treatment. Overall, I’d give the Haval M4 6AMT Premium an 8/10 in the looks department, based on the targeted segment.
Haval M4: Familiar Mechanicals
Haval derived their engine from Toyota, a 1.5-liter unit with VVT which Haval calls E-ICE VVT while strapping said engine to a Getrag-sourced 6AMT automated manual transmission. This is not the first time that a manufacturer has chosen an automated manual tranny for its cars. The Renault Clio-based Proton Savvy and Daimler AG’s Smart range of cars also made use of AMTs, so no cause for alarm here. The good thing about an AMT is the minimal power loss that occurs due to transmission heat and drag, as opposed to a slushmatic. Thus, the E-ICE VVT 1.5-liter powerplant is plenty enough to pull the roughly 1,100kg M4 for jaunts around town in a relatively peppy manner. Said engine puts out 105hp @ 6,000rpm with 138Nm of torque arriving at 4,200 turns, allowing me to reach a top speed of around 165km/h. I’m pretty sure there’s some room for a bit more top end, but it wasn’t my intention to drive the M4 like a BMW M4 anyway, so 165km/h is plenty fast in my opinion. 100km/h is achieved in top gear at around 3,000rpm thereabouts, so technically, with a long and steep enough decline you could probably hit the magical 200km/h mark. So can a lot of other 1.5-liter cars, so it’s not really something you’d think about when hunting for a budget compact SUV. Just digressing.
The front end of the M4 is held up by a MacPherson Independent strut setup while the rear gets a longitudinal arm torsion beam composite semi-independent system which feels taut (but not bouncy) yet highly maneuverable in a corner, unlike conventional trailing arm setups. The M4’s springs are set quite high (185 mm ground clearance) so you can confidently take the Haval M4 off the straight and narrow path in a heartbeat. A tight 5.35 m turning radius (thanks to a short 2,383 mm wheelbase) makes the M4 especially easy to make about turns at your whim and fancy. Just be on the lookout for vehicles coming your way. The ABS-equipped braking system consists of discs throughout, a point that Haval clearly wants you to know by painting the calipers red. They do look kinda cool, if you ask me.
Haval M4: A 65-Thousand Dollar Interior
So for RM65,000.00 you wouldn’t be expecting much out of the Haval M4’s cabin, right? Well, I was dead wrong! As it turns out, you get a mother lode of kit for a mere 65 grand. Let’s start with the seats. They’re the leather variety which elevates the status of the M4 from “meh!” to not bad. Then there’s the leather-bound steering wheel complete with audio, telephony and cruise control remote functions, a definite luxury in a vehicle that’s clearly punching above its weight class. Said leather-clad steering wheel comes with red stitching too. A digital-analogous meter cluster gives off enough information to keep the average Joe entertained.
If that doesn’t convince you, look left and behold the center console. A Sat/Nav entertainment unit takes center stage here, offering touch screen convenience for multimedia playback (USB and Bluetooth), an all round 360-degree pseudo bird’s eye view camera system (seriously?) complete with reverse camera which GWM calls Around View Camera System, plus the latest Papago navigation software thrown in for good measure. An electronic climate control system (well, it’s not really fully electronic as it doesn’t come with Auto climate control) complements the multimedia unit pretty well. About that 360-degree camera system. Do you know of any vehicle below 200 grand that comes standard with it? I can’t think of any, so the Haval M4 truly packs a punch here. There’s even a switch that allows you to view the cameras while on the move; however, get into Reverse gear and the main screen switches over to the rear cam automatically. The AVCS can be added onto the lower variants at a cost of only RM1,680.00.
And, as if that wasn’t enough, the Haval M4 comes with (drum roll please), a built-in SMART Tag transceiver in the rear view mirror! Yep, the top of the line Haval M4 6AMT Premium gets kitted up with an RM450.00 option for lower variants, giving you the convenience of not having to display your regular SMART Tag on the windscreen inviting petty criminals. All you have to do is slot any TouchNGo card in there and voila, you gain access to every SMART Tag enabled tolled road in the country without having to lift a finger. And, if you really want to stand out from the crowd, an RM1,393.00 option swaps out the regular halogen reflector headlights for a swanky projector based affair replete with daylight running light bars. This particular option is not available as standard trim on any of the variants, so it’s a good way for you to stand out among the other proud owners of a Haval M4.
As for the seats, there is ample room for 4 average-sized adults, while taller folk can still fit in a pinch but not advisable for long journeys. Cabin size isn’t one of the M4’s strongest propositions, so those looking for a comfortable 5-seater SUV will need to consider something else. Having said that, the majority of potential Haval M4 owners are probably young go-getters or college students wanting a safe, reliable mode of transport that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg that has most if not all the mod cons they could ever need for now.
The Driving Experience
The engine is relatively quiet when tasked with light duties, but call upon all of its available 138Nm of torque and the little nightingale transforms into a myna, singing ever so loudly all the way to 6,000rpm. The note from within the engine bay reminds me of the unit found in the Myvi 1.5, probably due to a shared lineage. With that said, you would rarely need to call upon the engine to turn over at more than 4,000 turns per minute unless you’ve got an impatient driver breathing down on you from behind. You’re probably thinking about the million dollar question, so here it is. Driving an AMT is not like driving an ordinary automatic transmission. With an AMT, it’s basically a manual tranny with an automated robotic clutch that gears in and out for you. As such, you’ll need a day or two of familiarization with the system in order to drive the car as smoothly as possible. If you drive the M4 6AMT like you would an automatic, you’ll be in for a rude awakening.
When the ECU decides to change gears, it cuts throttle input, de-clutches, switches up, then clutches in again before handing the throttle back to you. In practice, you will need to “read” the ECU so that when the gears are being changed, you ease off the throttle and resume after a second or so once the clutch is fully released. I found that driving it in Manual mode is the smoothest, as it allows me to dictate when to change gears and subsequently, when to throttle in and out. The gear stick shifts like a regular tiptronic shifter, up to gear up and down towards you to drop a cog or two. You can pull on the shifter twice in quick succession to gear down 2 gears, depending on vehicle and engine speeds. The first day was awkward as I had difficulty predicting the gear changes, but on the second and subsequent days I managed to drive it smoothly like I would a manual car.
The MacPherson struts up front and semi-independent trailing arms at the back seemed to do their jobs as advertised. Cornering ability is above par for a vehicle that sits relatively high off the ground with no theatrics. A feat like that could only be made possible by endowing the Premium variant with Continental tyres all round, enabling the M4 to attack corners with aplomb (within safe limits of course). The dampers are setup just right, soaking up most of the bumps on the tarmac and giving away nothing to the pothole ridden post-election roads out there.
To get off the line in a hurry, like for example after paying toll, it’s best to switch over to Manual mode where you can tell the car when to shift up. You do that by simply flicking the shifter upwards for every gear you wish to engage. At the same time, ease off on the throttle and mash it again after you’re convinced that the clutch has been fully released. Even with the best of intentions and launch style, I can’t really say that the Haval M4 is quick and slick, especially between the first 3 gears. Once I’ve dispensed with the first 3 gears , the M4 quickens its pace for a relatively lively drive.
With the economy taking a nose dive from multiple whammies both within and without the country, Citizens in general need to start counting pennies to save up for a rainy day. As such, the Haval M4 has come at a time where the conditions are conducive for an affordable, fuel saving light crossover that looks good, ticks most of the mod cons (that’s short for modern conveniences, in case you’re wondering) sought after by Gen Y buyers and costs only around RM670.00 in monthly installments for the top of the line Premium variant, and less for the more affordable variants. Go Auto and GWM China have done the number crunching before investing big time in a plant in Gurun for CKD operations, so at least you’re assured of Haval’s continued presence and support for the foreseeable future, unlike some other local distributors that mainly bring a brand in only to disappear or sell out if sales didn’t pick up.
At the end of the day, would you be safe buying a Chinese marque? Well, if you could buy a Samsung Galaxy Note 5 or Apple iPhone 6s Plus without batting an eyelid, why stop there? GWM is one of China’s premier marques that has grown in leaps and bounds within a short time frame, and with the might of China’s industrial powerhouses behind it, you could do far worse. An in any case, if the M4 fetches nothing after 10 years of ownership, you’ll be out of 65 grand. Big deal, you could be out even more if you bought an established SUV.