Rumour has it that when Chinese carmaker Great Wall Motors (GWM) was planning the South African introduction of its latest compact hatch competitor, the CB150, the company undertook a straw poll by calling around for thoughts on badging between CB150 or Cool Bear 150.
I think they made the right choice with CB. Cool Bear may have come across a little on the chintzy side.
But that’s not to say that this isn’t a cool customer. The Daihatsu Materia, and the locally-tweaked Materia Turbo, were both firm favourites of mine. Design-wise the CB150 is similar, but strictly speaking is closer looking to the Toyota Scion which isn’t sold in South Africa. It’s designed like a box with its high roof and vertical lines.
The downside of this boxy approach is that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea; the upside is the real sense of space you get in the cabin with that tall roof.
Rear legroom is also very good and will make most luxury saloons blush, but this does come at the expense of boot space – although the back seats do fold down. I’d rather have the rear legroom to be honest and, believe it or not, I squeezed a pram into that cargo bay thanks to the vertical boot lid.
Because of the design, the large front windscreen tends to let in more sun and you sometimes battle the glare when driving.
Buyers have two options, the standard CB150 or the CB150ME, the latter of which means you can choose from options like bigger wheels, body striping, leather seats and steering wheel, custom carpets, and a dropped suspension.
On test here was the basic CB, but even this gets an impressive spec level including power steering, aircon, electric windows and mirrors, CD player with MP3 capability, steering wheel controls, and park assistance all standard fare. Safety levels are good too with the Chinese throwing in driver and passenger airbags, ABS with EBD (but no traction control), side-impact protection bars, an immobiliser, and remote central locking. Not bad for R134 265.
Powering either model is a 1.5-litre variable-valve timing engine pushing 77kW and 138Nm, mated to a five-speed manual gearbox. Besides being a little on the buzzy side, the engine was capable and shuttled the CB along with little drama.
The power steering is very light, and the clutch seemed to have an oversensitive spring release mechanism. I did like the small and unusual horizontal rev counter – think of those fuel economy gauges in old Mercs and Beemers with needles that swung left to right.
We wouldn’t hate GWM exploring some aftermarket force-fed technology though, especially after the car took a leisurely 14 seconds to get from standstill to 100km/h, and needing a calendar for the quarter mile (19.2 seconds) when we put it against the stopwatch.
The lack of a sixth gear was also evident on the open road, and played a part in the slightly high 8l/100km consumption we realised (the carmaker claims 7.2). Top end is claimed as 165km/h, which seemed attainable.
The Chinese designers did overlook one or two things on the practical side too, which could be problematic in the long run. The most annoying is that there’s no clock. The interior light seemed to work sporadically when opening doors, the air vents adjust vertically only, the steering is height adjustable only, and the driver’s seat is positioned quite high – with no lowering functionality.
The fire extinguisher under the driver’s seat was hardly confidence-inspiring, but I’d rather have access to one than not. And unfortunately the dealer’s pine-tree air freshener in the door pocket did little to disguise the smell we’ve found a trademark in new Chinese cars.
Okay, so there are a few niggles with the Cool Bear, but in terms of the local Chinese brigade it’s a fact that GWM are head and shoulders above the rest in terms of build quality and drivability.
The CB had a tinny overall feel to it and can’t really be compared with the Ford Fiestas, VW Polos and Opel Corsas of the world, which is why it costs so much less, but it’s not cheap and nasty either.
And seeing that you’re saving some money, it may be worth going for the ME spec and adding the wheels and stripes, it needs these to finish off that boxy package.