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Foton's big, fancy bakkie reaches SA

Until now, Chinese bakkies have pretty much 'known their place'.

Not renowned for much in the way of quality or comfort, they've always slotted well below the Japanese mainstream as 'cheapie' alternatives for those wanting to save a pretty packet (at least initially).

The new Foton Thunda is a direct challenger to the Hilux and friends. 4x4 double cab models start at R334 950.The new Foton Thunda is a direct challenger to the Hilux and friends. 4x4 double cab models start at R334 950.The new Foton Thunda is a direct challenger to the Hilux and friends. 4x4 double cab models start at R334 950.The new Foton Thunda is a direct challenger to the Hilux and friends. 4x4 double cab models start at R334 950.The new Foton Thunda is a direct challenger to the Hilux and friends. 4x4 double cab models start at R334 950.The new Foton Thunda is a direct challenger to the Hilux and friends. 4x4 double cab models start at R334 950.The new Foton Thunda is a direct challenger to the Hilux and friends. 4x4 double cab models start at R334 950.The new Foton Thunda is a direct challenger to the Hilux and friends. 4x4 double cab models start at R334 950.The new Foton Thunda is a direct challenger to the Hilux and friends. 4x4 double cab models start at R334 950.The new Foton Thunda is a direct challenger to the Hilux and friends. 4x4 double cab models start at R334 950.

Now one of the Chinese manufacturers is targeting the mainstream bakkies from Ford, Toyota, Isuzu and Volkswagen and it's Foton that's making this bold move with its new Tunland.

COMPETITIVE PRICING

It's just hit South African streets offering a choice of two double cab 4x4 models, namely the 2.8 Comfort at R334 950 and the 2.8 Luxury at R354 950. This makes them in the region of R50 000 to R100 000 more affordable than the aforementioned Japanese rivals. It also claims to offer one of the most spacious interiors in its class as well as competitive load box dimensions.

A wider range is set to go on sale next year, with 4x2 double cabs scheduled for January 2013 and single cab and extended cab body styles due in the second half of that year.

GLOBAL APPEAL?

Foton says that its new bakkie was designed primarily with global markets in mind and it's clearly not just using South Africa as a 'dumping ground' as the bakkie will also be sold in countries like Australia, Thailand, Mexico and Brazil, as well as in parts of Eastern Europe.

South Africa is the first export market to get the Tunland, meaning we have the honour of being the 'Guinea pigs'.

You in the mood for a big claim?

Foton claims its Tunland “matches up or beats its premium range rivals in terms of on-road and off-road performance.” However, we'll have to wait until we've road tested one before we can verify this with any degree of certainty.

CUMMINS DIESEL POWER

In the meantime, let's take a look at what it has to offer. Initially there will be only one engine option in the form of a 2.8-litre turbodiesel but the release also mentions a 2.2-litre petrol engine, which we presume will come on stream at a later stage.

The oil burner is not the old (and underpowered) Isuzu-based powerplant that seems to power every second Chinese bakkie out there. This is a new unit designed and built (albeit in China) by US engine manufacturer Cummins.

With 120kW on tap from 3600rpm and 360Nm from 1800rpm, the 2.8-litre intercooled turbodiesel matches the power output of the 3-litre Toyota Hilux and the torque output of the 3-litre Isuzu. The vehicle has a payload of 925kg and towing capacity of 2500kg.

Foton claims it's capable of a competitive 13.5 second 0-100km/h time and a governed top speed of 160km/h. It shouldn't be too heavy on the juice either, with Foton claiming a combined consumption figure of 8.3 litres per 100km.

The engine can also run on 500ppm diesel, but the downside is that service intervals have been cut down to 10 000km. The service plan is also slightly below par. It is valid for five years, but only applies to the first 70 000km. The warranty is a dead-average 3-year/100 000km deal.

COMFORTING THOUGHTS

Both models are fitted with 16-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, park distance control, electric windows and mirrors, central locking and a four-speaker audio system with CD/USB/Aux inputs. Safety kit includes dual front airbags and ABS brakes.

Among other small additions, the Luxury specification adds leather seats to the mix.

Of more concern than safety features is the safety rating and for now we'll have to rely on its four-star rating achieved in the Chinese crash testing procedure, said to be similar to EuroNCAP.

LOCALLY TESTED

Foton's South African division was involved in the planning and development of the Tunland for more than four years and the vehicle has also been tested for African conditions, including a stint up the gruelling Baboon's Pass in Lesotho.

The Tunland was developed by a team of 50 engineers from Europe, America and Japan and extensively tested overseas, with prototypes covering more than 150 000km over rough roads.

DEALER BACK-UP

The Tunland will be sold through 34 dealerships countrywide and Foton expects the dealer count to increase to 40 by the end of 2013. While some of the dealers also sell and service Chery products, MD Brett Soso says the two brands will be managed as separate businesses.

“We are very conscious of the need to provide top quality sales and after-sales

service to buyers in this market and for this reason we have instituted rigorous

training sessions for both the technical and sales staff at our dealers.

“All the dealers have had to purchase the necessary special tools and diagnostic tester to ensure top quality service,” Soso explained.

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