“What price a good solid 4×4 turbo-diesel double-cab ute with a contemporary look and feel but not the familiar name and backstory of a Ford Ranger or Toyota Hilux?
Easy. The latest T3 Euro five-compliant version of Chinese manufacturer Foton’s Tunland is now on sale here with an MRP of $36,990. That’s right. A big brand new double cab turbo-diesel 4×4 ute with most of the bells and whistles of similar utes built and sold here by the big players in the market, with a three-year/100,000km warranty and three-year roadside assistance package, all for ‘second-hand’ money.
What’s the catch?
I’ve now covered close to 1000km on and off-road in two different Tunlands and I don’t mind admitting I’m struggling to come up with one. Okay, that’s not quite true. The obvious difference between a Tunland and a Ranger/Hilux/Colorado/Triton et al at the moment is the Tunland is only available with a five-speed manual transmission and despite an interior now more than a match for its Thai-built competition, the Tunland also lacks a reversing camera. The airbag count (one each for driver and passenger) is down on the Thai-built ute sector market leaders and at just 2500kg ultimate braked towing capacity (while still more than adequate) it now lags behind the new 3500kg benchmark. But that, ladies and gentlemen, is about it.
Sure, you can turn your nose up at its mainland Chinese origins, but Kiwis by and large are an expedient lot and I, for one, see a bright future for the Tunland and for Foton in general in this country. For a start, after first arriving here as part of the Ateco stable (Fiat, Chrysler, Jeep etc etc) Foton Tunland utes are now imported and distributed by Foton New Zealand, the Hamilton-based company originally set up to import Foton trucks. Plugging gaps in the dealer network is still a work in progress but as national product and sales manager Bevan Dale says, “it’s nice going to work each day knowing you are 100 percent focused on just the one brand, Foton.” For its part, Foton makes much of the amount and quality of technology it buys and puts into every Tunland. Check out a brochure and names like Cummins (the engine), Getrag (gearbox), Borg-Warner (transfer case), Dana (axles and differentials) and Bosch (ABS brake system with ESC) feature prominently. Which is all very well though I’m of the opinion that a Tunland can sell on its own merits.
The latest T3 spec also includes a full suite of electronic driver aids with the system including traction control (TCS), stability control (ESC), brake force distribution (EBD), hill descent control (HDC) and hill hold control (HHC), as well as hydraulic brake assist (HBA). Climb up and into the high riding cabin of a Tunland and you’ll find it is a match for any other mid-range 4×4 Ute on the market, regardless of price point. The steering wheel (height adjustable) is leather-bound and incorporates radio station/volume control and Bluetooth connectivity for hands-free use of your phone.
The instrument panel has a classic twin-dial analogue look and feel to it and the dash itself has a clean, open, contemporary style which is not going to date but will be easily upgraded when, for instance, a reversing camera joins the spec list. Quality of the materials themselves and fit and finish of the dash and associated trim has been too easy to criticise on Chinese product in the past. Not this time. Though I will say that the heater/air con controls are a bit fussy and hard to work out and radio/Bluetooth operation is not as intuitive as it could (and arguable should) be. The seats are big and comfortable in a true ‘all-day-behind-the-wheel’ sense of the word and the fabric is a match for anything from Ford, Toyota and Mitsubishi at the moment.
In a week using a Tunland every day I got to appreciate all sorts of things. The key one was the attention to detail considering the price point. While I missed a rear view camera, parking sensors at least alerted me well before my attempts at parking by braille got me into trouble. One bonus feature on top of the usuals like power windows, mirrors, cruise control etc, which really tickled me, was the quick defrost function built into the powered mirrors.
All this ‘bang-for-your-buck’ tiling would be worth nought, however, if the Tunland was a pig to drive. The good news is it is not. Far from it. Not only is the cabin a comfortable and very pleasant place to be, the Tunland is an involving and yes I’d even go as far as saying, a rewarding vehicle to drive. If it reminds me of anything it is the first of the latest generation of Holden Colorados but with nicer steering (responsive and more feel though arguably a turn too many twirls lock to lock) and way better (not as much scuttle shake and far more compliant) ride.
Gearing is pretty much perfect (and that’s not a call I have made in many road tests!) from a stump pulling first to an overdrive fifth and the move (on the move) from 2H to 4H is not only seamless but it is also sound and (almost) sensation-less. Something, again, you can’t say of other similar utes costing considerably more. Off the road the driving impressions were just as positive. Though on the road you have to work the gear lever to make the most of a narrowish band of power, off the road 4WD Low spreads the load and allows you to hold second and even third gears a lot longer than you initially thought. There’s both plenty of ground clearance beneath the diffs front and rear and you’re going to have to be in real trouble to hook up the nose. The factory-fitted tow bar limits ultimate departure angles but that’s easily fixed by a two-piece bar with detachable tongue.
The two Tunlands we drove were 4×4 S models distinguished from the visually virtually identical (i.e. high-riding) $29,990 2WD model by chrome side mirrors and 17 (rather than 16) inch dia. alloy wheels. Both 4x4s were also kitted out with a suite of typical accessories including a nudge bar, deck liner and hard lid, tow bar, tinted side and back windows and upgraded floor mats. I had already noticed more Tunlands on the road before I drove the two test units. Now that I have, I expect to see even more.”