GWM Cannon

Firing a warning shot

When it comes to outright purchase price, there’s nothing that comes close to the offering of the GWM Cannon dual cab ute. But is there a ring of truth in the saying you get what you pay for? Or is the rather good looking GWM Cannon L the new puppy at the park, terrorising the priggish flock of competitors into a winged frenzy?

GWM are relatively new players in the Australian ute scene, which has some impressive local market leaders. The established brands have evolved through experience, leveraging lessons learnt over time, and by applying constant R&D to improve on road dynamics, vehicle capability, human interface and connectivity, convenience, economy, and safety to achieve standards which were a pipe dream as little as a decade ago. With such strong benchmarks as the baseline for comparison, how well does the Cannon L hold up under scrutiny?

If bold is beautiful, the Cannon L’s external proportions certainly make its presence known to other road users and the driver when trying to squeeze it into a standard parking bay. At 5.4m long, just under 1.9m wide and 1.9m tall, petite, it ain’t.

Our test vehicle was finished in a dominating Crystal Black with matching bumpers and wheel arches and adorned with abundant lashings of chrome covering the huge front grille, large wing mirrors, door handles, GWM insignia, window ledges and tailgate surround for the rear camera and handle. All nicely finished with a polished sports bar on the tub and silver roof rails. If black’s not to your liking, you can choose a striking Blue Sapphire, a racy Scarlet Red, perhaps the elegant Pittsburgh Silver or a simple crisp pure white. 

There are currently eight Cannon variations to accommodate a range of tastes, personal style and outright practicality as a robust workhorse. New to the range is the cab chassis body style, the Cannon-CC.

 Swapping out the standard rear tub for the easy loading practicality of an aluminum tray, it further extends the Cannon’s appeal for tradies and primary producers who may need the flexibility to install large toolbox canopies, haul equipment and supplies, or even transport animals. It’s available in both 2WD and 4WDrive configurations with an upgrade L spec on the 4WD variant. 

For the dual cab, you get the base Cannon, in 2 and 4WDrive, with three spec levels for the 4WDrive only. The first is the L series. You can up the refinement to the X or reward yourself with the range topping flagship the Cannon Vanta whose exterior sports blacked out wheels, mirrors, door handles and grille offer a rugged square-jawed appeal. There’s even an extended black sports bar to finish the Vanta’s bad boy good looks.

Prices start at $36,990 drive away for the Cannon CC 4×2 tray back and culminate at $46,490 drive away for the dual cab Vanta, which is a long way short of the nearest competitor.

On the outside, our Cannon L also included smart looking 18-inch alloys, power adjustable chrome side mirrors, aggressive looking cube shaped LED headlights, highlighted by bright daytime running lights. There’s also a good wide sidestep for even easier access in and out of the cabin.

You get keyless entry, large comfortable dual heated front seats, covered in faux Tek leather, whilst the driver gets 6-way power adjustment, (sorry folks, it’s manual only for the passenger). Slide into the rear using good solid grab handles on the roof and B pillar, and it’s rather good back here. You don’t feel cramped, there’s ample shoulder, head, and leg room, with clearance for your size 10 hiking boots under the back of the front seats. Rear seat padding is soft enough to feel as though you slightly sink into the seats, but they’re not squishy and offer plenty of support to remain comfortable over longer distances. All body contact points are soft touch, and even the door insert that your arm rests against is a soft material finish.

You may end up hauling yourself in by the steering wheel as there’s no grab handles for the driver. Don’t mistake the facsimile mounted on the roof on the driver’s side—which is an odd location for a sunglass’s holder – otherwise you might pull it clean off its mount. Settling into the driver’s pew, I very much liked the large analogue gauges with clear, sharp markings. The L and other Cannon models get a 3.5” colour instrument cluster screen for a range of vehicle information and system settings. Only the X and flagship Vanta receive the full 7” colour instrument cluster display.

The leather covered steering wheel provides controls for cruise, phone, and audio. Behind the wheel is a set of performance paddle shifters, which always seems somewhat pointless to me in a diesel dual cab. I much prefer to row my way through the ratios via the gear lever to control engine braking and gear selection for challenging terrain or towing requirements. When off roading and needing to rotate the steering wheel quickly to the left or right, paddle shifters can at times feel awkward. It’s a personal preference.

The electronic gear lever itself looks like a modern interpretation of an inverted golf putter. Its style and tactile finish make for an interesting adornment on the console. Moving between drive and manual shift mode is a sequential motion, sensitive to movement, which caught me out on the odd occasion when I unintentionally placed it in manual mode. For me, I prefer a positive motion of moving the lever left or right to confirm the engagement of manual override functionality.

Adorning the center of the dash is a high definition 9” colour LDC touch screen, with Apple and Android connectivity, providing audio and AC operation, phone integration and control for the heated seats. And there’s a row of shortcut icons for quick access to several commonly used functions.

Mind you, when following the on-screen instructions, some lack grammatical accuracy. It’s surprising that manufacturers don’t have them checked by professional translators prior to production. I found the Bluetooth connectivity to Android was occasionally flaky and prone to needing reconnection.

Directly below is a silver facia containing large easy to use radial dials for fan speed and temperature, plus physical buttons for demisting, mode selection and re-circ operation. I liked the small finishing touches of brushed silver around the vents and the dark charcoal faux wood grain panelling on the console. They weren’t overdone and dressed off the interior nicely.

The electric park brake toggle is mounted in the middle of the console falling easy to hand, whilst the rotary control for 4L Low, Eco, normal and sport drive mode selection is further back, placing it in an awkward position requiring you to reach backward slightly to operate it. During driving, the mode selector was used more often than the hand brake toggle, and I would have preferred to swap their locations for easier driver access and comfort.

There are dual coffee cup holders with flexible tabs to take small or Grande sized cups and bottle pockets on all doors. A reasonable console, and decent size glove box will accommodate all the common items you like to have in the vehicle when travelling.

For connectivity, there’s a 12v power outlet and two USBs up front, one for data transfer and the other is charging only, plus power for a dash cam. Second row passengers get dual air vents plus a very handy 220V standard GPO outlet with an additional USB port. 

Given such a sizable Ute, with a kerb weight of 1,965kg, the two-litre turbo diesel has its work cut out for it. Producing 400Nm of pulling power and 120kW of urgency when working in the upper rev range for overtaking, it’s off the pace with the pack leaders now throwing down 154kW and 500Nm. But they coupled it with the highly respected ZF8 speed automatic, which is more than up to handling any hard work that owners may put their GWM Cannon through. This is a Borg Warner designed 4×4 on demand setup, meaning the vehicle will distribute engine torque front to back as and when needed to compensate for loss of traction over changing surfaces. There’s also a rear locking differential and a proper transfer case with selectable low range to improve capability in more challenging off-road environments. If unladen, ground clearance is just over 230mm, load it up and that will press down to 190mm. Approach, ramp over and departure angles are 27, 21 and 25 degrees, respectively.

Interestingly, whilst playing with the traction control button, I came across cross country expert mode. Depressing the traction control button for a few seconds engaged this unlisted mode, and it enhanced the Cannon’s 4WDrive high range capability significantly. I’m assuming this mode activated the center diff lock in high range for equal torque distribution front to rear.

Holding up the Cannon is independent double wishbone suspension for the front end and a live axle with leaf springs on the rear. And stopping power is courtesy of four-wheel disc brakes.

The rear tub is best described as huge, it’s 1,520mm long and 1,520mm wide and has deep sides perfect for loading taller items.

But you won’t fit a standard pallet between the wheel arches.

Tradies and campers alike will appreciate the spray-in bed liner, and there’s four tie down points to ratchet down your gear. The tail gate door smoothly falls open in a nicely controlled manner thanks to gas struts on each side.

My favourite addition is an inbuilt step which extends out of the tail gate door for easy access up into the tub.

I would have appreciated a 12v outlet for a fridge and a light in the tub, handy when putting gear in or out of the back at night.

Towing capacity is up from 2,250kg to a braked 3000kg with a 300kg tow ball weight. With a GVM of 3,070kg that gives you a pay load of just over a tonne, before hooking up your van after which you’ll have to reduce your vehicle load by the same amount as you apply to the tow ball.

What does that mean? Should be at your vehicle GVM of 3070kg including tow ball, passengers, and gear, you can’t legally pull a 3,000kg van as you’ve totaled up to 6,070kg – well over the Gross Combined Mass GCM allowable for the Cannon at 5,555kg! Time to unload Fido, the pizza oven, inflatable canoes, and the trail bike, and if you can’t do that, then downsize your caravan aspirations to stay safe and legal.

Hitting the road…. let’s talk suspension.

Leaf springs will never be the best option for ride quality, they’re suited to supporting heavy loads. As to be expected, when unladen the rear end displays a typical commercial orientated bounce, and it can get twitchy over loose gravel and rapid corrugations, which is not unlike every other leaf sprung dual cab ute. However, the difference between the Cannon and others is that it lacks refinement in spring rate, shock compression and rebound calibration, all of which can suppress the impact of poor surfaces.

On the road, the Cannon rides quite well, is reasonably comfortable and there’s a slight initial softness that allows it to minimise cabin disturbance over most normal road surface irregularities.

The steering is average. And it’s not helped by the indecisive lane monitoring capability. Having overcompensated on one bend, pushing me toward the kerb, it was so embarrassed it completely ignored the next bend. I couldn’t work out if the electric power assisted steering was texting on its mobile, as it seemed distracted from its duties to assist.

The weight of the steering response was erratic at odd times, light one moment, then heavier the next. It followed no logical or repeatable conditions. On the odd occasion, it felt like I had to pull it through a corner rather than guide it. Not that I felt out of control, it was more a sensation that the Cannon had gone into a kind of power saving mode and then woken up.

At 5.4m long with a turning circle of 13m, you’ll get reasonably good at three-point turns.

For me, the engine performance was a mixed bag of berries. Keep it on the boil and it will place the ZF 8 speed auto on notice. But drop below 1,800rpm and you slide lazily into the abyss of nothingness! Some will put it down to turbo lag, but unless you can get boost off idle, then the only thing likely to crack the whip for this GWM Cannon will be a belt driven supercharger.

Off the mark, it builds slowly and lethargically and then develops a sudden and often unwanted rush of urgency as you approach 2,000rpm. Which is fine in straight line acceleration, moving away from lights or rolling onto freeway speed limits. But a real annoyance when turning corners on suburban streets, as it wallows about then halfway through the bend throws everything at you in a suddden surge, despite your foot remaining constant on the throttle.

However, once moving and with rpm up the ZF auto masterfully keeps things in the sweet zone, providing the impression you’ve more power under the bonnet than paper figures would suggest. I suspect that’s enhanced by the ZF’s ability to deal out ratios faster than a casino croupier flicks cards. But the engine does struggle at steady throttle on long gradually ascending hills, causing the ZF to work harder and hunt to maintain the best ratio for the given rpm as engine torque slowly succumbs to the climb.

One thing that became clear on longer trips was the head rest rakes forward and for those of us who enjoy a more upright seating position, you may find the head rest constantly pushing on the back of your head.

Covering a range of driving conditions, from road, gravel, trails, and hills, we averaged 10L/100km, which is impressive as GWM states a combined economy of 9.4L/100km. With an onboard tank capacity of around 78L, that should see you clear of 780kms.

When it comes to technology and safety inclusions, the big GWM ute really begins to excel given the price. In keeping with the Cannon’s 5-star ANCAP safety rating, there’s a comprehensive list of driver’s assist systems and occupant safety

Standard across the range is Forward Collision Warning (FCW), Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) with pedestrian and cyclist detection. Lane Keep Assist (LKA), Lane Change Assist (LCA), Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA), Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) and Traffic Sign Recognition, with Overspeed Alert. There are also seven airbags including a front center airbag for driver and passenger.

However, like other newer players in the market, some of the tech is intrusive—the Cannon was also overly hyperactive on the lane keep assist and doubly frustrating in its persistent return to the default on position upon each re-start. By all means, deliver a vehicle with everything activated, but allow the driver to take control of their preferred settings.

GWM’s offer a 7-year unlimited km warranty, 5-year roadside assistance and 5-year capped price servicing.

Overall, the GWM Cannon L proved itself to be worthy of consideration.

No matter which way you look at the Cannon, it represents a significant saving over most other popular dual cab utes on the market.

With an extensive array of vehicle safety systems, a solid 7-year warranty and reasonable servicing costs, it’s easy to see why sales have continued to grow with an increasing list of satisfied owners.

No, it’s not as refined as some competitors, but if you’re willing to accept that, you can have a nicely appointed, comfortable, practical large dual cab that will work as hard as you do. Leaving you with more in your budget toward that caravan and new camping gear. And who doesn’t appreciate a bargain?

Model: GWM Cannon L

  • Price: $38,990
  • Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel
  • Output: 120kW/400Nm
  • Transmission: ZF Eight-speed automatic
  • Fuel: Combined 9.4L/100km
  • Warranty: 7-year unlimited kilometers
  • Safety rating ANCAP 5 Stars
Drive Editor - Ray Cully
Drive Editor – Ray Cully

About our Motoring Editor: Ray has been passionate about all things automotive since he first started collecting Matchbox and Hot Wheels models when he was five. Since leaving his executive role at General Motors (GM), he’s been sharing his driving experiences with Australian audiences for nearly 20 years, commencing his automotive journalist career with a popular WA-based magazine and was writing his own column in The West Australian for 8 years.

Ray’s strong love of automotive engineering and clever design has seen his articles and photography featured in prominent national magazines in Australia and the UK. He loves sharing his passion with other drivers, including via a long running stint as Senior Instructor for Land Rover Experience, providing training and education for new vehicle owners.

Recently Ray has been presenting on TV shows including Ready for Adventure and the very popular Caravan and Camping WA, to showcase some of the great products, vehicles and companies that make getting out and exploring Western Australia that much more enjoyable.