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OFF-ROAD TEST: Fast bakkie… part 1

7 January 2017

  • With an aftermarket suspension and bigger all-terrain tyres (on the original rims) the Foton Tunland is ready to set a benchmark time for #FastBakkie.

Bad-mouthing a man’s bakkie is almost worse than saying something uncouth about his spouse.  Yes siree, the vast majority of local bakkie drivers are extremely loyal to their brand. Their brand is the brand, and the only brand. It’s the fastest, the biggest, the best-looking, the best value for money… it’s everything of everything. And that’s exactly where Fast Bakkie fits in.

Film a bakkie completing a handling test on two wheels in Sweden, and boom… there’s seven million YouTube views. Film two new bakkies dicing in a Free State mealie field with your outdated cellphone camera, post it on a bakkie forum and that ‘viewed’ counter just keeps on ticking over faster than one of the videos with the lovely topless lass riding on the back of a superbike, steering the bike with her feet. Although it is rather irrelevant in real-world driving conditions, how fast a bakkie can go seems to be rather important.

That amateur video of bakkie X beating bakkie Y to the virtual finishing line while taking out some mealies along the way has some real impact. Potential buyers might be persuaded to make a trip to the local dealership to actually drive that vehicle. That got us thinking: which bakkie really is fastest? Surely outright power is not the only yardstick that will determine a clear winner? It must be a combination of power, torque, handling, braking, grip and the driver who will ultimately determine how fast a vehicle can complete the distance between point A and B, right? And let us not forget mechanical reliability… traversing rough terrain at speed requires a certain measure of hardiness, too. And that is, in a roundabout way, how we came up with the definitive test to determine which bakkie really is fastest. We call it, ingeniously, Fast Bakkie.

It works like this: standard bakkie races round a set 1.3km gravel track, featuring fast sections, some slow sections, rough and smooth terrain. And to add drama to proceedings, we’ve included some trees that, ideally, need to be avoided. It’s like a Moose Test, just better. And, the bakkie’s straight-line performance, torque out of slow corners, brakes, handling and ability to avoid an accident (we’ll call it the Tree Test) are tested to the limits. In short, the Fast Bakkie test is the ultimate bakkie performance test.


To kick off this new initiative, and to set a target time for the challengers to beat, we pondered some options. Someone mentioned a supercharged Toyota Hilux V6, which seemed like a great starting point. But then somebody else, maybe a bit more practical and realistic-minded, suggested we focus only on standard double cab turbodiesel bakkies. The vast majority of new double cabs sold today are diesels, so this seemed reasonable.

The rally track at the Gerotek Test facilities, west of Pretoria, was our initial choice as the official Fast Bakkie test track. But closer inspection revealed that the track is in a really rough state; off-road racing vehicles with R500 000 suspension systems will be okay there, but not a standard double cab diesel bakkie driven by Joe Soap or Giniel de Villiers. It was just too rough. So we moved swiftly along to the Karee track at Gerotek, which has fewer dongas and boulders. And we worked out a testing gravel route that includes not one, not two, but eight Tree Tests. We decided to run it over two laps, for a total driving distance of 1.3km.

We also agreed that, although the double cab diesel bakkies should remain as standard as possible, an aftermarket suspension upgrade (available over the counter and not through a Dakar Champions website), as well as tyres of choice on the stock rims, will safeguard the vehicles from suspension and possible tyre damage (because many of the new double cabs come standard with highway terrain tyres that won’t enjoy this test too much). Ah, but we still needed a bakkie. Since we were, quite literally, breaking new ground, we decided to head completely left of field, very left of field.

The Foton Tunland 4×4 is not exactly renowned as a speed machine. On the contrary, it is rather underrated in, well, most departments. But its Cummins 2.8-litre turbodiesel engine delivers 120kW of power and 360Nm of torque, the latter peaking at 1 800r/min. It has Dana axles, BorgWarner transfer case and a Getrag five-speed manual gearbox, with a rear limited slip differential. Its underpinnings are based largely on the Toyota Hilux (Vigo), so we could bolt in a full Old Man Emu Nitrocharger suspension system (including new rear blades). We also swapped the highway terrain tyres (245/75 R16) for more robust General Grabber all-terrains (265/65 R16).

And that was that. For the rest, it was as standard as the day it rolled off the production line in Beijing, China. Finally, we needed a suitable driver. It didn’t help to set a benchmark that someone who normally drives a Volkswagen Golf from the backseat while lying down could break in two attempts. Oh no, we needed the bar to be set at a suitably high level that would take some beating. We asked a middle-aged man from Pretoria to do the driving for us. Sure, he has won a few races. And a few rallies. And competed in the Dakar rally. And had French Dakar champion Stéphane Peterhansel shout “Mon dieu! Mon dieu!” from the passenger seat of a Nissan Hardbody off-road racing car at the same Gerotek. But he’s just a middle-aged man from Pretoria who just happens to drive a double cab diesel bakkie as his daily driver.

That man is Hannes Grobler. Hannes helped us design the 1.3km track, making sure there are fast, slow and a couple of “oh my lord!” moments. Finally, with everything in place, he set off in the Chinese lorry to set a benchmark time. Look, let’s be frank here: we don’t think any Foton engineer or designer ever envisaged a Tunland to go quite as briskly as it did on this track. With four-wheel drive, high range engaged, the middle-aged man from Pretoria made the Chinese bakkie dance sideways around the numerous Tree Tests, jump through the air (but not too wildly, mind), and engage in majestic four-wheel drifts, the Cummins engine hurrying the Tunland along at a surprisingly brusque pace.


After two laps and 1.3km of the track, the Foton stopped the clock at 1:56:67. And that is the first Fast Bakkie benchmark. Will a Hilux 2.8GD-6 beat it, or will it be a Ford Ranger 3.2TDCi? Maybe the new twin-turbo offerings from Nissan or Mitsubishi have the required talents to dethrone the Chinese bakkie? And forget not the two-litres-of-milk-bakkie from Volkswagen. Crikey, and that new three-litre V6 diesel is also coming…

Want a shot at the Fast Bakkie title?
Reckon you are a better driver than a middle-aged man from Pretoria? Reckon your double cab diesel can dodge the Tree Test without any issues, and has enough speed and handling to beat a Chinese Foton Tunland? Then we have some good news: on 18 February 2017, we will host an open day at Gerotek, at this track, and manufacturers or private individuals are welcome to put their double cabs to the test to find out which bakkie really is the fastest of them all.

There are some conditions, of course:
* Mechanical changes are limited to an aftermarket suspension system of choice that must be available for sale in a retail store (over the counter) in South Africa;
* You may fit any tyre you like, as long as it is on the original rim that the bakkie is sold with
* You may bring any driver to the fight, including Stéphane Peterhansel

On the day we’ll provide:
* A medical assistance team
* Marshals and timing equipment
* Some foodstuffs and drinks

Entry will be free (we’re nice like that), but space will be limited, so if you are interested book your spot now… email us at

Foton Tunland 2.8TDI 4×4
Engine 2 780cc four-cylinder turbodiesel
Power 120kW @ 3 600r/min
Torque 360Nm @ 1 800r/min
Gearbox Five-speed manual
4×4 drivetrain Part-time (2H, 4H & 4Low)
4×4 driving aids Rear limited slip differential
Price R409 995
HP per month R8 659

Text: Danie Botha Photographs: Deon van der Walt