The T9 was meant to have hit South African showrooms before the end of 2023, but with the first shipment of bakkies being stuck on the water amid SA’s shipping crisis, its launch has been pushed back to early 2024.
However, the importer was keen to give local media a taste of the new entrant, and so we found ourselves spending a week with one of the prototype models.
Given that our unit has been taken apart and put together numerous times for training purposes, we’re not presenting this as a normal road test but rather as a sneak preview of sorts.
The new Chinese contender gets off to a good start in the looks department. Its big, bold grille and swept-back daytime running light clusters make a statement out on the road, and one bystander even compared it to a Raptor.
Priced from R529,900 and R649,000 through Lux and Super Lux spec grades and 4x2 and 4x4 drive configurations, it is priced at the lower end of the double cab spectrum but not quite in the bargain bin.
This is very much a midrange contender, and just like its rival from GWM, the JAC T9 doesn’t quite have the firepower to match the bigger-engined Japanese one-tonners. Its 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine offers up 125kW and 410Nm, paired with an eight-speed automatic gearbox, and 4x4 models have all the expected hardware, such as low-range gearing and a diff lock.
We found the engine to be noticeably laggy on pull-off, but once the turbo is spooling, it offers decent acceleration, and it cruises very comfortably and quietly at higher speeds on rural roads and freeways.
Given the price positioning, what’s on offer here is very appropriate, if only they could do something about that lag at altitude.
On the upside, we were very impressed with the ride quality, which felt surprisingly comfortable by bakkie standards even when unladen.
The interior was another pleasant surprise, at first.
JAC makes no secret of its intention to move upmarket, and this shows very clearly in the cabin with its quilt-patterned leather seats and abundance of faux satin chrome trim on the dashboard and centre console. Dare I say it feels semi-premium?
But some of the ergonomic features were a bit iffy.
I’m not sure if this is representative of the production models, but the shift-by-wire gear lever on our prototype was a bit finicky. At times I had trouble getting it into gear, even after discovering that the lever must be shifted to the right, even though the gearing diagram implies it should go to the left.
There was no reach adjustment for the steering wheel, which is positioned relatively close to the dashboard, and as a result, I didn’t feel completely comfortable behind the wheel.
The cockpit area is dominated by a large 10.4-inch (26.4cm) vertical touchscreen with modern-looking graphics. JAC is clearly keeping with the times here, but a separate screen section for the climate controls would make it more user-friendly. Although there are physical buttons for most of the climate functions, you can’t see the temperature or fan speed on the screen if you’re plugged into Apple CarPlay, for instance.
But other than those few niggles, the T9’s cabin was a pleasant place to pass time, and the interior space was more than acceptable.
Oh, and it’s loaded with features too.
Even the base model comes with leather seats with electric adjustment for the driver, as well as automatic climate control, cruise control, a multi-function steering wheel, and the aforementioned infotainment system.
Opt for the “Super Lux” that we had on test, and you get a surround-view camera as well as a sunroof, rear privacy glass, and heated front seats with electric adjustment for the front passenger.
Like the GWM P-Series, the JAC T9 is perhaps not a mortal threat to the established players but certainly desirable enough to get budget-conscious bakkie buyers to sit up and take notice.
Its bold looks and well-equipped cabin will make the new Chinese contender an attractive option at this price point.
There are downsides, such as turbo lag and the aforementioned ergonomic annoyances, but we did test a prototype model after all, and the bakkies you find in the showroom could prove to be better specimens in the real world.
JAC is also planning to expand the line-up in 2024 with a 2.0-litre turbopetrol engine option as well as plug-in hybrid and fully electric variants.
@jason.woosey Got behind the wheel of the new JAC T9 ahead of it’s launch in early 2024. It’s bigger than a Hilux, but can it compete with the heavy hitters? #bakkie #JAC #doublecab #4x4 #CapCut ♬ original sound - car stories