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BUYERS GUIDE - WAGONS MEDIUM

GWM TANK 500
Hybrid technology and keen pricing should help sell this wagon.

 

The GWM Tank 500 seven-seat hybrid wagon was released in the second quarter 2024 and came with excellent specifications and pricing.

 

 

GWM realised what the diesel-addicted Japanese brands haven’t yet worked out: hybrid 4WDs are the medium-term future in Australia. 

Battery electric 4WDs currently lack enough range and charging support for remote-area travel, but hybrids work just fine.

The GWM body-on-frame Tank 500 set a new benchmark in the segment, GWM said, offering unparalleled hybrid performance, off-road capability and state-of-the-art technology, including auto reverse assist.

 

 

Available in two familiar Lux and Ultra grades, the Tank 500 was said to be a new benchmark in comfort and convenience in a mid-priced 4WD. After our on and off road testing, we’d have to agree.

 

 

The Lux models featured eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar support; seats in faux leather; three-zone climate control; advanced multimedia system including a 14.6-inch colour multitouch screen, with wireless CarPlay and wired Android Auto integration; front and rear parking sensors and a 360° view monitor; plus Auto Parking and Auto Reversing Assistance.

Ultra models had: Nappa-appointed seating, with heated, ventilated and massaging front seats, plus memory and welcome functions; heated and ventilated second row outer seats and electric folding third row; 12-speaker premium Infinity audio system, front diff lock, powered side steps and powered soft-close tailgate. 

 

 

GWM’s Dedicated Hybrid Technology produced a two-litre, turbocharged petrol hybrid engine, plus electric motor, with a combined fuel and electric output of 255kW and 648Nm.

A nine-speed hybrid automatic transmission (9HAT) was paired with a full-time 4WD driveline. Claimed fuel economy was 8.5 L/100km combined, backed by an 80-litre fuel tank, but our testing couldn’t get even close to that.

The Tank 500 had 3000kg braked towing capacity.

As the second model in GWM’s Tank Professional Off-road range, the Tank 500 featured Intelligent Four-Wheel Drive, with seamless switching between 2H, AWD, 4H and 4L modes; All-Terrain Control System with 11 driving modes; low range gearing and rear differential lock as standard; Turn Assistance; under-body protection; ground clearance of 224mm unloaded; 30° approach angle, 22.5° break-over angle and 24° departure angle; and a water wading depth of 800mm.

 

 

It has also gained a five-star NCAP safety rating.

At launch, the GWM Tank 500 Lux was drive-away priced at $66,490 and the Ultra, $73,990 – that’s around half to two thirds the price of its similarly-specified Japanese-brand competitors.

The GWM Tank 500 was backed by a seven-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty; seven years of roadside assist and seven years of capped-price servicing. 

 

 

On and off road

 

 

Our road test machine was an Ultra spec’ model, with all possible ‘fruit’ included. However, the basics for bush work were all there in this body-on-frame 4WD.

As with all parallel hybrids, the Tank 500 started off under electric power alone and them smoothly transitioned to petrol/electric operation. However, we were hard pressed to detect the transition point, thanks to almost silent petrol engine operation and imperceptible auto transmission ratio shifts.

 

 

Getting in and out of the Ultra model was made easy by electrically-operated side steps that appeared when the driver approached and retracted when the doors were shut. The only issue we had was that became slippery when coated with mud and would benefit from mesh, rather than flat-panel, structure.

 

 

The driver and front passenger had power-adjustable, heated and ventilated seats and the steering column adjusted for reach, rake and temperature. Seat comfort in all stations other than the kids’ perch third row was excellent. The third row seats folded electrically, resulting in a slightly sloping, wide, rear cargo area.

Second row passengers had ventilation controls in front of them and the door windows were fitted with retractable mesh blinds.

 

 

Our test didn’t begin well, because we found the incessant announcements urging us to be careful and keep our attention on the road was counterproductive: we concentrated more on how to cancel the bloody interruptions than we did on driving! Once we used the touchscreen to cancel this unwanted advice – a job that had to be done after every journey start – we began to appreciate what a fine machine GWM has come up with.

 

 

Performance from the combined petrol and electric motors was at least as good as any of the turbo V6 and V8 competition, and it was delivered without noise or driveline vibration. It just went!

We liked the petrol engine air intake location in the front inner mudguard, which is a much more bush-friendly position than the forward-facing air scoop most makers use these days. Those scoops are prone to taking in water, during creek crossings.

The test vehicle had trailer wiring pre-fitted, but unfortunately no tow bar, so we couldn’t do a tow test. Incidentally, it’s rated to tow a 3000kg trailer and that’s plenty, we reckon, behind any 4WD wagon. Under three tonnes is better dynamically. Most competitors claim 3500kg behind their wagons and utes, but we think that’s excessive.

 

 

Ride quality was as good as anything in the body-on-frame wagon market and on-road handling was better than most of its competitors: including on rough bitumen and corrugated, potholed gravel roads. It may need some rear suspension tweaking to handle heavy trailer ball weights, but for solo vehicle operation the standard kit worked just fine.

 

 

GWM opted for a tailgate-mounted spare wheel and tyre, which allowed ample under-frame space for a hybrid battery pack. The side-hinged tailgate opened with low-effort ram assistance and could be locked in any opened position – handy when parked on a side slope.

As with all modern wagons the Tank 500 bristled with electronic gadgetry and all of it seemed to work well, apart from the aforementioned unwanted advice  monologue and a right rear tyre pressure monitoring sensor that wasn’t working. 

 

 

We normally hate lane-keeping steering intervention, but the Tank 500’s wasn’t as overbearing as most. So-called ‘emergency lane keeping’ kicked in on narrow roads and was actually quite useful.

The camera system was brilliant, giving excellent all-around views and clear, accurate direction lines when reversing.

The Ultra’s sound system gave concert-hall quality and the large touchscreen was relatively easy to navigate. Apple CarPlay connected easily and the induction phone charging pad was handy.

 

 

We took the Tank 500 on our severe off-road course, which it tackled quite easily.  We’d been running the driveline in ‘auto’ mode on loose, wet gravel and switching that to ‘mud’ was simply a dial twist. For steep, rutted terrain, we stopped and clicked into ’N’, then pressed the ‘4L’ button for an instant shift into low range. Engaging the front and rear diff looks was also quick and we didn’t have to wait for some wheelspin before they clicked in: excellent.

The Tank 500 climbed this demanding track at walking speed, with only minor loss of traction from the street-pattern tyres and no need for engine revs to rise above idle. The hybrid’s electric motor torque was a boon in low-speed off-road work, because it kicked in at maximum level from zero revs.

 

 

Low range and the diff locks disengaged as quickly as they’d engaged.

Fuel economy averaged 12.5L/100km of 91 RON petrol over our test, which we reckoned was pretty good for a largish wagon. The tank capacity of 80 litres could give more than 700km range, when doing lightly-loaded highway cruising.

Of course, a plug-in hybrid would have definite economy advantages, being able to handle short trips up to around 50km without petrol engine start-up, but there are no announcement plans for a Tank PHEV yet.

 

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