Enter the Dragon
The Foton Tunland is going up against some very entrenched competitors. But it is changing minds, winning hearts and demanding respect.
Claim to fame: Bruce Lee was an actor, martial artist, philosopher and filmmaker. Even though he died in 1973, he is still one of the most recognisable martial artists in the world.
Great quote: “Take things as they are. Punch when you have to punch. Kick when you have to kick.”
Marlon Brando was a phenomenal actor. Just consider some of his iconic roles. There was Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire, Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront, Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather and Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now.
There is one role, however, that isn’t nearly as well known or celebrated. This was Brando’s portrayal of Sakini in the film The Teahouse of the August Moon in 1956. In the film, Brando plays, in most unconvincing fashion imaginable, an Asian man. It is offensive, absurd, and by modern standards, horribly racist.
Sadly, though, this wasn’t an isolated incident. Mickey Rooney as Mr Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, for instance, is yet another notorious example. Up until the 1960s, Asians in Hollywood movies were really nothing more than stereotyped sideshow characters who were either villains or comic relief.
But this started to change when Bruce Lee arrived on the scene. He was a phenomenon. Not only did he play a massive role in popularising Chinese martial arts in the United States, but he also had a huge impact on Hollywood. Bruce Lee is credited with changing the way film studios viewed Asian characters. Everyone who saw him knew he was leading man material. His film Enter the Dragon is still a classic today.
Now what does that have to do with the Tunland? Well, much like Lee, the Foton Tunland is changing perceptions. And much like Lee, who moved to the United States when he was 18, the Tunland is a product of both China and America.
Foton created a joint venture in partnership with Cummins in 2006, the cumbersomely titled Beijing Foton Cummins Engine Company, which produces diesel engines for light commercial vehicles. A 2.8-litre oilburner from this company does duty in the Tunland. It’s a solid engine, producing 120kW and 360Nm of torque. Sure, by the latest standards this doesn’t seem like an awful lot, but the Foton doesn’t feel underpowered when you drive it. Moreover, the engine feels robust and reliable. It feels as dependable as a bakkie should. Moreover that torque, which is available all the way from 1 800 to 3 000 r/min, makes the vehicle responsive and easy to drive.
This is also true when you take the Tunland off-road. We’ve spent a lot of time with this bakkie off the beaten track, and it’s never let us down. It lacks a lockable rear differential or traction control, but it has a limited-slip diff at the rear, loads of torque and good ground clearance (220mm). It’s got a Borg Warner transfer case and Dana axles (the kind you find in a Jeep). In fact, the Tunland boasts a long list of well-known parts. It’s also got a Getrag transmission and Bosch electronics, including ABS. Yes, no one can accuse Foton of skimping on parts.
This all results in one thing: reliability. Chinese vehicles had something of an iffy reputation until a few years ago, but that’s quickly changing. And the Tunland is playing a prominent role in this. After all, building a bakkie that can stand up to African conditions isn’t easy, but Foton has done it. This is a tough bakkie that can hold its own in any company.
It’s also a lot more spacious, comfortable and well equipped than you’d probably expect. It’s got Bluetooth connectivity, steering-wheel-mounted controls and a cabin that can comfortably seat four adults. The 4×4 version can carry a payload of 950kg (the 4×2 has a payload of 1 040kg).
Overall, the Foton Tunland is a solid offering in the highly competitive double cab segment. It’s not a Chinese bakkie. It’s a bakkie. A proper bakkie. No qualifier needed. The dragon has arrived. And it’s here to stay.
Foton Tunland ISF 2.8 Luxury
Engine: 2.8-Litre Turbodiesel
Transmission: Five-Speed Auto
4wd System: Selectable 4WD with Low Range
Traction Aids: Rear Limited-Slip Differential
Ground Clearance: 225mm
Price: R409 995
Illustrations: Tauriq Loofer
Photos: Jannie Herbst and Deon van der Walt