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Future models - Foton - Tunland - ute range

First drive: Foton Tunland to arrive below $30K

Chinese take-away: Australian buyers will soon be among the first in the world able to buy the Foton Tunland ute.

Foton to launch here from May with Tunland ute prices above its Chinese rivals

Foton logo20 Feb 2012

By MATHIEU RAUDONIKIS

FOTON Automotive Australia is set to launch on the local market as early as May with its Tunland ute priced from less than $30,000, with the fully equipped double-cab model coming in below $40,000.

Final pricing is yet to be finalised, but an FAA spokesperson told GoAuto in Beijing this week at a preview of the Tunland that they would be looking to have the Luxury specification 4x4 double-cab ute on sale for between $35,000 and $40,000.

Production gets underway in Beijing in March and Australia will be one of the first markets in the world to get the Tunland when it goes on sale around May.

FAA director of vehicle compliance Daniel Phelan said they will hold off the local launch for as long as it takes to get the vehicle right.

Prototype vehicles currently undergoing evaluation in Australia have given FAA a good indication of how well the Tunland will adapt to local conditions and the company has gone back to Foton in China with minor changes and revisions to better equip it for Australian consumption.

It will be launched in double-cab turbo-diesel manual-only form in both 4x4 and 4x2 configurations, and in Standard or Luxury trim.

Other cab styles, a petrol engine and automatic transmission will follow at the end of the year.

The first shipment to Australia will consists of 300 vehicles and FAA has indicated that it expects to sell around 2500 in the first year from an initial dealer base of 15 east coast outlets. It hopes to expand to 60 dealers.

The sub-$40K pricing for the Luxury spec 4x4 would suggest the Standard spec 4x4 will be priced below $35,000, with 4x2 single-cab coming in for less than $30,000.

This would set the Tunland in the middle ground between the established Japanese ute brands, such as Toyota, Nissan and Mitsubishi, and lower-priced Chinese models from Great Wall, JAC and ZX Auto.

64 center imageFoton Motor and FAA are pitching the Tunland as a higher quality and spec vehicle than rivals from Great Wall and other Chinese competitors to justify the higher price.

With driveline components coming from reputable brands such as Cummins (engines), Getrag (gearbox), Borg Warner (transfer case) and Dana (axles), it has the hardware to suggest this is the case.

It is also larger than the Great Wall and most of the Japanese utes such as HiLux, Navara and Triton while being comparable to the new breed such as Ford Ranger, Mazda BT-50, VW Amarok and the forthcoming Isuzu D-Max and Holden Colorado.

However, the Tunland will not be able to match the established players for safety as the Chinese ute will initially not be equipped with electronic stability control or side-curtain airbags, both life-saving technologies that have become standard in the ute market in recent times.

Mr Phelan said they had wanted ESC from the start but it was not yet available, although it will be coming shortly.

Foton claims a 4-star Euro NCAP safety rating for Tunland while BT50, Ranger and Amarok have achieved the highest 5-star ANCAP ratings.

Tunland does come with ABS brakes with EBD as standard on the Luxury specification, but it is optional on the standard model.

Driver and passenger front airbags are also optional on all models bar the 4x4 Luxury, where they are standard, while the non-Australian specification, pre-production models we saw in Beijing only had a lap belt and no form of head rest for the centre rear seat passenger.

Standard equipment will include air-conditioning, cloth seats, power exterior mirrors, two-speaker audio with radio, CD player and auxiliary input, 16-inch steel wheels, rear foglights and a load-sensing brake proportioning valve.

Optional items will include the aforementioned ABS and airbags, power folding mirrors, front foglights and 17-inch alloy wheels.

The Luxury model gets the alloys and foglights as standard, along with rear parking sensors, four-speaker sound system, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and leather seats.

The standard engine from launch will be a new Foton-made 2.8-litre turbo-diesel co-developed by American diesel engine specialist Cummins – an association being used as a selling point for the Tunland, as indicated by the big Cummins badge on the ute doors.

Foton will eventually supply this engine – which produces 120kW of power at 3600rpm and 360Nm of torque between 1800 and 3000rpm – to other Chinese brands for use in other vehicles.

Although it does not spin as high as some of the small European diesels, its flat torque curve provides plenty of truck-like, usable grunt.

On our short drive alongside the Cummins plant, the engine delivered plenty of punch down low and was best when short-shifted through the five-speed Getrag gearbox.

It was noisier in the cabin than other modern diesels, but our test vehicle was a Standard spec, pre-production 4x4 model that appeared to have very little sound insulation.

This drive also revealed very stiff suspension. The unloaded Tunland would settle with more weight in it, but was very firm and bumpy on a far from perfect road.

Payload capacity will be a full one tonne and the suspension uses a conventional leaf-sprung live axle at the back with coil springs and independent double wishbones at the front.

FAA said towing capacity will be 2500kg minimum but could be up to 3000kg for 4x4 models.

Braking is by discs at the front and drums at the rear, which is normal for one-tonne utes.

The cabin is spacious and wide, with good visibility from the driver’s seat and enough legroom in the back seats for large adults. Some of the switchgear and dash layout have a familiar European look, giving a quality appearance, but other surfaces like the top of the doors and grab handles are made of hard plastic and less appealing.

The shift of the Getrag gearbox was firm and precise, even with the unfamiliar left-hand-drive configuration of the sample vehicle, while 4x4 selection is electronic by buttons placed low in the centre stack of the dash.

Australian ute buyers, be they tradies or recreational users, will appreciate the large cargo tub behind the double-cab, which measures 1520mm long, 1580mm wide and 440mm deep, and there appears to be big enough distance in between the wheelarch intrusions to slide a pallet between them.

The single-cab model has a massive 2315mm-long tray.

The single and extra-cab models will not arrive until the end of the year or possibly early 2013.

Around the same time, we can expect the option of a four-cylinder petrol engine – a new Foton-produced 2.4-litre with variable valve timing and lift, producing 100kW and 360Nm – as well as a six-speed ZF automatic transmission.

Fuel consumption figures were not provided for either the petrol or diesel engines so we will have to wait for local ADR testing.

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