Great Wall Steed

China's first UK car is no Wallflower

Price: £13,998

Engine capacity: 2.0-litre turbo diesel

Power output (PS @ rpm): 143 @ 4,000

Top speed (mph): 90

0-60 (mph): 17

Fuel economy (mpg): 34

CO2 emissions (g/km): 220

The last pick-up I drove was an all-American machine from Ford called the Ranger. It had a load-bay worthy of praise from an Iowa grain silo and represented everything that is big and brash about America. The crude stereotyping came easy and I tested it by cranking up the stereo, putting on my truckers' cap and thundering along the roads of the Home Counties as if I was heading for Des Moines in search of my own slice of the American dream.

This truck from Great Wall is harder to pigeonhole. It's called the Steed, is about £5,000 cheaper than most of its American and Japanese rivals and is the first Chinese-built car to go on sale in Britain. The accepted logic is that China is set to knock America off its perch as the world's pre-eminent superpower, but its cars are borderline unsafe knock-offs that are horrible to drive.

You don't need a PhD in international relations to realise this is a simplistic way to look at things. You only need to go back 20 years to when Kia and Hyundai were seen as duff South Korean imports. They were soon promoted to cheap and cheerful motors and today are going from strength to strength while Ford and Vauxhall struggle to turn a profit.

With that in mind it's worth giving the Steed a fair hearing rather than a show trial dismissing it as the heir to the Soviet Lada or East German Trabant. Great Wall has been making pick-ups for 35 years and shifted 750,000 Steeds worldwide before turnings its attention to Britain. The Steed isn't strictly new, then, but it has been tweaked for the European market.

Double-cab trucks all look much the same to most people, so there's little in its appearance to set it apart from its rivals. What does set it apart, however, is its price. At £13,988 it's seriously cheap and if you check the small print you'll see it comes with heated seats, air conditioning and Bluetooth as standard and is available with a tiny £1 deposit.

When you climb into the front of the double cab it's quickly obvious where the cash has been saved. The seats may be leather (not ideal if you're a mucky tradesman), but the plastics are scratchy and hard and the controls are cheap and brittle.

Another gripe is that the central locking fob, which is among the most unreliable I've ever tested – resulting in a week of piercing alarms sounding outside my flat through the night.

The engine is pretty dire too. It may produce 141bhp (at an unclean 220g/km of C02 emmissions, too), but the acceleration is poor and the unsettling vibration through the wheel and gearstick screams at the Steed's lack of sophistication. The ride is smooth enough, though, and the handling – as long as you are not in a hurry – is just about acceptable.

If you're a farmer looking to shift the odd stray sheep or a builder moving bricks, the Steed is ideal then, but for the rest of us it doesn't come up to standard just yet. Great Wall has big ambitions, though, and is launching an SUV here later in the year. Rival Chinese firm Geely is also planning to enter the market soon too. It won't be perfect at first I'm sure, but it'll make rival car makers think, 'the Chinese are coming, they haven't got it right just yet... we'll all be in trouble when they do'.

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