Driving a car on a launch is all fun and games (usually), as you are mostly taken on drives that reinforce the purpose of the vehicle, meaning that an overall, complete assessment is difficult to make. You can only hope that all three elements will turn out equal: purpose = expectation = product.
Then a test car arrives at the office and the journo grabs the keys, full of the expectations the manufacturer itself created.
It is at this point that the new Foton Tunland proves problematic.
The Chinese manufacturer was very quick to point out that the Tunland’s purpose was to take on the Toyota Hilux, an ambitious plan, to say the least. This statement is even more ambitious given the fact that only the Amarok, Ranger, KB, BT-50 and Navara offer the Hilux proper competition at the moment. To put that in perspective, these bakkies are made by Volkswagen, Ford, Isuzu, Mazda and Nissan, respectively. These are five of the world’s oldest car makers and four of the world’s most historic bakkie manufacturers.
So, back to the Tunland that wants to give the Hilux a run for its money.
From the outside, first impressions are good. It’s reasonably attractive (the best China has delivered) and looks like a proper, quality bakkie. All in all, no complaints there. First expectation (looks) gets a tick. At first glance inside, the cabin is absolutely fine and gives off a vibe of simplistic luxury.
Ergonomics are good too. There is nothing on the dash to confuse you. All buttons are clearly marked and easy to reach. The radio does prove an endless irritation though, as it plays a selection of about 40 songs from a 350-song collection over and over again. It had no trouble reading my USB though. Another expectation ticked.
For the rest, let’s first assess this Foton is isolation.
That Cummins engine
Start that Cummins engine and you are greeted by a sound that immediately gives you a flashback to early mornings on the farm with the day’s whatevers about to start. It sounds gruff and it’s loud. Although I love the sound (it just sounds like it’s ready for business), such poor NVH levels are going to put many people off.
Foton made a huge deal of the fact that the Tunland is powered by Cummins and in performance terms, it was right to do so. Get that rev needle over 2 000rpm and the Tunland takes off like a demon. If you keep the revs between 2 000rpm and 4 000rpm (which it is very willing to do), it simply doesn’t stop. And with that engine being what it is, reliability shouldn’t be a problem either.
Another expectation gets a tick.
On the road
On the move, it feels like a proper plaasbakkie: it’s very high (don’t attempt entry in tight-ish jeans), the ride is hard and doesn’t really smooth out any road imperfections, although it surmounts pretty much any obstacle a road will throw at it.
On the open road, it holds its own just fine. It does 120km/h with ease and traffic doesn’t present any problems. The leather-clad seats are comfortable enough, but save your skin (literally) and don’t park the Tunland in the sun. Those seats bake to boiling point quickly.
Tunland's level of success
With all that said though, back to reality and regardless of the few expectation ticks, the Tunland turns out to be a product that unfortunately doesn’t (and can’t) meet the lofty expectations Foton put in front of it. If the company said that the Tunland was supposed to be a good-looking bakkie made to work hard, then job well done.
But Foton wants to play with the big boys and the Tunland just doesn’t cut it, for one simple reason: it’s not refined enough - in any way - to compete with the Amaroks and the Rangers and the KBs.
That engine (as much fun as it is) is too loud, the right too hard and the interior quality (although sturdy) not good enough.
In the Tunland’s case then, purpose, expectation and product struggle very hard to meet each other. Which is a real shame, because if Foton aimed this bakkie at the market which it belongs in - especially with the 4x2 models being good value for money - it would be a winner.