TESTED FOTON TUNLAND 4WD UTE
Foton’s Tunland 4x4 double cab ute continues to set the standard for well-priced, Chinese vehicles reckons NZ4WD Editor Ross MacKay.
Truth be told I’ve been waiting for a Chinese-built vehicle like Foton’s Tunland ute for some time. Companies in ‘ The Middle Kingdom’ have been making some very good – albeit still ultimately price-focused – motorcycles for some time. And when a mate told me a tale about sourcing wheels there I realised that times were indeed changing. To illustrate his point, my wheel-marketing mate proffered his cell-phone and invited me to scroll through images of the factory one of his contract manufacturers had just opened. “They bowled the old one,” he said, “and built a brand new one on the site. Everything in it came from Germany.”
Commercial vehicle specialist Foton would appear to be the motor vehicle equivalent. On the fast track since it was founded in 1996, the Beijing-based Beiqi Foton Motor Co Ltd is now a truly global company. It has R&D centres in Germany, Japan and Taiwan, joint ventures with Cummins and Mercedes-Benz, and supply agreements with (amongst others), US companies Borg Warner and Dana, and German outfits Getrag, ZF and Bosch. Here Foton is distributed by Jeep and Alfa Romeo importer and distributor Ateco Automotive. The Tunland test unit we were offered was the 4x4 Double Cab ute beautifully finished in a lustrous metallic grey and equipped as standard with 17-inch diameter alloy wheels, branded tray liner and leather seats front and rear.
Since colleague Damien O’Carroll wrote up the first report published in this magazine about the Tunland 4x4 Double Cab (May 2014 issue) Ateco has addressed his main concern (lack of stability control), the latest model coming complete, now, with Electronic Stability Control ( ESC) incorporating ABS, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution ( EBD), Traction Control (TCS) and Hill Descent Control, Hill Hold Control (a handy thing to have with a manual ‘box as it turns out) and Hydraulic Brake Assist.
Discs all round
There’s also been a brake upgrade of note; from discs up front and drums at the rear to discs front and rear. Critics, however, will still sniff that the uprated unit is still only worth three ANCAP stars. The Tunland is a true 4x4, hi/lo ratio on/ off-roader with a BorgWarner transfer case, limited slip (rear) diff and the ability to move from 2WD to 4WD (high) on-the-fly and at speeds up to 80km/h. Want low range 4x4 though and you have to stop and flick the switch. First impressions on picking the test unit up were good. Very good in fact. Like its current double cab competition the Tunland is built big, with a decent step up to a large, roomy cabin and ‘master of all he surveys’ view from the nicely contoured driver’s seat. From the outside – and even under the bonnet – it is virtually impossible to distinguish the Tunland’s Beijing-build from that of – say – Thailand (where Ford’s Ranger and Mazda’s BT-50) or Argentina (VW Amarok). Yes both the build quality and fit and finish are that good. Inside, though, despite a sleek contemporary look and layout, the plastic has a thin, hardedged feel as does the carpet and plastic used on the kick panels. I’m not quite sure faux rosewood highlights have a place in a working truck either!
What left the most lasting impression on me, however, were the actual daily driving dynamics. Bar a lusty diesel rattle at idle and a need to be rowed along to get the most out it, the Cummins engine is a beauty. So too is the Getrag five-speed manual gearbox, despite its rather old-fashioned (longish) throw and rubbery feel. Gearing – like the turning circle - errs on the high side, making the Tunland a bit of a work in progress around town (trust me your forearms get a real workout in tightly-packaged, low-ceilinged basement car parks!) but turn-in itself is crisp, direction change direct and ride quality well above (yes, that’s well ABOVE) the sector average. The lack of an auto trans option naturally limits the Tunland’s appeal to the city ute set. But to everyone else, at give- or-take $ 35,000, it has to represent one of the best value propositions on the market at the moment.
Foton Tunland Double Cab 4x4