We have something cheap and reasonably cheery on our roads soon and the surprising thing is that this car is coming from China. The car, the Great Wall M4 (also called the M4 Haval) compact SUV has been previewed and will soon be on sale throughout Malaysia. According to the distributors, Go Auto, the Great Wall M4 has garnered about 1,500 bookings since its preview in July of 2014 and it will be seen on our roads by November if all goes well. Quite a feat. It got me really curious too. So when I was invited to spend some time with the M4 as well as some time with the people who are bringing it in I jumped at the opportunity.
So what the heck is a Great Wall M4? Sounds epic doesn’t it? Imagine someone asking you what do you drive and you tell them “I drive a Great Wall”. It does sound quite preposterous doesn’t it? Yup. And then you realise that BMW also uses the M4 moniker for its hot M4 coupe. But note that this Great Wall M4 is not a coupe but a compact SUV and it sits in the B segment, the same category that the very, very popular Perodua Myvi sits proudly in. It is also the same category where the Proton Saga sedan and the newly launched Myvi competitor, the Proton Iriz are placed within. So how does such a car compete against the current category champion and the others?
Quite well I say as the Great Wall M4 was truly a surprise. I tested two M4 Comfort spec cars in manual, one with about over 30,000km on the clock and another with around 1,000km or so. The compact SUV is a 5 door hatchback that is powered by a 1.5liter 4 cylinder engine that sends its power to the front wheels via a 5 speed manual transmission. Of course this isn’t the transmission of choice for most urban Malaysians, and there is an AMT (Automated Manual Transmission) that will be on sale some time after the first manuals have been delivered. On the AMT, they claim that the M4 AMT will undergo more than 100,000km of continuous testing on Malaysian roads – Basically there will be a few teams of testers going up and down the Peninsular non-stop according to the folks at Great Wall Malaysia.
Anyway, at the first glance, the Great Wall M4 especially in the funky orange looks like an amalgam of brands. On its 205/55/16 sized wheel and tyre combo it portrays the chunky mini SUV guise quite well. The front looks like a Land Rover Freelander, from the side it looks like it takes after a Suzy SX4 (or a Fiat Panda) and the rear, especially the tail lights looked like the came from a Volkswagen Golf. As a whole, the design looks pretty cohesive even though you know that the Chinese usually do a lot of copy and paste. But you can tell that this M4 has more effort put into it. You could purchase some 18 inch wheels and tyres and it’ll look like you’re driving a Land Rover (or believe you’re doing so). Take a look at the Great Wall lettering on the bonnet and you can tell where their inspiration came from.
On the inside, it does not feel bad at all. In fact, it feels totally livable. The Great Wall M4 has about 185mm of ground clearance where most small compacts have about 150mm at the very most. You don’t really have to climb up but rather just a small step up into the driver’s seat. The high pivot point make it a breeze for most people to enter and exit the M4. Once seated there aren’t many things to adjust. The seat only moves fore and aft as well as the usual reclining backrest and a steering wheel that just adjusts for tilt and not reach. Even with the basic adjustments I managed to find a comfortable enough driving position.
The interior plastics are typically hard as even the best in category with the exception of a leather wrapped steering wheel. The quality seems to be quite decent but gets the material quality gets cheaper when you arrive at the glovebox level. It usually is in most B segment cars but even on the 30,000km M4, there were no unwanted rattles or squeaks. The switchgear and controls feel quite good to operate too. Even the manual gearshifter feels slick whilst shifting. Proton could learn a fair bit on how to make a shifter that isn’t so notchy, as I found out when driving the Iriz.
However there was the super large digital readout for the audio system. It totally reminded me of those extra large sized calculators with those super large LCD readout. Pensioners and truly old people would not have any problems telling whether the radio is set to hitz.fm or lite.fm. The speedometer is digital too so there isn’t any problem figuring out how fast (or slow) you’re travelling. As for space, I was quite comfortable up front and even with the front seat adjusted to a guy who is 5foot 8inch tall there is adequate legroom. Headroom is good as it is a compact SUV and not a compact hatchback. I would say that the M4 has nearly as much space as the Myvi and more than the Iriz (especially at the rear).
Now before we continue, the reason why I am bringing up both the Perodua Myvi and the Proton Iriz is that the M4 is priced and sized like the two compact hatchbacks mentioned. The M4 manual is tentatively priced at RM46,990 (for Standard), RM51,990 (for Comfort) and RM56,990 (for Premium which adds leather seats and navigation). The AMT comes in at RM48,990, RM54,990 and RM59,990 for the same specs. You also get ABS, EBD, brake assist, dual airbags and 4 disc brakes.
The base Myvi XT manual comes in at slightly over RM42,000, XT Auto at RM46,000+. The Proton Iriz comes in at RM42,000 to RM53,000 for the 1.3 manual and auto and until RM62,000 for the 1.6 premium. The so far decent looking, livable interior M4 splits the two right in the middle and adds a bonus of being a 1.5liter at the same price range as the 1.3 Myvi and Iriz 1.3. Yes, there is the RM50,000+Myvi 1.5SE. And if you add that in you have a fight on your hands.
And the M4 puts up a heck of a fight. On the move the 1.5liter variable valve timing equipped engine is torquey. According to some research, it makes 103hp and around 138Nm torque and it is based on Mitsubishi technology (Some claim that its Toyota, but I spoke the the head of marketing and he states that it is Mitsu tech). Anyway, you could actually leave it in fourth gear for cornering and let the torque pull the car through at around 30-40kmh. Drop a gear and the engine responds well too. The manual transmission’s close ratios and the engine’s breadth allows for smooth progress on city streets. There is one drawback though, a slightly whistling sound which I believe comes from the VVT system’s hydraulics. But the overall effect does not make the car unrefined. Overall engine refinement is actually quite good as the whistling sound isn’t harsh or irritating. What can be clearly said is that the M4′s engine sounds so much smoother (even close to its redline) than the one fitted in the Iriz 1.3 manual I drove recently. In fact, the 1.5liter engine is the actual reason why Great Wall are able to sell the M4 at such an affordable price. It is locally assembled under the Energy Efficient Vehicle (EEV) scheme and this allows Great Wall tax breaks due to its efficient fuel consumption (Great Wall claim something like 6liters per 100km fuel consumption for the M4 in their brochures). China builds a quieter and more economical engine than Malaysia. Honestly.
The other aspects of the M4′s NVH is good too. Road noise is well damped and the suspension soaks up most of the bumps that Malaysian roads can throw at it. It is all SUV in terms of damping and feel, in that the slow body movements feel like the car is loping along an undulating road with small up and down movements. Those that have experience in other small SUVs that come from Japan would note the similar body movements in the M4.
However do note that the M4 isn’t sporty It will roll and lurch if you suddenly think that this isn’t a Great Wall M4 but a BMW M4 instead. If you drive it at normal city and highway speeds and don’t decide to corner like a Civic Type R then this M4 performs as well as it should. The steering is devoid of feel but it does its job and so does the rest of the car’s handling. I suppose the whole car does its job of being a compact SUV (AND not sports hatchback) pretty well. As a car, the Great Wall M4 is actually quite good.
The M4 is quite good as a total affordable car package as it beats the Iriz in all aspects except for maybe outright performance (as it is designed as a compact SUV) and in corners (as in handling). In every other detail, the M4 beats the heck out of the Iriz, especially if you keep harping on that coarse and rough engine that Proton has stuffed in the Iriz and the all important fact of fuel economy in light of increasing fuel prices. Which affordable car buyer actually puts handling over space, fuel economy and value for money in the first place?
The M4 takes on the fight to Perodua as it does not meet the Myvi head on but enters the ring with something that is similar in size to the Perodua but isn’t just a small hatchback. It comes as a small SUV. The mistake I believe that Proton is currently in the process of making with the Iriz is try going head on with the Myvi with a clone of sorts.
The Great Wall M4 however takes the fight by playing by a slightly different set of rules. What the M4 brings to the compact car fight is that it is an affordable, decently put together, good looking mini SUV that actually saves petrol (due to its EEV status) coupled with the fact that everything from China is built to last horrendous traffic jams (that may last for days) and other ridiculous conditions in China (like dense drivers and blind pedestrians) may just work. as some would want something that looks different).
Buy the M4 without prejudice or without any worry about low resale value as it already is dirt cheap in the Malaysian sense anyway. For the price offered, it is good enough to own and drive around in.
Great Wall M4 specifications:
Length x Width x Height (mm) 3961x1728x1617
Ground Clearance (mm)185
Transmission Type5MT / 6AT (AMT)
Water-cooled 4 stroke inline four-cylinder DOHC electronic throttle VVT MPI gasoline engine
6 ltrs/100 kms
Ventilated Disc Brake (4 wheels)
McPherson Type Independent Suspension/Trail Arm Type Torsion Bar Composite Suspension