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Future models - LDV - T60

First drive: Chinese vehicles come of age at LDV

Bewitching: A skid pan slalom course around witches’ hats at a Chinese proving ground is hardly a definitive test for a one-tonne ute, but it was fun.

LDV’s first ute, the T60 one-tonner, is set to throw a cat among pick-up pigeons

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LDV logo21 Apr 2017

By RON HAMMERTON

THE question that no one seems to be willing to answer about the newest entry into the hotly contested, fast-growing one-tonne pick-up segment is: will it end up being made in Thailand along with the vast majority of similar vehicles on the global market?As GoAuto has reported, LDV’s Chinese parent company, SAIC Motor, already has a factory in Thailand that is, as we write, being doubled in sized to manufacture right-hand-drive vehicles for the world, starting with the mid-sized GS SUV for LDV’s sister brand MG from 2018.

Other models are to come from the burgeoning Thai base, but it is unclear if they will include the heavy duty, ladder-chassis LDV T60 and related D90 SUV.

Said one SAIC insider: “Well, Thailand is the global manufacturing base for one-tonne pick-ups.”

At least for the foreseeable future, the all-new LDV T60 will come from China where it will do battle with the Australian-developed Ford Ranger that – it has just been announced – will soon be shipped to that market from, you guessed it, Thailand.

A former British brand whose initials once stood for Leyland DAF Vehicles, LDV has been manufacturing in China under the Maxus brand as a division of the giant SAIC Motor only since 2011, yet it has carved out a sizable slice of the light-commercial vehicle market with is two vans, the large V80 and mid-sized G10, including in Australia where they are distributed by Ateco Automotive.

Those vans will be joined by LDV’s T60 and D90 twins in October, at least in some variants of an expanding range that ultimately is designed to compete with the likes of Toyota HiLux and Fortuner, Ranger and Everest, Mitsubishi Triton and Pajero Sport, Isuzu D-Max and MU-X and Holden Colorado and Trailblazer. Oh, and also the Great Wall Steed and Tata Xenon.

Anyone who expects LDV to falter on quality, design and safety with its new one-tonner just because it is Chinese might be in for a shock.

Potentially priced thousands of dollars below rival vehicles and yet highly specced, distinctively style and engineered by a company that has been working hand in hand with General Motors and Volkswagen for years, the T60 in particular is going to present a formidable challenge.

How about a five-star safety qualified dual-cab diesel 4x4 one-tonne pick-up for $25,990, anyone?Pricing for the T60 is still being negotiated, but that is the target price for that particular variant.

The T60 is expected to land in two specification levels – worker and lifestyle – in most variants. At launch, only the dual-cab 4x4 pick-up will be available, powered by a 110kW/360Nm 2.8-litre diesel engine (related to the more powerful 2.8 in Holden’s Colorado) that will eventually be replaced by a newer unit with more power.

Other variants will follow at regular intervals, with a cab-chassis the next one off the line within months of launch.

So, how will it go? Our drive of the T60 at SAIC’s giant proving ground that it shares with GM in China was not only brief but hardly representative of daily consumer driving – a belt around witches’ hats on smooth skid pan.

It was a risky exercise for LDV, as the T60 is hardly a sportscar. However, it handled it as well as could be expected for an unladen, two-tonne-plus truck with rudimentary LCV suspension.

We found the brake pedal a little spongy in heavy stops, but by and large it did the job – a job that few one-tonners will ever be put through.

Until we get the T60 onto some uneven, coarse-bitumen roads and dirt tracks with a couple of hundred kilos in the tub, then the jury is still out in the ride and handling regard.

We will leave it up to you whether you like the look of the toothy chrome grille, but at least road users will be able to pick a T60 from the numerous generic vehicles on the streets.

Similar in size to the Ranger at more than five metres long and two metres wide, the T60 dual cab offers a tub of about average-size, with a black plastic liner and six tie-down points. A stretched version dubbed Megacab is under development, but not yet confirmed for Australia.

The two T60s we inspected were high-end spec, with a six-speed automatic transmission (a six-speed manual will be available), 4x4 powertrain (with 4H, 42 and 4L selected via a console knob) and up-market interior with leather, climate control, keyless entry, button start and the like.

A big 10-inch infotainment screen with full connectivity is standard, offering Apple CarPlay and Android Auto – a boon to tradies who want to run Google maps from their phone.

Less necessary is a multi-mode automatic transmission with standard, economy and power modes. Indeed, “power” is a relative term in a heavy pick-up with 110kW. Acceleration could be described as adequate, but the new diesel engine in the pipeline might address that.

Hill descent control and hill holder are also thrown in. The handbrake is a manual lever on the console.

Big plusses include seat comfort – both front and back – and roominess. In the back seat, the accommodation could be likened to that of a large sedan, with twin air vents and a fold-down armrest with twin cupholders. The family is going to like it too.

Build quality on the examples we saw was excellent, and with the dramatic improvement in everything coming out of Chinese factories these days, we have no reason to believe it will not continueThe interior trim was of high quality for a truck, with neat edges and soft finishes for the most part. A centre console bucket with a sliding armrest lid was included, as were a sunglasses holder in the roof lining and other small cubbies for phones, coins etcetera. Door bins are capable of holding a bottle.

One of the big concerns most consumers have about Chinese-built vehicles is safety, and LDV appears to have spared few efforts to address this, claiming the T60 will achieve a five-star ANCAP rating. In fact, the company is so confident that it printed the ANCAP logo in a brochure – a fact that might amuse the independent test organisation that is yet to crash the vehicle.

Still, ANCAP will be pleased with the safety effort that includes full curtain airbags, forward collision warning and lane departure warning. It appears the Chinese have caught up in this regard, and that LDV has learned well from VW and GM and its own British engineers at its MG R&D base in England.

Although there are big gaps in our knowledge of the T60 – even a spec sheet would have been nice, let alone a look at other variants – we learned enough to know that the one-tonner has few flaws and quite a few plusses, especially if SAIC agrees to Ateco’s price demands.

Buyers on a tight budget just might have found a new five-star work buddy.

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