The Foton Tunland promises to change the bakkie landscape and prove that a Chinese vehicle can successfully compete with bakkies from more established manufacturers. But can it live up to this promise and coax buyers out of their Hiluxes and KBs? We pitted the Tunland against the new Isuzu KB to find out.
The Foton Tunland is almost certainly the best bakkie ever produced by a Chinese manufacturer. Yes, the GWM Steed 5 is also very respectable, but it doesn’t boast the large frame of the Tunland.
The Steed’s styling and dimensions are rooted in a previous era of bakkie design. The Tunland, however, attempts to take on the established brands at their own game. Foton has produced a powerful diesel bakkie with outsize proportions and aggressive styling. (GWM, by the way, is preparing to throw its hat into this ring with the launch of the new Steed 6. Expect it to arrive in SA later this year.)
But if Foton wants to take on the big boys – and price its Chinese offering close to the R400 000 mark – building the best Chinese bakkie isn’t enough. When you remove the fact that the Tunland was built in China from the equation, and evaluate it simply on performance, can it hold its own against vehicles such as the Hilux, KB and Ranger? And would it be worth paying nearly R400 000 for one?
To find out, we took the Tunland and an Isuzu KB to Serendipity Eco Trails near Modimolle. We wanted to see if the Foton could keep up with the KB in a typical leisure outing. Since it doesn’t have a diff lock, would it be able to tackle the same obstacles as the KB?
The Tunland we tested was the top-spec 4×4 2.8 ISF Luxury, which is priced at a rather hefty R389 950. That seems like a large price tag for a vehicle that hails from a Chinese factory, but as we’ve said, the Tunland isn’t your usual Chinese offering. It boasts the sort of spec sheet that a traditional double cab could be proud of.
The Tunland has a 2,8-litre turbocharged oilburner, produced by Cummins, that develops 120 kW of power and 360 Nm of torque. It also has a Borg-Warner transfer case, and Dana axles – the axles that Jeep uses. It has a four-wheel-drive system, 220mm of ground clearance and a payload capacity of 965kg.
The cabin is impressive. It has leather seats, driver and passenger airbags, an audio system with USB jack, Bluetooth connectivity, a good air conditioner, electric windows and steering wheel-mounted controls.
Overall, the Tunland seems like a solid product. The only glaring omission is a rear differential lock — something that its established competitors all have.
THE OLD CHAMP
When we decided to pit the Foton against one of the latest-generation double cabs from an established bakkie manufacturer, the Isuzu KB seemed like an obvious choice. KB’s three-litre D-TEQ oilburner is similar in nature to the Tunland’s Cummins powerplant. The D-TEQ engine in the latest KB is essentially the same one used in the previous model, but it now produces a bit more power. It develops 130 kW and 380 Nm of torque.
We also considered the fact that the KB didn’t have fancy electronic gadgets such as stability and traction control. These are quickly becoming standard features in the segment but for now the KB doesn’t have them, so in terms of electronic traction aids, it was on a par with the Tunland.
Another reason why we decided on the KB is that it is such a tried-and-trusted vehicle. People love and respect the KB, so it would provide a respectable benchmark for the Foton.
The KB we used was the top-spec KB 300 D-TEQ LX 4×4. Like the Tunland, it is a large and imposing double cab with impressive features, such as a USB jack, Bluetooth connectivity, steering wheel-mounted controls and leather seats.
The vehicle is priced in the same region as the other popular double cabs, and goes for R464 400.
Our chosen venue for this comparison test was Serendipity Eco Trails near Modimolle. We chose it because it offered an opportunity to test how the Tunland would perform during a typical leisure/adventure weekend.
We started out in Johannesburg, so we had the chance to see how the Foton’s performance on the open road compared with that of the KB.
Once at Serendipity, we could take both vehicles onto the venue’s wonderful three-hour trail. This isn’t particularly difficult, but it is a nice test for a standard double cab bakkie. It is also very scenic, which is never a bad thing. Also, there are a couple of tricky obstacles that would test exactly how capable the diff lock-less Tunland is.
UNDER THE BONNET
A big reason why the Tunland immediately demands attention, and is regarded as the best Chinese bakkie to date, is that a lot of its components have been sourced from established manufacturers. The engine is the first powerplant Cummins has produced for a light commercial vehicle. The Tunland also has Dana axles and a Borg-Warner transfer case, and various other components from the likes of Bosch, ZF and Getrag.
This is a great way to ensure decent performance from an unproven vehicle, and provides it with some instant respectability. The downside, of course, is that the pricey components increase the production cost of the vehicle significantly.
The Tunland’s main attraction is undoubtedly that Cummins oilburner. Cummins might be new to this specific engine segment, but its commercial vehicle engines are widely respected, so the fact that the Tunland has a Cummins motor is quite a coup for Foton. The company is so proud of the association that the Tunland sports a set of Cummins badges on its front doors.
How does the engine perform? Pretty well. It sounds quite agricultural and unrefined, but the same is largely true of the KB’s D-TEQ.
The Cummins provides adequate power and torque, and feels strong enough to shift the large Tunland along quite comfortably. A glance at the power and torque figures (120 kw and 360 Nm) makes it clear that the Tunland was benchmarked against bakkies such as the KB and Hilux. In fact, it boasts virtually the same figures as the Hilux. The engine doesn’t feel quite as eager as that of the Hilux, and it requires higher revs than the Toyota, but it nevertheless performs impressively.
During this test it became clear that the KB had the better engine, but the Tunland’s Cummins isn’t bad at all. Yes, the Foton has slightly less power and torque than the Isuzu, but it can definitely hold its own, and never embarrasses itself. The Tunland’s engine is on a par with those of established bakkie brands.
The Tunland’s cabin doesn’t have the build quality and refinement of the KB but once again it comes very close. It virtually matches the KB feature for feature, and sports all the modern accoutrements you could reasonably expect to find in a bakkie.
The Luxury model even has leather seats, and these look quite hard-wearing — not the flimsy sort of seats found in the Chinese vehicles of old.
To be honest, the Tunland’s seats actually look better than those in the KB. For some inexplicable reason, the KB’s seats have been clad in brown leather that clashes with the rest of the cabin finishes – a rather odd design decision.
As its exterior dimensions suggest, the cabin of the Tunland is roomy. Rear accommodation is also good, with loads of head- and legroom. Thanks to large doors that open wide, getting in and out is easy.
The only minor annoyances are that the cabin of the Tunland has only one 12V jack, and that the radio has a mini-USB jack, and not a standard jack. That said, the vehicle comes with a USB converter cable, and the KB also sports a mini-USB jack.
ON THE ROAD
The Tunland is an absolute pleasure to drive on the open road. Its ride quality can’t quite be described as SUV-like, but for a bakkie it offers a very pleasant, comfortable drive. Noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels aren’t bad, although the engine can get quite loud at highway speeds.
The Cummins engine doesn’t feel underpowered at all. Getting up to 120 km/h is effortless, and overtaking isn’t a problem either. We found that we could even overtake slow-moving vehicles in fifth gear without much hassle.
The only area in which the KB outshone the Tunland conclusively was in fuel economy. The Foton needed 10,7 litres of diesel per 100km, while the Isuzu required a mere 9,2 litres per 100km.
As mentioned, the Tunland’s weak spot off road is the absence of a rear diff lock. Is this a real problem? Well, not necessarily. Most 4×4 double cab owners don’t tackle a track that would require a rear diff lock (readers of Leisure Wheels obviously excluded!). Moreover, there are loads of aftermarket lockers available these days, so if you really need one you can go the aftermarket route.
Still, we wanted to see how the Tunland would perform off road in comparison to the KB, so we headed onto Serendipity’s three-hour trail, and vowed not to make use of the Isuzu’s rear locker. Thankfully, we completed the trail in both vehicles without needing a rear diff lock. The KB offered peace of mind, of course, with the option of a diff lock if things got really hairy, but it wasn’t needed.
The Tunland really impressed, though. With ground clearance on a par with those of other double cabs, low-range gearing and a set of Dana axles, it can go surprisingly far off road.
We’d suggest removing the side steps before venturing onto an ugly trail, but apart from that, the standard Tunland will be able to complete a lot of local trails. We wouldn’t tackle grade-five obstacles, but that’s not what a standard double cab bakkie is intended for, anyway.
If you have your heart set on using the Tunland as a trail vehicle, swap the side steps for rock sliders and fit some bash plates. With these installed, you would have the confidence to tackle an obstacle with a bit more momentum – something that the lack of a rear diff lock sometimes necessitates.
The engine/gearbox combination works well in an off-road environment. With 4WD engaged and the gearbox in first gear low range, the bakkie chugs along nicely.
As advertised, the Foton Tunland is the first Chinese double cab that can really step onto the same playing field as the Hilux, Ranger and KB. It might be expensive for a Chinese vehicle, but at R389 950, you get a lot of 4×4 bakkie for your money. The Tunland makes a Japanese vehicle such as the KB look downright overpriced. Yes, the KB is a better vehicle overall, but is it R74 000 better?
That said, one should take resale value into account when shopping around. The market’s scepticism towards Chinese vehicles means that you might lose a lot of money when you eventually decide to sell your Chinese bakkie.
The service intervals and warranty periods on a vehicle such as the KB are longer as well, so that’s also worth considering.
The Tunland offers good value for money, but it might just be priced a tad too close to the established brands to truly distinguish itself. A vehicle such as the Hilux 2.5 D-4D 4×4 is priced very close to the Tunland, and is guaranteed to lure a lot of buyers away from a new brand such as Foton.
The Foton Tunland can hold its own against the popular bakkie marques, but gaining a foothold in this competitive market won’t be easy.
Gerhard Horn writes: Like many other motoring journalists, I enjoyed making fun of the first Chinese products that hit our shores a few years ago. They really were nasty to look at, nasty to drive and just plain nasty smelling on the inside.
Then the laughing suddenly stopped with the launch of the Foton Tunland in SA. I recall a member of the Foton team stating their intention to go after the mainstream bakkies, and grinning at the thought of a Chinese vehicle taking on the new Isuzu KB, or the mighty Hilux.
Soon after driving the Tunland over rough terrain for the first time, I knew an attitude adjustment on my side was in order.
The Tunland is a very good bakkie at a very good price, which means a lot to the average consumer these days.
It matches the Isuzu KB in almost every respect. Equipment levels are more or less the same and while the Isuzu is in the lead on paper in terms of power output, you’d be hard pressed to notice the difference on the road.
There are, however, a few places where the Isuzu is undoubtedly ahead. It is more fuel-efficient, has a rear diff-lock as standard and feels more of a premium model on the inside.
When it comes to the rougher stuff, I also prefer the Isuzu, simply because I found it easier to handle at crawling speed. The throttle in the Tunland was less easy to modulate, which resulted in a jerky off-road driving experience.
It has to be said that I’m currently using the Isuzu as a daily drive, so I might just be more used to it. Given enough time in the Tunland, I’m sure I’d be able to find its sweet spot as well.
Taking price out of the equation, I’d have the Isuzu over the Foton every day of the week, but since we live in the real world, we can’t afford to ignore the price difference between these two bakkies.
The Isuzu is currently R74 000 more expensive than the Foton. I don’t care who you are or what you earn, that’s a heap of money.
Is the KB R74 000 better than the Tunland? No, but there’s still a part of me that prefers the Isuzu regardless of the price difference.
Let me put it this way; if I had “only” R390 000 to spend on a bakkie, I’d buy a Tunland and I’d be a very happy customer, but if I could stretch my budget by another R74 000… Sjoe, tough call.
In the context of this shoot-out it’s the KB for me, but the Tunland runs it very close. I predict the next-generation Tunland will be up there with the best.