GWM Ora: bringing the new cat home

Dean Evans
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GWM Ora... aka Good Cat (just not in NZ)

  • Affordable EV
  • A stylish rival to MG's offerings
  • Bigger inside than it looks outside
  • Beeps and warnings that default on
  • Over-eager reverse parking warning system
  • Motorway driving saps the range

Now that the initial shock of its styling has worn off and we have grown more accustomed to, spending some time with the GWM Ora has actually been an enlightening experience.

Yes, it has a concoction of VW Beetle front and Nissan Micra as its half-brother, but in the striking red and black two-tone of our test car, the Ora not only stands out, it reinforces itself as quite an impressive city EV package. (Personally, I preferred its Good Cat name, used in other markets).

This is a full EV at the lower end of the NZ price scale, at $47,990 less the EV rebate of $7015, netting a price of $40,975, slotting it between the MG ZS EV and new MG4. So given the price, there are a few expected shortcomings; they are minor, but numerous.

Let's deal with the positives, first. Forgive the oxymoron, but the Ora is a large compact car. It's small on the outside but big where it counts, with the cabin space proving roomy and rarely cramped. Bootspace is modest, but it's decent enough for typical use, and overall it's small enough to easily park and drive in tight city spots.

It's also comfortable, befitting of a medium size car, too, with many of the features appearing very impressive. Some of those, however, lose a little shine in use.

Central and keyless entry and go is great, but the keyless entry only works on the driver's door handle, meaning the ghastly act of retrieving one's remote from one's pocket and pressing a button. It's not until attempting to access the passenger door for the umpteeth time that this presents itself as an irritation.

Same with the EV plug locking: even when plugged in at home, in a garage, and unlocked, even once fully charged, there is no release button and the car will not release the EV plug until the doors are procedurally locked and unlocked - and if an opposing door is open at the time, requiring more laps, profanity will ensue.

Electronic and safety gubbins are great in the sales brochure, but the times I was beeped at started to become matched with the times I was bleeping at the car, in particular the emergency lane wandering function that seems to alert you when you're even driving in a straight line, and not wandering. It can be deactivated, but defaults on every time.

Worst offender is the auto brake function when reversing, to avoid inattentive rear bumps and low-speed crashes. Four our of five times when reversing into or out of the garage, the system would detect the crease between driveway and garage and jam on the brakes and alarm, startling everyone in the car. To be fair on the Ora, however, the same thing happens with a $100,000 car, odd given the crease is simply not that big.

The dashboard has plenty of information, but it's an overloading plethora of numbers and shapes and symbols and rising and falling bar graphs for energy use and recovery. Even when using the superb radar gruise control, there are idiosyncracies: every time the system is over-ridden, to speed up to get out of trouble or for safety, the dash flashes at the driver like someone high-beaming at you: it's not bright, but it does get annoying after a while, as it flashes when both over-riding and resuming.

The lack of rear wiper becomes apparent after just one wet day, meaning rear view is constantly cloudy. The lack of a volume dial also means either using the steering wheel buttons, or clunking throug the menu system, a mix of buttons and on-screen menus. But if the steering wheel is turned more than 90 degrees, as expereinced in a carpark or drive-through, for example, the volume buttons disbale until straightened. B-minus for exectution. And the indicator is one of those that will have you regularly flicking the stalk up and down to cancel what was simply a lane-change flick with a fraction too much pressure.

However, the virtues are many and more than make up for the shortcomings: Tesla/Volvo style, it's simply a matter of getting in, rotating the dial into D and driving off - just not too eagerly, as the rotating dial can spin freely, with stops, and while two detents takes it from P to D, eagerness and twisting it fast to the right - say five detents - will not move the gear at all. It's highly temperamental. Which, at times, drove me mental.

The lack of start button quickly became a very much-loved feature, as did the welcoming fish that swim across the screen. However upon journey's end, the Ora requires a button-press near the right knee to stop the car before exiting... and more than once this week I've been alerted to this by returning the garage an hour later to see the car's dash still lit up.

Driving the Ora is, despite all this, very efficient and pleasing with enough zip to suburban speeds to be classified as quick: the response and torque of the EV makes it feel faster than its 0-100 time suggests. A full charge offers around 240km, against the claim of 310km, so it's very much a city run-around car with just enough minimum range to make it useable without a mental burden. With glimpses under 20kWh useage and an average just over it, it wasn't as efficient as its size would suggest.

The ride quality can be on the harsh some at times, but the instant torque and response and a good balance of performance makes the Ora a fun, perky package: the brakes can be a little overly sensitive, and the throttle response similarly so, meaning it requires a little more mental application to be smooth.

My rear seat passenger, 5yo Oscar in his Recaro booster seat, also had problems fitting his seat buckle, which often falls into its own pocket in the bench, and when raised is tight up against the Isofix mount.

I really wanted to like the GWM Ora, and I really do. But it's not without its quirks and features that often infuriate, serving up a mix of both good and bad. Like many Chinese cars - looking at you also MG and BYD - there is a very impressive solid vehicle with a number of everyday quirks that would and could be easily fixed. How much they affect the ownership experience is probably down to tolerance as much as love.

For $40,975 after the government's cashback, GWM's Ora offers a lot of EV in a fun, quirky little package.

BATTERY: 48kWh battery with single electric motor
POWER: 126kW/250Nm
GEARBOX: Single-speed automatic, FWD
0-100KM/H: 8.5 seconds
RANGE: 310km (WLTP)
PRICE: $47,990 (less $7015 rebate: $40,975)


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