Distinctive Chinese EV is good value, but annoyances prevent it from being recommendable

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It’s a common playbook for emerging car manufacturers: launch with a product that might be a long way from the establishment on quality but it’s so keenly priced that it’s impossible to ignore. Then gradually ramp up the quality and gain consumer acceptance. The GWM Ora 03 (previously called the Ora Funky Cat) is a little more impatient.

When it was launched two years ago, it didn't play the same value game as its MG 4 EV compatriot. The car was originally announced with a very attractive price, but Ora’s UK sales director told Autocar: “Once we saw the car and realised how high-quality the interior was, and really understood the personality of it, we realised we’ve got something really quite special and therefore we can be quite targeted in the market where it’s going to be.”

Today, it is still the only product Ora offers in the UK - the bigger 07, sold as the Lightning Cat in China, is set to arrive later this year.

The 03 line-up consists of two specs: Pure+ and Pro+. It starts from £31,995, positioning the car as a rival to the Vauxhall Corsa Electric, Peugeot e-208 and Volkswagen ID 3.

It comes with either a 48kWh battery and a single 169bhp front-mounted motor with a WLTP range of 193 miles, or a larger 63kWh battery and an improved range of 260 miles.

The 03 uses the GWM-exclusive platform named LEMON (it’s not clear what, if anything, that acronym stands for), which can also accommodate petrol engines, hybrid powertrains and, intriguingly, a hydrogen fuel cell.

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GWM’s literature about LEMON talks at some length about light weight, which is encouraging. Our test car tipped the scales at 1580kg, which makes it only a few kilos heavier than the smaller Corsa Electric.

It takes only a brief look at the 03 to know that it is in an entirely different league from what the Chinese car industry could muster 10 years ago. Today, ‘new energy vehicles’ – as EVs are called over there – have become a specialty of Chinese manufacturers.


gwm ora 03 review 2024 02 panning

GWM has been around since 1984 and has built everything from trucks to city cars. Today, it has a number of brands aside from Ora, which is focused on mildly posh small cars. Haval makes SUVs of various sizes, Tank makes body-on-frame off-roaders, GWM Pick-up is self-explanatory and Wey is a luxury brand.

For the 03, the car’s design has clearly taken inspiration from various retro cars of the past two decades. Unlike the copycat cars China was producing 10 years ago, though, this is very much its own thing, and it’s refreshing to see a friendly face among the blacked-out AMG Lines and M Sports.

The mostly clean shapes are punctuated by quirky details, such as the hexagons on the car’s ‘cheeks’, oddly 1990s-style alloy wheels and the apparent lack of rear lights. It has rear lights, of course, but the main clusters are quite small and mounted low and they are supplemented by a higher light bar.

The car's classic rounded shapes might make you think it’s Mini hatchback-sized but, at 4235mm long, it’s only slightly shorter than a Volkswagen Golf (4284mm) and quite a bit longer than a Corsa (4060mm), never mind a Mini Electric (3850mm).


gwm ora 03 review 2024 09 dash

Step inside the 03 and on first impression the claim that this is a premium product rings true. Most surfaces above waist level are soft-touch, and the red microsuede material that lines the dashboard and door cards feels plusher than the textured rubber you might ordinarily find there.

The seats are upholstered in an unusually soft synthetic leather. It gets a little sweaty on long journeys, but it’s a cut above the plain vinyl you sit on in an MG 5 EV. The bright red and beige colour scheme won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it’s a nice change from the gloomy blackness of so many modern cars. Green and black are available if you prefer something more subdued.

Spec offerings are good in the 03. The base Pure+ variant gets everything from wireless charging to dual climate controls and a high-quality reversing camera. In the higher-spec Pro+, owners also get heated and ventilated massage seats, a panoramic roof, front and rear parking sensors and an electric tailgate.

Unfortunately, some of the controls are less pleasing. The rotary drive selector doesn’t feel like it’s connected to anything and the detents of the BMW-style indicator stalk (it always returns to centre) are quite weak, making it easy to indicate the wrong way.

The ‘chrome’ switch panel in the centre of the dash may be inspired by the Mini but doesn’t look or feel as convincing. In the 03, the toggle switches control a number of climate functions, but not the temperature. For that, you need to tap the very small up and down icons on the screen. Meanwhile, functions like the headlight aim and driving mode, which could happily have been integrated into the touchscreen, get dedicated buttons.

Better news comes in the form of the available cabin space. Front passengers are unlikely to be short on storage thanks to trays and bins of various sizes in the centre console, as well as two cupholders and a spot for glasses in the roof.

Rear passengers enjoy generous leg room for this size of car, but rear accommodation is affected by the battery pack raising the floor height, so the seating position isn’t ideal and head room is limited. There’s a single charge port back there and no air vents, but that’s not unusual in this class.

GWM must have sacrificed some boot space in favour of rear-seat accommodation, though, as the Ora 03 has only slightly more luggage space than a Mini Electric.


Although not yet available to owners, our Pro+ test car is fitted with a beta version of an updated software system that will be rolled out in the coming months, finally bringing Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (both wireless) to the 10.25in touchscreen.

Those are welcome additions, but issues remain. The phone mirroring takes over the whole screen, so accessing the climate controls involves navigating three menus rather than one. Pressing the physical air-con on/off button does bring up a menu, but that's a hacky workaround. The rest of the multimedia system remains fiddly, with very small on-screen buttons.

Elsewhere, navigation, DAB radio, Bluetooth and, oddly, Deezer, are built in to the touchscreen’s interface. It provided a relatively stable connection, but it is impractical compared with phone mirroring. The speakers can also sound a little thin when competing with road noise on the motorway. The nav itself works well and will shows how much range you’ll have left at your destination.

Pressing the voice command button or saying ‘Hello Ora’ triggers the voice assistant and causes a cartoon character to pop up on the screen, but we found it was unable to parse fairly simple commands like “find the nearest Gridserve charger”.


gwm ora 03 review 2024 12 panning front

With an electric motor, power and torque are pretty easy to come by and don’t hurt efficiency in the same way that a bigger engine would. Making that power usable is a bigger engineering challenge, and one that the MG 5 and Mégane E-Tech Electric haven’t entirely met. Be too enthusiastic in one of those and you get copious wheelspin and abrupt interventions from the traction control, whereas a Mini Electric and Cupra Born have far faster and smoother-acting systems.

Unfortunately, the 03 belongs to the former category. On a slightly damp track, it powered to 62mph in 8.2sec, a tenth quicker than its maker’s quoted time. However, achieving that time requires careful throttle control to avoid spooking the traction control, which can be disabled but reactivates automatically over 35mph. It will let the front wheels spin wildly for an instant before shutting down the power with an audible thump. On the road, it’s a niggle rather than a problem, but nevertheless other EVs do it better.

The 03's variable performance at higher speed is worth discussing as well. That it reaches 100mph in 25.9sec, even though its top speed is supposedly 99mph, is academic. That it is only marginally quicker from 30-70mph than the far less powerful Fiat 500 is mildly disappointing.

However, that it struggled at one point to maintain 70mph on a moderate hill when its battery was a quarter full was a slight concern. All EVs lose some performance when their batteries get low, which is why we ensure they are at least 80% full before performance testing, but we have not previously experienced a drop this noticeable.

The 03 offers three levels of regenerative braking, in addition to a true one-pedal mode. Even if you lift off brusquely, the regen will build gradually. Conversely, if you try to slow down gently, the level of deceleration can be hard to judge because the response is delayed. As a result, most testers avoided the stronger modes. This is easier said than done, because it will occasionally (but not consistently) reset to the strongest mode when turning off the car.

As well as the traction control, it was clear during our braking tests that the ABS lacks a final layer of polish. When braking from 75mph, it would briefly lock the front wheels before the ABS kicked in. After a few successive stops, there was also a strong smell of brakes, though the stopping distances didn’t increase dramatically. A stopping distance of 60.9m is about midway between the Peugeot e-2008’s 57.5m and the Renault Mégane E-Tech Electric’s 63.7m – both also recorded on a damp surface.

The turning circle -11.25m bigger than a Nissan Qashqai - makes it far more difficult to negotiate urban car parks than it should be, too.


gwm ora 03 review 2024 14 action

With an all-new car on an all-new platform from an all-new manufacturer, the chassis is where things can easily go wrong. The sight not of Michelin, Bridgestone or even Hankook tyres but of Giti GitiComfort tyres doesn’t inspire much confidence either. However, we’re pleased to report that, with the exception of the previously discussed traction control, there is nothing seriously wrong with the way the 03 negotiates a set of corners or a challenging surface.

Be in no doubt: this is no hot hatch, and the Mini Electric, Fiat 500 and Cupra Born are far sharper tools that will entertain more willingly down a country road. For that, the 03 exhibits too much body roll, and the light steering (even in its Sport setting) imparts no feedback whatsoever. Butting up against the traction control also discourages spirited driving, as does the stability control, which noisily shuts down any rotation on a trailing throttle before it has a chance to develop.

With that said, the Giti tyres defied expectations by providing perfectly adequate grip, even on very wet roads. Perhaps a different tyre might add some life to the steering, but then again it might not. The body roll, while noticeable, builds gradually, and the slowish steering is precise enough and more predictable in its response than some variable-ratio systems.

Comfort and isolation

Similarly, there’s little to complain about when the road gets bumpy. The suspension is neither especially soft nor especially hard, but it’s never harsh or wallowy. It just soaks up most bumps without complaint, delivering a ride that is pretty relaxed and composed for the class.

Noise isolation is a major weak point, though. There’s more suspension noise than in rivals, but it’s the road and wind noise when you leave town that can get wearing. We recorded 68dBA at 50mph and 72dBA at 70mph, respectively 4dBA and 1dBA more than in the Fiat 500, a car that is obviously positioned as a city car. It doesn’t even bear comparison with the impressively refined Cupra Born or even the Vauxhall Corsa Electric.

The seats are quite soft, making them inviting for short journeys, but they lack the lumbar support to take the strain out of longer drives.

Assisted driving notes

Euro NCAP named it the safest small family car for 2023 thanks to its excellent occupant protection in a crash, as well as the comprehensive driver assistance features that come as standard. In addition to the obligatory lane keeping assistance and automatic emergency braking, it has blindspot monitoring, adaptive cruise control with lane following, and driver monitoring.

Unfortunately, the lane keeping assistance is quite over-eager and will make steering corrections even when you’re nowhere near the line. In short, it is one of the worst we’ve tried. Thankfully, the previously menioned new software update our Pro+ test car is trialling adds a quick way to turn this off to the drop-down menu.

The driver monitoring system is also quite the disciplinarian and will berate you for looking out of the side window a fraction too long. Again, this software update does slightly tame the overzealous monitoring system, giving a more bearable experience. That said, there are still bugs, such as the car’s occasional inability to detect the key.

The cruise control is disconcertingly late to slow for stationary traffic ahead, yet it slows unnecessarily and jerkily for the faintest ‘corners’ on motorways. But active lane following is fairly smooth and blindspot monitoring works well. Annoyances come from the verbal alert that is sounded every time the cruise control is activated.


gwm ora 03 review 2024 01 cornering front

GWM is not aiming for the bargain prices that MG is. Even so, it is still one of the cheapest electric cars you can buy. 

If you do choose the 03, that means walking past the larger and much longer-range MG 4, as well as cars such as the Vauxhall Corsa Electric, Peugeot e-208 and Renault Zoe. Those are slightly smaller, but longer-range and more mature-feeling cars.

And that feeling of immaturity could be a factor that puts buyers off. The 03 is littered with little things that signal this car could have benefited from another six months of development. We have previously mentioned the frustrating indicator stalk, but there are other bugs like some of the settings randomly resetting.

The keyless entry won’t always unlock the car. The handbrake will sometimes let you drag the stationary rear wheels forwards. The power steering motor and the vacuum pump for the power brakes are very noisy. Consider also some of the poorly tuned systems like the ABS, traction control and cruise control, and it adds up to an overall experience that feels a bit too much like a public beta test.

An economy gauge that couldn’t be reset made efficiency readings somewhat fraught, but we saw figures between 3.0mpkWh and 3.4mpkWh in mixed driving during a mild winter week in the Pure+, and 3.5mpkWh - equating to 217 miles of real-world driving - in the bigger-battery Pro+. Acceptable, then, if not class-leading. That is also quite some way short of the 3.8mpkWh we saw from the larger, faster Cupra Born and Kia Niro EV we tested in spring, or the Fiat 500 that we also tested in winter. 

Originally, we had an interesting experience rapid-charging the 03, with failed charges at 50kW Gridserve chargers – something that has now, in 2024, been fixed.

When we found a 150kW unit to do the charging test, the 03 maintained around 67kW for most of the session. Even so, an e-208 or MG 4 can charge at 100kW or more.

Ora is offering a five-year unlimited-mileage vehicle warranty, and an eight-year, 100,000-mile battery warranty. It is not the longest warranty but does give some reassurance that this new brand stands behind its product.


Building cars is hard. We may criticise new models for the finer points of ride and handling, minor practicality issues, or electric range that’s slightly behind the class average but, by and large, all modern cars feel like thoroughly engineered products. And that’s a credit to the long and rigorous test and development procedures, as well as more than a century of iterative improvement.

So when a new-to-Europe brand launches a new car like the 03, we must praise it for hitting a competitive mark in some, if not quite all, ways. It will draw in potential buyers with likeably cheerful styling and a plush interior. For its size, it’s quite keenly priced, so if someone was considering a Fiat 500 or Mini Electric as a predominantly urban EV, the 03 could be a viable alternative that offers a bit more space.

Compared like for like with cars such as the Vauxhall Corsa Electric, however, it lags on range, charging, long-distance comfort, ease of use, multimedia and assisted driving (no matter what NCAP says). What’s more, a lot of the finer details, like missing features and system glitches, suggest this car isn’t finished and needs another cycle of development.

Long-term reports

Read our Ora 03 long-term report

What's the performance like in varying weather conditions?

We actually managed to beat the manufacturer's 0-62mph time, even in damp conditions. But in these same conditions we find the traction control to be a bit too strong.

Seat comfort on extended drive

The faux-leather is soft enough, but the lack of lumbar support makes it uncomfortable on long drives.

Is the infotainment responsive?

The infotainment is a mess ergonomically, not helped by how slow and unresponsive it can be. 

What's the battery range like?

We've only tested the smaller-battery model. We clocked 150 miles of range in regular driving, and 130 miles including the motorway. Some way off the manufacturer's claimed 193 miles of range.

What's the practicality like?

Not very good. The rear seat space is up there with the best in class, but the boot is tiny. No errand is a simple task with a boot this small.

How did it cope with public charging?

It didn't get on with several public chargers, and was slow to top up at the ones it did like.

Will Rimell

Will Rimell
Title: News editor

Will is a journalist with more than eight years experience in roles that range from news reporter to editor. He joined Autocar in 2022 as deputy news editor, moving from a local news background.

In his current role as news editor, Will’s focus is on setting Autocar's news agenda; he also manages Autocar Business and Haymarket's aftermarket publication CAT.

Writing is, of course, a big part of his role too. Stories come in many forms, from interviewing top executives, reporting from car launches, and unearthing exclusives.

Illya Verpraet

Illya Verpraet Road Tester Autocar
Title: Road Tester

As part of Autocar’s road test team, Illya drives everything from superminis to supercars, and writes reviews, comparison tests, as well as the odd feature and news story. 

Much of his time is spent wrangling the data logger and wielding the tape measure to gather the data for Autocar’s eight-page road tests, which are the most rigorous in the business thanks to independent performance, fuel consumption and noise figures.