Bakkies are big business in South Africa. The Foton Motor Company, who traditionally has only dwelled in the commercial side of the automotive industry, has its eye on a big piece of market share. But the Tunland pick-up, launched in South Africa this week, goes up against stiff competition.
It has to be noted that this isn’t Foton’s first attempt in this segment; the Thunda pick-up has been around for a fair bit, and according company executives will still be available locally as more of a workhorse whereas the brand new Tunland takes on the leisure and recreational end of the pick-up market.
They’re not mucking about either – the Tunland is aimed at the likes of segment bests such as the old South African favourite Toyota Hilux, the handsome and huge VW Amarok, Isuzu’s tough-as-nails KB and the immensely competent combination of the new Ford Ranger and Mazda BT-50. Lofty expectations or a calculated offensive? We got behind the wheel of the range-topping 2,8 Luxury 4×4 double cab to find out.
No tracing paper used here
The Tunland’s design is very distinctive and unlike the majority of auto manufacturers in China, Foton has been quite original with the looks of its new pick-up. There are no tell-tale copy and paste elements of other vehicles (especially from other manufacturers) and overall, the Tunland’s build quality seems on par with well-established brands in this segment.
Inside it is a similarly impressive affair. There’s no pungent aroma upon entering the cabin (a trait plaguing many Chinese vehicles), fit and finish are good, and Foton claims that in terms of cabin space the Tunland is second only to Volkswagen’s Amarok. Sure, some of the plastics are rough to the touch and the digital readout in-between the tachometer and speedometer is difficult to read when the ambient light level is high, but overall the Foton is neither repulsive or overly dull. There’s an eccentric mix of faux-wood trim and a sort of brushed alloy-look plastic that adds contrast to the straightforward grey tone of the interior on this particular unit.
Cummins-sourced powerplant delivers
To power the Tunland, Foton turned to diesel engine specialists Cummins and through its relationship with the Columbus, Indiana-based engine and power system company sourced the American firm’s 2,8 turbodiesel powerplant for its new pick-up. In theory, the use of a proven engine can only mean good things for the Tunland, and in practice, it doesn’t fall short.
At idle, the turbodiesel sounds like almost any other on the market, but out on the road it must be said that it was noisier than I expected, and that goes for low-speed cruising as well as barrelling along at the national limit. At first, I suspected sketchy NVH levels on the part of the Tunland, but with very little wind noise and intrusions from road imperfections and a little off-road outing in Rust de Winter, I can only blame the engine.
The package does make up for its rowdiness with a decent amount of power (120 kW at 3 600 r/min) and adequate amount of torque (360 N.m at 1 800 r/min) as well as an Euro IV emissions rating. Through the gears there were no real issues, except that optimum momentum was only really achieved above 2 500 r/min because the Cummins motor felt slightly lifeless below 2 000 r/min. The actual process of shifting the five-speed gearbox is a less pleasant affair as it felt like running a spoon through thick porridge and then never really felt as if the ratios were engaged properly.
Competent on and off the beaten track
The route took us out of Gauteng towards Limpopo and wasn’t exactly marked by faultless asphalt, nevertheless the Tunland impressed with its high comfort levels and general refinement (apart from the aforementioned diesel clatter). Over some rougher surfaces there were no rattles or unexpected vibrations in the cabin, which was a welcome surprise. The suspension in particular proved quite compliant on the various B-roads that made up our route.
The off-road challenges laid out for media at the Rust de Winter 4×4 Club’s facilities were easily traversed by the Tunland as well. The buttons to select the driving modes (2H, 4H and 4L) are very accessible on the facia, but I encountered some difficulty engaging low range at first – even while the vehicle was stationary (which is a requirement when selecting this mode), although 2H and 4H can be selected at up to 80 km/h. Some forward momentum was all it took for the system to show that the preferred mode had been selected.
Plenty of features too
The Tunland comes with most of the nice-to-haves in this segment, including an MP3/USB compatible audio system with four speakers (two on the lower spec model), electrically operated windows, ABS with EBD, auto-locking doors, front and rear foglamps and pre-tensioners on the front safety belts. The Tunland falls behind the segment in the safety and hardcore off-road ability stakes, however, with only two airbags as standard and no diff-lock.
It’s obvious that the Tunland is no limp-wristed effort and thanks to extensive development and testing for our market, this new Chinese bakkie seems capable of handling the strenuous conditions to which South African vehicles are subjected. Like the most recent Chinese new vehicles we’ve experienced, the Tunland bears testament to the potential of vehicles that hail from that corner of the globe. At R354 950 though, I’m not quite sure how local consumers will swallow the hefty premium from a relatively unknown brand in SA, even if it does undercut most of the big names in the segment on price.
Model: Foton Tunland DC 4×4 2,8 Luxury
Price: R354 950
0-100 km/h: n/a
Max speed: n/a
Fuel consumption: 8,3 litres/100 km (claimed)
CO2: 219 g/km
Payload: 925 kg
Service Plan: five years/70 000 km