FEW people know what a Foton is, let alone a Tunland.
However, as Chinese vehicle manufacturers gain a greater toe-hold into Australia, get ready to become a whole lot more familiar with them.
The Tunland is pitched a cut-price alternative to pickup-style crew cab utes like the Nissan Navara, Mitsubishi Triton or the king of the caper, the Toyota Hilux. As those machines have become progressively more civilised (and expensive), the Chinese have sought to sneak into the space they've left behind.
The terms "quality" and "Chinese vehicles" are not closely associated in the minds of Australians but the essential components for the Foton Tunland come from such respected American and German names as Cummins, Getrag, Bosch and Borg-Warner. As such the Tunland has a leg up compared with other Chinese offerings, and was part of the reason Ballarat's new Foton outlet Bedggoods was keen for us to take a look.
We sampled the 4x4 version, which is $3000 more than the 4x2 version but also gains leather seats, cruise control, floor mats and a tub liner. At $29,990 drive away, it is certainly well equipped.
The Tunland is larger than most in its class and is handsome enough in a no-nonsense sort of a way. On closer inspection the fit and finish is not to the same standard as most of the Japanese branded pickups, which are mostly built in Thailand.
The cabin was a surprise though. Apart from being very big, with plenty of room for front and rear passengers, the layout and materials were quite decent and the seats soft and comfortable. It's not quite in the same league as the Ford Ranger or Nissan Navara in that regard, but not obviously cheap and cheesy either.
The drivetrain is respectable too. The engine is a 2.8-litre Cummins four-cylinder turbo-diesel rated at 120kW of power and 360Nm of torque, built in China under a joint-venture between the American diesel engine specialist and the Chinese carmaker. It is a trifle noisy under acceleration but feels powerful enough to justify the Tunland's 2500kg towing capacity. The five-speed manual transmission, made by Getrag, is not slick but feels robust.
Even the ride is not noticeably different from the usual suspects. It is quite jiggly over bumps but that's not unusual for a light truck with leaf spring rear suspension. In short it is well in the ball park.
In our short time with the Tunland there were some niggles and quality issues. A pothole, for example, appeared to knock something out of place underneath creating a vibration. The issues were quickly dealt with by Bedggoods and would be sorted under the three year warranty.
The other knock on the Tunland is the lack of electronic vehicle stability control, and a three star ANCAP safety rating. That would have been respectable five years ago, but most utes now have four or five star safety ratings.
Still, it is hard to argue with the value equation, and that's what the Foton delivers. For $29,990 the Foton Tunland is a tonne-load of truck for the money.
Your local dealer is Bedggood Cars: 5339 3111
ENGINE: 2.8-litre inline four-cylinder turbo-diesel
POWER: 120kW at 3600 revs
TORQUE: 360Nm at 1800 revs
TRANSMISSION: five-speed manual
FUEL: diesel, 8.4-l/100km (ADR 81/02 combined cycle)
BRAKES: front ventilated discs, rear drums, with ABS and brake assist
FEATURES: Leather upholstery, CD audio system with Bluetooth interface, high and low-range four-wheel-drive, cruise control, front fog lamps, 17-inch alloy wheels
ANCAP SAFETY RATING: three stars
PRICE AS TESTED: $29,990 drive away
OTHERS TO CONSIDER:
GREAT WALL V200 DUAL CAB: from $27,990
SSANGYONG ACTYON SX: from $30,990
NISSAN NAVARA D22 ST-R: from $33,990