WHEN YOU head for the hills, it's a good thing to have a trusty steed with you.

Now, in this case, the trusty 'steed' was the Great Wall Steed pick-up truck and we really did head for the hills of Knoydart and the annual sea trout pilgrimage with sundry fishing farmers and hangers on.

That means the Chinese-built - Great Wall is a leading brand out there - pick-up had a lot to live up to. First it had to handle the luggage and fishing gear for 10, plus grub for same and the odd bottle of dry sherry and cases of non-alcoholic lager!

This amounted to a load of at least 800kg, plus two hefty fellows up front. So it was a well-laden truck which had to cope with the journey from Glasgow, up the A82 through Glencoe, to Fort William, thence to Mallaig for a meeting with the famous Spanish John, a landing craft which serves the inner isles and the remoter mainland.

But, it proved no ordinary journey. This was the same day as more than 3000 cyclists had departed from Crianlarich bound for Fort William. This necessitated an endurance test of brakes, clutch, gearbox and engine, as the two wheelers had to be negotiated as they pech'ed their way up the long and winding road on what is usually a 'nice' run up to the Fort.

The vehicle handled all that with aplomb and though I'd say that the handling system of shocks and springs up front and, what the older farmers would call 'cart' springs on the rear, proved a little bit on the soft side. Though they did handle what became a sprint from Fort William to Mallaig to be on time for the boat very well.

There is no doubt that this latest generation of the Steed is a far better put together version than the original which was on the market for two years. The new one came in at the start of last year and the quality difference is quite remarkable.

The fit and finish in the cabin, especially, is much more up to the expectations of the European market and the 2.0-litre Euro IV compliant engine, while not outstanding in performance terms, was quieter and much more refined.

There are three models on the UK market with prices starting at £14,998 (CVOTR), which is the lowest price for any full-size double cab 4 x 4 pick-up in this country. Add £1000 and you get the special edition Tracker model and a further £1000 gets you the top-of-the-range SE, which costs just £16,998. All have a six-year/125,000-mile warranty.

This comprehensive care package also has a six-year anti-perforation warranty, three-year paint warranty and three years of roadside recovery and assistance. However, going over and above the industry norm, it also includes inflation-proof fixed-price monthly service payments and a policy of only invoicing for work previously agreed with the customer.

As another little incentive, the brand's dealers are offering a free service pick-up and drop-off for customers up to 20 miles away from the dealership.

The Steed has also 'europeanised' itself, with a chunky, no-nonsense look, big wheel arches and a pretty decent ground clearance. The side indicators are now incorporated into the door mirrors instead of the front wing.

New technology, includes a multi-function rear view mirror with automatic dimming and an outside temperature display. A useful tyre pressure monitoring system is also incorporated in the rear view mirror which displays the working pressure for each tyre on start-up.

The cargo bed measures 1.38m x 1.46m x 0.48m (length, width, depth) and it has a maximum payload of 1050 kg. It is now certified in the UK to tow 2.5 tonnes (it was just two tonnes) with a 'braked' trailer, which is still a tonne less than the industry best.

Under the galvanised steel skin lies a separate, rust-proofed ladder-frame chassis, strengthened and braced by reinforced centre cross-members, an impact-resistant rear beam and reinforcing for the cargo bed. The cargo bed also has some handy hooking points to tie down loads.

It's 4 x 4 system is the 'on-demand' part-time type for normal driving but when tricky conditions are encountered, you can select all-wheel-drive by pressing a button on the dashboard on the move, but only up to speeds of 12mph.

The transmission system, manufactured for Great Wall by German manufacturer BorgWarner, which also has manufacturing capability in China, is a dual-range type, with selectable low-range ratio gears for when serious off-roading is encountered. This was a bit fiddly to engage, but OK to use once you got the hang of it.

The latest Steeds also have rear disc brakes to replace the old drum units, which, apart from increasing stopping power are also easier to maintain and handle the cut and thrust of off-road motoring.

Under the hood, the engine produces maximum power of 137bhp at 4000 rpm, with its maximum torque of 305Nm spread over a rev range of 1800 to 2800 rpm.

That proved a useful aid to cycle dodging on the way north and also for the dash to Mallaig.

Even the base model is quite well equipped and it's a formula which seems to work for Great Wall, which has sold 1m of them around the world. It has also has been the No 1 selling pick-up in its home market since 1998.

Standard features include 16-inch alloy wheels, daytime running lights, remote central locking, a Thatcham-approved Category 1 alarm, electric windows all round, air-conditioning, heated front seats and the addition of a double-din Alpine CD/radio with USB/MP3 and Bluetooth connectivity and handy steering wheel mounted audio controls.