GWM Tank 500 Ultra review: Lux and then a bit more

David Linklater
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It's big and blingy, but there's real ability lurking underneath the Tank 500 Ultra.


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sport utility vehicle
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  • Incredibly broad 4x4 ability/luxury for the price
  • Ultra-refined on the motorway
  • Sense of quality in the cabin
  • Not everybody wants an architecture-inspired grille
  • Nervous adaptive cruise
  • Intrusive driver assists/voice prompts

The key thing about the impressively luxurious GWM Tank 500 is that it’s not a crossover-SUV. It’s a proper ladder-frame 4x4 designed to go places only experienced off-road drivers would dare contemplate.

GWM Tank 500 Ultra.
In case you missed it: subtle bit of branding at the back.

That’s the idea of GWM’s whole Tank brand, of course: both the 500 and the smaller, more retro-look 300 blend serene and sumptuous cabin environments with incredibly tough underpinnings. The 500 is actually the base for the forthcoming Cannon Alpha ute; so that’s a measure of its strength.

The 500 Ultra is a lot of 4x4: at nearly 5.1m long it’s bigger than a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado but slightly shorter than a Land Cruiser 300. And a lot cheaper than both: even the lavish Tank 500 Ultra, an $8k jump from the Lux, is still just $82,990. So the idea is really an LC 300 type of experience at a sub-Prado price.

Hard core 4x4 ability and lashings of luxury do seem like a strange combination when you think about it, but it’s a long-time thing. Blame Range Rover.


GWM Tank 500 Ultra.
One we off-roaded earlier: big Tank on the Australian media launch.

We put the off-road stuff to the test during the Tank 500’s media launch in Australia, where we articulated away and came back convinced the 500 had some serious 4x4 chops. Which equals instant credibility in this segment.

The lavish Ultra is an $8k jump from the Lux, but still just $82,990. The idea is a Land Cruiser 300 experience at a sub-Land Cruiser Prado price.

The next bit, back here in New Zealand, is to get a better feel for what the big Tank is like as a road vehicle. Like it or not, that’s where these fancy 4x4s spend most of their time - especially when they’re brand new.

GWM Tank 500 Ultra.
Cabin dominated by massive 14.6in screen. But it's all rather swish as well.

It’s a luxurious way to travel, no question. The fit and finish in the cabin is impressive (even if that “wood” is not really wood) and the standard equipment list for the Ultra just goes on and on: everything from nappa-accented ventilated/massage seats (the rears are vented too) to 12-speaker Infinity sound system to 64-colour interior lighting to a wildly comprehensive system of cameras for use both on and off-road. American-style power-retracting side steps. And so on.

The Tank 500 Ultra cabin features active noise cancelling technology and soundproof glass. Yes, GWM has gone all-out with this one.

GWM/Tank clearly has a fascination with Mercedes-Benz: the smaller 300 has a cabin that shamelessly rips off the G-wagen (quite nicely done, too), while the 500’s homage to the Three-Pointed Star is a bit more subtle, but still obvious in the satin-finish switchgear and interior colours.

GWM Tank 500 Ultra.
Mercedes-inspired switches and an aviation-inspired gear selector for good measure.

The dashboard is actually a nice blend of virtual and physical: many menus are located in the massive 14.6in touch screen, but - for example - you can shortcut to the climate settings by simply pressing the physical air-con switch. 

Making a huge contribution to the sense of refinement is the 500’s petrol-electric hybrid powertrain. That’s right: no diesel clatter for this monster SUV.

The second row offers vast legroom and the third row, while still occasional, is powered for easy folding up or down.

GWM Tank 500 Ultra.
Hybrid power and lots of noise-suppression make the 500 hugely refined on the motorway.

Making a huge contribution to the sense of refinement is the 500’s petrol-electric hybrid powertrain. That’s right: no diesel clatter for this monster SUV. The 2.0-litre petrol engine might not seem like much on paper, but a combined 255kW/648Nm from the whole hybrid system is pretty impressive. More importantly, the ability to drive away on electric power and “sail” on the motorway sans-combustion makes for a serene experience.

The Ultra also features active noise cancelling technology and soundproof glass. Yes, GWM has gone all-out with this one.

GWM Tank 500 Ultra.
Petrol-electric power is a USP for the Tank in this segment.

The powertrain is not perfect. It takes a while to overcome the 500’s 2.6-tonne kerb weight from a standstill, which shouldn’t really be the case when there’s electric assistance on offer. And while the gearbox (which incorporates the electric motor) is smooth in gentle driving, it’s also easy to catch it out with a stab of the throttle and get a real thump as it changes ratios.

It’s fairly well composed for a ladder-frame 4x4, although any vehicle of this type will combine its cushy ride with a bit of bump-and-thump and lateral movement. Nor is a machine to hustle too quickly around corners: it rapidly starts to feel quite oaf-like. But again, par for the course in this genre. It’s a big softy.

GWM Tank 500 Ultra.
Some of the tech can irk, but you also get some nice old-school touches.

The greatest disruption to occupant comfort might be the driver assists. The 500 is nowhere near as bad as the 300, but the vast array of driver monitoring and assist technologies on board mean the car often has something to say about how you’re driving. Quite literally, because the likes of adaptive cruise, speed sign recognition and lane-departure all have voice prompts. 

We'd also argue the cruise is overly cautious. Even at its closest setting the distance to the vehicle in front is substantial and if there's heavy motorway traffic around (but not necessarily in front of) the car it's quite reluctant to speed up to a setting of 80km/h or 100km/h. Sometimes it takes a bit of gentle coaxing with the throttle to actually get it to the speed you've specified.

GWM Tank 500 Ultra.
Nicely proportioned, but make no mistake: Tank 500 is Land Cruiser 300 size.

We won’t go on about this stuff too much more as this is a real issue with many modern cars and especially Chinese models, and they are certainly getting better with each update; by which we mean less annoying. You can also switch off many of the “cabin monitoring” functions in the Tank, but you have to delve into the infotainment menu and you have to do it each time you start the vehicle, because it defaults to everything-on.

It'd just take a bit of active-safety calibration change to make the 500 a magnificent luxury cruiser on Kiwi motorways. 

GWM Tank 500 Ultra.
Even when you crop it, that's a lot of chrome.

The luxury 4x4 segment is a fairly traditional one and there’s a certain appeal in sticking with fairly traditional brands like Ford and Toyota. We totally get that. But if you’re willing to be a bit brave and really like chrome, the Tank 500 is a mostly well-sorted, well-built and really well-priced alternative.

ENGINE: 2.0-litre turbo-petrol 4-cylinder with hybrid system POWER: 255kW/648Nm GEARBOX: 9-speed automatic, part-time 4WD with low range CONSUMPTION: 9.5l/100km (3P-WLTP) PRICE: $82,990.

How much is the GWM Tank 500 Ultra?

The flagship Ultra is $82,990, a substantial jump up from the outwardly similar $74,990 Lux. But it gains some key luxury-themed equipment: nappa-accented upholstery, upgraded front seats (including massage function), vented second-row seats with window shades, power-fold for the third row, 64-colour ambient lighting, soundproof glass, active noise cancellingand upgraded Infinity audio.

The Ultra also gets a locking front differential, so is theoretically better off-road too (locking centre and rear are standard on both models).

What are the key statistics for the GWM Tank 500 Ultra?

The 180kW/380Nm petrol engine and 78kW/268Nm electric motor combine to make a maximum of 255kW/648Nm together.

The electric motor is actually integrated into the 9-speed transmission, which features a variety of AWD modes (Eco/Normal/Sports/Snow/Sand/Rock/Mud/Auto/Expert), and 4-High or 4-Low settings for serious off-roading.

Is the GWM Tank 500 Ultra efficient?

It's a hybrid, but it's also designed for serious work and very heavy: 2.6 tonnes. More to the point, the hybrid system is there for flexible performance and power more than economy. But all things considered, a 3P-WLTP figure of 9.5l/100km is a decent showing for a vehicle of this type.

It runs on the cheapest 91 petrol... and being a hybrid (not diesel or PHEV) there are no Road User Charges to pay.

Is the GWM Tank 500 Ultra good to drive?

On-road refinement is exceptionally good in the Ultra thanks to the hybrid powertrain and some clever sound-reducing tech. The ride is good for a 4x4 but not crossover-smooth, and it handles well if you treat it with the respect a heavy, high-riding ladder-frame 4x4 deserves.

Is the GWM Tank 500 Ultra practical?

It's a vastly spacious vehicle for 4-5 and there's occasional seating in the third row, which folds away nice and flat. It's a truly luxurious experience, but that 4x4 ability and 795l cargo space (in 5-seat configuration) also makes it a great family adventure vehicle.

What do we like about the GWM Tank 500 Ultra?

The refinement, the smooth hybrid powertrain, the lavish standard equipment and the sense of quality throughout the cabin. As a luxury 4x4 it punches well above its $83k price.

What don’t we like about the GWM Tank 500 Ultra?

The outrageous frontal styling isn't to all tastes (although the majority of us love it), the adaptive cruise is way too cautious (nervous even) and the driver assists are intrusive.

What kind of person would the GWM Tank 500 Ultra suit?

Someone who's really into the look-at-me luxury 4x4 vibe but isn't afraid of (or even revels in) something a bit different.


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