Text: Dean Ang / Photos: Dean Ang | posted January 31, 2013 16:50
A new force of nature
Among the cars that I have driven, I believe that Foton has got to be one of the more reliable China-made cars in the Philippine market. The brand wouldn't be in the country anymore if the products that they're offering are as bad as what most people perceive Chinese cars to be.
This all-new pick-up received much attention when it was launched at the 8th Manila International Auto Show as its exterior looked like it evolved two generations ahead of the Blizzard and has also veered away from the copy-cat antics of Chinese branded cars.
On paper, the Thunder looked promising; under the hood are components from respected manufacturers like a 2.8-liter Cummins ISF CRDI turbo-diesel rated at 160 horsepower, mated to a five-speed manual gearbox from GETRAG. By this alone, you’re pretty assured that its mechanical parts will last longer. Safety-wise, it comes with a host of features like dual front airbags and anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution that used to be absent on most China cars.
While it looks tough and modern from the outside, the interior is as basic as it can be. The dashboard is well laid and aligned, the dashboard uses hard plastic and looks like it could take the usual beating. Quality of the knobs and switches have been improved, rough edges are eliminated, while build feels more solid. The air-conditioning unit is strong enough to cope with the country's tropical climate. Some measures were also taken to give somewhat of a premium feel to the Thunder like the leather wrapped steering wheel, a strip of wood trim running along the entire dashboard, and the seats covered nicely by perforated leather for easy maintenance.
One thing that bothered me for quite some time while driving the Thunder was the quality of the radio output and that distinctive new China car scent, while the latter can be easily remedied with a few pieces of charcoal and open-window driving, the quality of the sound that was coming out of the radio was simply annoying. It's already given that you shouldn't expect quality sound output from its head unit receiver, but the signal usually fluctuated resulting to varying level of the sound volume. I hope that a little adjustment to the location of the unit's antenna can solve that issue.
On the road, it gives you that commanding presence mainly because of its size, measuring at 5310mm x 1880mm x 1870mm (LxWxH), making it the biggest 1-ton Chinese pick-up truck in the market. The previous issues on the Blizzard like the loud engine noise (even on idle) and cabin vibration is now milder, although still not as discreet as modern-day CRDI powered Japanese pickups.
Power-wise, the Thunder packs quite a punch, which of course comes once the turbo kicks in. It is equipped with a conventional wastegate-type turbocharger, which takes a bit of time to spool; it only starts to kicks in at roughly in the 2,500 rpm range. I was able to get a pretty decent fuel mileage of 10km/l in the city with moderate traffic.
Driving the Thunder around the metro can be challenging specially with narrow streets and tight parking spaces because of its high steering ratio and wide turning radius (13.5m.), although backing up was made relatively easier with the standard backup sensor. Long drives can also be tiring due to the awkward driving position that's somewhat similar to light-duty trucks, although passengers can enjoy its generous head and legroom. Handling feels awkward with the soft suspension setting combined with the high ratio steering. Comfort is a bit on the bouncy side, but is tolerable especially for those that are used to riding in pickup trucks.
The best way to describe the Thunder would be rough and rugged, and with a price tag of just PhP878,000 you'll just have to deal with some of the downsides of this reliable workhorse. On a side note, a little more refinement on their vehicles will surely catapult Foton further from where they are right now and can eventually compete with the big boys of the pick-up truck segments head on.