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Meet the GWM Ora – the coolest cat (and cheapest electric car) in South Africa

Meet the GWM Ora – the coolest cat (and cheapest electric car) in South Africa
The new all-electric GWM Ora. (Photo: GWM SA)

The idea of owning an electric car in South Africa is becoming an attractive proposition for some, with more and more solar installations springing up to counteract rolling blackouts – but can you afford one?

As a motoring journo I’m often asked a bunch of questions. A favourite is: ‘What’s the fastest car you’ve ever driven?’ Well I guess it would have to be the Audi R8 V10 in which I won a drag race against a very seasoned driver on Sandton City roof top back in 2021. Here’s the video to prove it:

I was in the blue R8. (Excuse the language.)

Then of course once speed is introduced into a convo, the question that invariably follows is: “What’s the fastest car in the world right now?” 

When it comes to world speed records, one has to keep a keen eye on the stats as there’s constant development in this arena. But right now, the fastest existing car is the Koenigsegg Jesko Absolut – a hypercar, produced by the Swedish auto manufacturer for the sole purpose of setting a world speed record, which it did – in February this year. It reached an eyeball-popping top speed of 531km/h with a 0–100km time of just 2.6 seconds. But the Jesko Absolut might not hold this title for too long because in the wings, there’s an insanely fast speedster called the Devel Sixteen that’s revving up to smash all existing records with a claimed top speed of around 550km/h via its Quad Turbo 12.3L V16 engine, which allows this hypercar to rocket 0–100km in just 1.6 seconds.

The fastest car in the world, the Koenigsegg Jesko Absolut. (Photo: Koenigsegg)

Another question I’m frequently asked is: “What’s the cheapest electric vehicle in SA today?” Up until a few months ago my answer would have been the Mini SE from BMW with its rather steep price tag of R783,500. 

But now there’s the Chinese-produced Ora priced R100k less than its German counterpart. “The what?” you might ask. 

The Ora (as in “aura”) was introduced to the global battery electric vehicle (BEV) market in 2018 by the Chinese manufacturer Great Wall Motors as its all electric sub-brand. According to the global GWM website, “Ora” is an acronym for “open, reliable and alternative”. It’s also claimed to pay homage to the mathematician Leonhard Euler, a Swiss-born boffin who came up with all sorts of mathematical, astronomical, musical and mechanical theories in the 1700s. But how does old Euler associate with the super modern, bubble-like Chinese EV that looks like an interesting blend of a VW Beetle, a Mini and a Fiat 500? 

On trying to establish further info on the synergy between the maths guru and the Chinese BEV, I was hit with a blank wall. So there it is … we’ll just have to accept that the Ora is giving the Swiss genius a nod. In my research I discovered that the Ora is more blatantly channelling cats. Yes felines. The ones that go “meow”. 

GWM Ora

The fastback version of the GWM Ora is nicknamed Lightning Cat. (Image: GWM Global)

In fact in some markets the Chinese BEV is named the Good or Funky Cat.  Then there’s the Punk or Ballet Cat and the fastback version of the Ora is rather aptly dubbed the Lightning Cat. The naming of the cat series is apparently a nod to a quote from Chinese revolutionary Deng Xiaoping: “No matter if it is a white cat or a black cat; as long as it can catch mice, it is a good cat.” 

Strange, but true. 

Locally the BEV is simply called the GWM Ora with four models available that are rather ambitiously called the Super Luxury or Ultra Luxury trim lines.

Now that its name is out of the way, let’s get to the car. 

I recently got to spend a week in the Ora 300 Super Luxury, which is the “entry level” car in its local lineup. In terms of competition, the Ora is pitted against the aforementioned Mini SE and the recently launched Volvo EX30.

Having driven a bunch of BEVs in the last three or four years, the first thing I look at is the range. My one, with its 48kWh battery, had a claimed range of 320km based on the WLTP (Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure). GWM claims the Ora 300 can charge from 10–80% in 41 minutes when using an 80kW DC charger. (There’s also a 63kWh version that’s got an extra 100km range.)

When it comes to looks, on taking my Ora around the City Bowl, I discovered it elicited great interest. There were a number of times that a small crowd of curious onlookers gathered, drawn to its quirky almost retro styling. It’s actually much bigger than it looks, with ample rear passenger legroom and can be compared in size to the crossover VW T-Cross (although I did find its 211-litre boot space on the small side).

What I did really like were the cabin’s plush finishes. My unit was kitted out in two-tone highly durable fabric, which could be found on the seats, the facia and the door panels. The large 10.25cm infotainment system is made up of dual screens that pretty much dominate the dashboard. The tech was easy to operate.

GWM Ora

The Ora’s cabin is ergonomic with dual screens dominating the dashboard. (Photo: GWM SA)

The drive

Being a bit of a Mini fan, I must admit I had some reservations before test driving the Ora. Sure it looked as cool as a cat, but could it claw its way into my heart? 

Initially, it took some getting used to not switching the Ora on via a start button. One simply sits down in the driver’s seat, you engage Drive and off you go. But the moment I was away in my silent BEV, offering 128kW and 250Nm, I was like … er … the cat that got the cream. It’s a smooth kitty with noteworthy road manners. The suspension felt solid, it had plenty of oomph on acceleration, and the transmission was well calibrated. While doing most of my drive in stop-and-start traffic, I reaped full benefit from “one pedal” driving which helps regenerate the battery (and extend the range) when applying the brakes. I felt reassured by its five-star Euro NCAP safety rating due to its full kit of safety systems which include: traffic-jam assistant, lane-departure warning and rear cross-traffic alert with auto emergency braking. The reverse view camera can capture a 360° angle and the image is crisp and clear. However, when it came to adjusting climate control I did find it all a bit fiddly.

As a juror, I took the Ora 300 SL on track at Zwartkops as one of the finalists in this year’s Cat (I mean Car) of the Year competition. It behaved like a cheetah on steroids on the straights and on the skid pan, it was a proper lightning kitty. DM

Pricing:

GWM Ora 300 Super Luxury – R 686,950

GWM Ora 400 Super Luxury – R 775,950

GWM Ora 400 Ultra Luxury – R 805,950

GWM Ora 400 GT Ultra Luxury – R 835,950

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Charl Engelbrecht says:

    The price tag is truly hilarious.

  • John P says:

    As is usual with reviews the quoted range is not tested to find the real range on a charge. This is usually well down on the quoted figure particularly in adverse weather where hot conditions mean more draw from the air con and cold reduces battery range. Used purely in the urban environment they work well, long distance not really.

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