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In-depth reviews

GWM Ora 03 review - a surprising small EV

“The GWM Ora 03 isn’t without its flaws, but it’s still a more compelling small EV than you might think”

Carbuyer Rating

4.0 out of 5

Owners Rating
Be the first to review
Price
£31,995 - £34,995

Pros

  • Stylish
  • Spacious interior
  • Usable electric range

Cons

  • Small boot
  • Light steering
  • Slow charging

Verdict - Is the GWM Ora 03 a good car?

While it does have its flaws, a competitive price, a well-made interior, and a usable electric range make the GWM Ora 03 one of the best small electric cars you can buy. Add on top a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating and decent range and there are plenty of reasons to consider the 03. This is an increasingly competitive class, however, and the MG4 is more fun to drive and has a bigger boot, while the 03 also has overly nannying safety tech.

GWM Ora 03 range

It’s clear that China now wants to be taken seriously as a titan of the automotive world; Chinese-owned MG has made some of the most affordable and compelling EVs of late, and numerous manufacturers turn to the People’s Republic to manufacture electric models. 

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One of the first Chinese cars of the current EV revolution was at first hard to mention without a smirk, as this small hatchback was launched as the Ora Funky Cat… before the decision was made to tone down its name to 03 instead.

Best small electric carsTop 10 best small electric cars 2024

So, what’s in a name? Well, Ora (standing for ‘Open, Reliable, Alternative’) is owned by GWM (Great Wall Motors), one of the largest Chinese vehicle manufacturers. The Ora brand is set to have a wider global presence than other Chinese car brands, and in the second half of 2024, a larger GWM Ora 07 will arrive to take on the Tesla Model 3 and Hyundai Ioniq 6.

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The 03 is an all-electric hatchback that sits in a niche in the new car market below the Golf-sized Volkswagen ID.3 and above the MINI Cooper supermini. The 03 costs from around £32,000, but that’s only part of the story because it’s regularly available on attractive finance and leasing deals.

While the 03’s boot is more comparable in size to its smaller rivals, Ora has set its sights on the larger VW and designed the car to be able to transport four six-foot passengers in comfort. We’re surprised to say that it’s worked; not only is the 03’s interior spacious enough for multiple adults, but it’s plush and stylish as well. Buyers can spec a two-tone interior, and even with the standard black-on-black colour scheme, the cabin is more characterful than the equivalent Nissan Leaf. Its main drawback is a small boot, which dents its practicality when compared with the boxier shape of the MG4.

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There was one specification to choose from at launch: the highly-equipped First Edition. Starting at around £32,000, this came fitted with a 169bhp electric motor and 48kWh battery, which provides a range of up to 193 miles. That figure unfortunately falls short of the entry-level ID.3’s 265-mile range. The lineup now includes a Pure+ trim with this powertrain, along with a Pro+ version with a larger 63kWh battery for a range of up to 260 miles, albeit still with sluggish charging speeds and no heat pump for improved winter efficiency.

Range, charging & running costs

The 03’s range isn’t class-leading but should be more than sufficient for city driving

From launch, the Ora 03 was only offered with one battery option: a 48kWh unit providing a range of up to 193 miles on a single charge. During our time with the car, we managed to return around 180 miles on a charge without much effort, meaning over 190 miles should be possible with a light right foot. However, it’s also worth noting that further testing of the Funky Cat in freezing winter temperatures resulted in a range of around 134 miles, which was 57 miles less than an MG4 in the same conditions.

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To put these figures in context, an entry-level Volkswagen ID.3 offers an official WLTP range of 265 miles, while a base Cupra Born manages one less at 264 miles. While this doesn’t sound optimistic for our feline friend, it’s worth noting the Chinese hatchback costs around £5,000 less than its Volkswagen Group counterparts. 

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From spring 2024 the Pro+ version arrived with a 63kWh battery and a range of around 260 miles, which should appeal to drivers looking to cover longer distances frequently. In our experience, a real-world range of more than 200 miles is possible, but recharging isn’t the quickest. 

As standard, all 03's get access to 64kW fast charging; plug in to a compatible public fast charger and this will charge the Pure+ from 15-80% in less than 45 minutes, while the Pro+ takes around 48 minutes. This is rather disappointing as even smaller electric cars such as the Peugeot E-208 offer faster 100kW charging, so we hope charging will be improved with an update at a later date.

No matter which version of the 03 you choose, all should appeal to company car drivers. Because it’s an electric car, the 03 sits in the low 2% Benefit-in-Kind tax bracket. It’s also exempt from VED (road tax) and slots into the relatively low insurance group 21, keeping running costs to a minimum.

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Given electric cars have very few moving parts, the Ora will only need to be serviced every two years/18,000 miles – whichever comes soonest. The brand has confirmed that its dealer and servicing network will be handled by IM Group – who are also responsible for Subaru and Isuzu.

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The Ora 03 comes with a five-year, unlimited-mileage warranty – this dwarfs the three-year, 60,000-mile coverage that’s offered on both the VW and Cupra. Ora will also cover the battery pack for up to eight years and 100,000 miles for extra peace of mind.

Electric motor, drive & performance

The 03 feels at home in town and on the motorway, however, its steering is overly light

While the MG4 hatchback proves affordable electric family cars can be fun to drive, the Ora 03 is more positioned as a relaxed around-town cruiser. The car’s steering is overly light – often to its detriment – and we found the only way to somewhat counterbalance this was to drive the car in its ‘Sport’ mode the entire time. There’s little body lean in corners, but the 03 can feel a bit vague and lazy to change direction.

Despite this, the 03 remains free from much body lean, no matter which road you drive it on. Sometimes this is to its detriment, as the suspension is rather firm, picking out road imperfections the Citroen e-C4 would shrug off and allowing quite a bit of road noise into the cabin at higher speeds. The 03 supposedly offers a one-pedal driving feature, but this is only partly true – while the car will slow itself down when you take your foot off the accelerator, it won’t bring the car to a complete stop, meaning you’ll still have to use the brakes in bumper-to-bumper traffic. 

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No matter which version of the 03 you choose, all are powered by a single, front-mounted electric motor with 169bhp. Ora claims the Funky Cat will get from 0-62mph in 8.3 seconds; this, again, is behind rivals, but it feels much quicker than the numbers suggest thanks to plenty of instant torque from the motor. In fact, its throttle pedal can be a bit sensitive, with wheel spin from the front tyres if you aren’t delicate.

Its acceleration feels almost on par with the MG4 at lower speeds, but it does tail off more noticeably once above 50mph. In Normal mode, we found the throttle pedal easier to modulate, so it’s possible to accelerate smoothly.

Interior & comfort

The 03 has a suitably stylish interior, filled with tech and high-quality materials

The real star of the show is the 03’s interior as this is a significant step above Volkswagen’s offering. The majority of the materials used – bar those on the steering wheel – feel plush and soft to the touch. Buyers can choose from either an all-black or a two-tone colour scheme for the cabin, but both get comfortable seats and premium-looking stitching. It’s one of the best-looking interiors in its class, but not everything is perfect – the gear selector wheel spins with little resistance and it’s hard to see the steering wheel controls until they are lit up.

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The centre of the Ora 03’s cabin – and those of the majority of modern cars – is the infotainment touchscreen. This measures 10.25-inches in diameter and sits alongside another identically-sized screen which acts as a set of digital dials. The system overall is incredibly responsive to your inputs, however, we wish certain features – such as the climate controls – weren’t buried in endless menus. We also found some of the on-screen text was too small to easily read on the move, and while the Pro+ trim adds Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, it still felt glitchy when we tested it in April 2024.

At launch, there was only one specification available: the First Edition. This came as standard with LED headlights, 18-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, sat-nav, keyless entry and a 360-degree camera system. 

Emphasising just how fast-paced the EV market is, this has already been replaced with a mildly tweaked version in Pure+ and Pro+ trim levels. The former comes with features including wireless phone charging, facial recognition, electric front seats and a voice assistant that responds to “Hello Ora” prompts. Along with its bigger battery, Pro+ adds heated, cooled and massaging front seats, a heated steering wheel, a panoramic sunroof, a powered tailgate, tinted rear glass and automatic parking assistance for around £3,000 extra.

Practicality & boot space

The 03 offers plenty of space for passengers; it’s just a shame the same can’t be said for luggage

Electric cars typically offer greater amounts of interior space than their combustion-engined counterparts, due to the lack of a combustion engine which takes up a large amount of space. While the 03 doesn’t have a ‘frunk’ under the bonnet like a Tesla Model Y, it does offer plenty of room for passengers.

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GWM Ora has designed the car to be able to carry four six-foot passengers with ease and we’re pleased to confirm that it can. Kneeroom in the rear seats is slightly better than the MG4, but a sloping roofline means the tradeoff is a bit less head space. Of course, like many family hatchbacks, there’s also a fifth seat in the middle of the second row; with three sitting abreast it will be tight, however, the lack of a large hump on the floor should mean there’s space for people’s feet. The back seats themselves are rather firm and the base is on the short side, so adults may wish there was some extra under-thigh padding.

What lets the 03 down is its boot space; the hatchback is slightly smaller than the equivalent Volkswagen ID.3 and this is where the size difference is most evident. With just 228 litres of cargo space on offer, the 03’s boot is more akin to something from the class below – such as the Vauxhall Corsa Electric – rather than a full-sized electric family car. Even the MINI Cooper E isn’t far behind, with 210 litres of space.

The rear seats can fold down, but the resulting 858 litres of cargo space is still rather disappointing. The boot aperture itself is also rather narrow, with a loading lip that’s further off the ground than the MG4’s.

Reliability & safety

The 03 has a great safety rating, but GWM Ora is an unknown quantity when it comes to reliability

Being a new automotive brand, it’s understandable questions will arise regarding reliability. While Ora or its parent brand GWM are yet to have ever featured in our Driver Power customer satisfaction surveys, the relative simplicity of electric cars – with fewer moving parts than combustion-engined models – should mean the 03 will be painless to own.

What we do know, however, is that the Chinese hatchback is amongst the safest new cars on the road, indicated by its five-star Euro NCAP safety rating. In fact, it topped Euro NCAP’s rankings for a ‘Small Family Car’ with an excellent adult occupant protection score of 92%. Its 90% score in the Safety Assist category was also very high. As standard, the First Edition car came with a wide range of driver assistance kit which includes adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring and traffic sign recognition.

Some of these driving aids have come in for flack for being too nagging and sensitive, and while the Pro+ we tried in 2024 was an improvement, the lane-keep assist system will still prompt you frequently and even intervene via steering adjustments from time to time. This can now be deactivated more easily by swiping down on the infotainment screen and pressing a button to turn it off, but this is legally required on every trip.

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Which Is Best?

Cheapest

  • Name
    126kW Pure+ 48kWh 5dr Auto
  • Gearbox type
    Auto
  • Price
    £31,995

Most Economical

  • Name
    126kW Pure+ 48kWh 5dr Auto
  • Gearbox type
    Auto
  • Price
    £31,995

Fastest

  • Name
    126kW Pro+ 63kWh 5dr Auto
  • Gearbox type
    Auto
  • Price
    £34,995

Andy is Carbuyer's managing editor, with more than a decade of experience helping consumers find their perfect car. He has an MA in automotive journalism and has tested hundreds of vehicles.

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