Driven: Great Wall Haval M4 AMT - The most affordable mini SUV in Malaysia now shifts gears by itself

I was recently invited over to Gurun, Kedah by Go Auto to take a look at their automobile assembly facility and to test drive the Great Wall Motors Haval M4 AMT which they distribute. If you folks remember, I managed to spend some time with a Manual transmission M4 in October of 2014 and came away pretty impressed with it.

The GWM Haval M4 is a B segment SUV and possibly the most affordable high riding car in its price range. The standard manual comes in at RM49,739.59 up to RM59,755.19 for the Premium specced manual. The standard AMT is priced to sell at RM51,716.71 and the top spec Premium is RM62,759.87. There is a comfort spec that comes in between, splitting the already super affordable prices that GWM is asking.

So if you had read the previous review, I mentioned that the GWM Haval M4 is an affordable, decently put together, pretty good looking mini SUV that actually saves petrol coupled with the fact that everything from China is technically built to last horrendous traffic jams that may last for days if not weeks as well as other ridiculous conditions in China like super dense drivers and blind pedestrians. Its affordability, practicality and predictable handling may be a good buy for most people who want something high riding instead of the usual Proton and Perodua offerings. What you need to do is throw away the prejudice for anything 'Made in China' and try the darn thing.

Of course, now GWM / Go Auto has the Automatic transmission variant for sale (production of the M4 AMT started in April 2015 with the first delivery sometime after that). The M4 has a 6 speed Automated Manual Transmission (AMT) in place of the 5 speed manual. Everything else about the M4 is the same as the manual variant with the exception of trim in the vehicle. This time I was driving the Premium specced version which can be differentiated just by looking at the front and rear bumpers (which have more silver paint or trim on them compared to the more basic models), a full screen infotainment system with navigation and the different pattern alloy wheels of the same size (15inches).

The drive experience of the AMT M4 is slightly different from what a standard torque converter or DSG type transmission in auto mode. The AMT is obviously a manual transmission with something to help it clutch and de-clutch for you. It uses electronic sensors, pneumatics/motor, an ECU and actuators to shift a gear on input from the driver (via flappy pedals or the gear lever) or by a computer (the AMT's full automatic mode). The motor operates the clutch pedal which the driver otherwise needs to depress before making a gear change. According to the people at Go Auto, the M4 AMT gearbox is based on a system made by Getrag, the renowned transmission specialist.

Leave the M4 AMT in full auto you can tell that it is shifting its gears when you will feel a sudden lull in power just when it upshifts. There is no harsh jerk at all. Just a feeling when power is cut before coming back when the gear shift is completed. Downshifts in auto mode are smooth and you do not notice it too much. The sudden lull or drop in power which is felt during upshifts can be negated by using the gear shifter yourself. If you want to lessen the lull or dip in power, shift manually, lifting off very slightly when you change up or down and progress is quite smooth. It takes a slightly different driving style to be smooth in one of these M4 AMT compared to a manual or a traditional automatic. It is not jerky or rough at all. The setup of the gear lever is easy for this. From N or neutral, you pull down for reverse or you push it to the left for D or Drive. If you want control, you push up or down to shift whilst in D. Quite straightforward and easy actually. The only real thing about the AMT is that like a manual, you would actually need to press on the accelerator when you are on a slope to keep it from going backwards. There is no creep forward function like most normal automatics.

The best thing about heading out of town to test drive a car is the places I get to try out the car is totally different. I got to take the M4 AMT through Gurun's paddy field dirt roads. It was raining and it was therefore muddy out there. The M4's suspension was not even worried about the usual dirt, sand, earth and small stones of the roads around the paddy fields. I was actually doing a good 50kmh on the dirt (and mud). No rattling from the dash or my teeth. The suspension coped well with the road conditions.

We also headed up and the down Gunung Jerai with the M4 AMT. It was actually fun taking it up Gunung Jerai. The road up to the Jerai Regency Resort has a lot of tight switchbacks and steep 45degree angles up. Much like Genting but instead of a three lane per side wide road this is a two lane road with one lane for each direction with parts that narrow to something like one and three quarter of a lane road. Mighty fun up and down. The AMT has one extra gear. It has a 6 speed gearbox – the fifth gear is direct 1:1 which allows it to pull to about 170kmh and the sixth is an overdrive that would not allow the car to hit over 135kmh but would save a whole lot of fuel doing to. The first five gears are close, allowing some nice second and third gear action with the use of first on the switchbacks (there are about six to seven really sharp switchbacks on that road minimum). The AMT isn't VW DSG rapid. I don't think anything is as rapid as a VW DSG but if you time it correctly, you can make decent progress even with that 103hp / 138Nm 1.5liter 4 cylinder VVT equipped engine driving the front wheels.

Somehow everything works well. The front end does not wash out in sharp corners and you can point it where you want it to be. It's rear isn't as mobile as I would have liked as it does not actually pivot out like something overtly sporty would. Of course, this is a small affordable SUV. It isn't a small affordable warm hatch that you can punt around. But I did just that and the darn thing actually performed well up and down a mountain road. Reaching 984 meters above sea level was actually done in about 15 minutes or so. Going down was a great deal faster. The brakes, were a tad bit over servoed but I got used to it sometime before going up the mountain. So it wasn't an issue. So again, if you drive it at normal city and highway speeds and don't decide to corner like it is a Honda Civic Type R then this M4 AMT will perform as well as it should. Even with an automotive journalist behind the wheel.

The only issue I had with the burnt orange M4 AMT was there was quite some tyre noise. The GWM Haval M4 AMT will come with Continental CC5 tyres. This orange car is actually the test mule for Go Auto so the tyres have some mileage under them and were about half worn. In fact the car had over 205,000km of testing kilometers piled onto it. It was the test bed for the AMT to see how reliable the transmission is/was. The promising thing is that the M4 AMT with over 200,000km is still running strongly with the same engine and transmission unit. There have been periodic adjustments to the AMT clutch as recommended by GWM and the usual fluid changes. The AMT has held up to some abuse. And then I came to Gurun and used it to climb Gunung Jerai. Redlining the engine, upshifting and downshifting pretty hard too.

And as for the rest of the car, there were no rattles whatsoever. The burnt orange test mule was well screwed together (granted aside from the leather trim and premium infotainment system everything is in the budget airline class). The white M4 AMT shown above, which I also drove, had about 13,500km on it and that had two tiny squeaks. One on the front passenger door trim and another one on the driver's side seatbelt brackett. Both very minor and have been brought up to the people who assembled the car directly after the test drive. As a matter of fact, the visit to the assembly plant was an eye opener. The levels of Quality Control and Assurance processes are actually higher than most other vehicle assembly plants in the country even though it is small. This is something I will write about sometime soon.

So the GWM Haval M4 AMT is again something you can buy if you're looking for an affordable mini SUV something other than a Proton Saga or Perodua Myvi sized Hatchback. I have to say that recent transmission technology has made the AMT Gearbox into something that is actually liveable on a day to day basis (with the caveat – you got to get used to it first). It seems to be reliable too unlike what we used to hear about the last affordable AMT sold here (the late Proton Savvy AMT). According to Go Auto, spare parts for the M4 are reasonably priced. No sky high prices for a car that is priced under RM62.759.87. One reason for this could be that GWM and Go Auto also trade in China's RMB currency instead of only in USD.

Go try one first before you make any decision. Quite a bargain these days. And these days where the Malaysian economy is getting hammered we need more bargains like the GWM Haval M4.

Pros: AMT allows us to relax in traffic, high equipment levels, all round disc brakes, traction control (ESP) not intrusive, ABS, 185mm ground clearance, comfy ride, confident handling up and down a steep windy road, good build quality, Land Rover-like looks (some like the opportunity to buy an affordable lookalike), affordability, cheapest high riding car in the market

Cons: B segment SUV means a tad bit heavy for its 1.5liter engine, AMT still requires drive input to be properly smooth, tyre noise from the half worn tyres, some may still find the AMT to be a chore (especially on slopes), Land Rover-like looks (hey, some may not like cloning)

Conclusion: It may be from China but it actually is a tidy performer which offers super value for money and quality too. AMT offers more traffic jam friendly operation. Prejudice must be put aside and a test drive is warranted before you head out and buy some local brands. Made in China cars have moved forward a fair bit.

Beautiful place, this Gunung Jerai

Great Wall M4 specifications:
Length x Width x Height (mm) 3961x1728x1617
Wheelbase (mm)2383
Ground Clearance (mm)185

Transmission Type5MT / 6AT (AMT)
205/60 R16
Water-cooled 4 stroke inline four-cylinder DOHC electronic throttle VVT MPI gasoline engine
6 ltrs/100 kms
Euro IV
Ventilated Disc Brake (4 wheels)
McPherson Type Independent Suspension/Trail Arm Type Torsion Bar Composite Suspension

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