Vince Pornelos / Vince Pornelos | December 21, 2009 14:45
Storming into the local pickup market
Let me get it out of the way. Based on experience, Chinese cars haven't exactly impressed me... and that can extend to a whole range of products from the Mainland. Perhaps the Foton Blizzard 4x4 can change that.
Foton is one of the latest Chinese car manufacturers to set up shop in Manila, and bring with them a reputation as truck and heavy machinery specialists.
From a standpoint of perceived build quality (read: at first glance), the Blizzard seems to be a cut above previous Chinese vehicles I've tried. The pick up body feels like it was built tough and for robust use. Of course, the Blizzard could be seen as a re-badged, re-manufactured truck from another reputable Japanese manufacturer a few years back but with a few exterior niceties like a fresh face and a large, deep truck bed fitted with steel rails a liner.
Inside the double cab body, the interior is surprisingly modern, thanks to a nicely contoured dashboard and textured materials. Again, the dash and interior appointments feel solidly built and well installed, and have very little in the way of plastic mold over-runs or the surface waviness typical of other Mainland-manufactured vehicles. The seats offer pretty good support and comfort, and Foton saw fit to throw in some features that aren't expected in this price range like a shift-on-the-fly, push button 4x4 system (2H, 4H, 4L), an inside/outside temperature display, as well as USB and SD card slots.
There are a few minor design and quality peculiarities though. The first one has to be the loose shift knob that doesn't want to stay put, always rotating whenever I change gears. The second encompasses the A/C louvers which look and feel fine, but cannot be pointed up because the topmost fin is already hitting the vent's rim. The keyless entry chooses when it wants to work, either 2 feet away, right next to the door, or not at all. The digital inside/outside temp display is about 5-8 degrees off, as it reads 43 degrees Celsius at night. In December. Another has to be the USB-in port, as it uses the harder to find mini plug, not the standard sized plug, but that's nitpicking already.
Seatbelt buckled (note: there are no airbags in the Blizzard), I twist the key for the first time expecting the usual diesel sound. I have to admit, the smoothness of modern diesels with common rails, direct injection systems, turbos and intercoolers have spoiled me, hence I was rather unprepared for the noise of the Blizzard's engine. At first I thought it was the result of inadequate insulation with the doors closed, but upon stepping outside, this 4-wheeler has the aural signature, decibels and sound pressure levels of something with 6 more wheels. Matter of fact, arriving outside my house at around 4:00 AM, my neighbors started to bring out what looked like sealed black plastic bags in anticipation of what sounded like the city's collection service.
Noise aside, the Blizzard drives quite decently. The steering wheel fits firmly in the hands and again, feels solidly constructed. There's decent handling coming from the suspension set up, even though it's engineered to deliver a better ride than most pick ups in the class. There's a very user-friendly 4x4 system (even equipped with locking hubs on the wheels) should you ever wish to play in the rough stuff, though I wasn't able to fully test its capabilities.
The 2.8 liter powerplant left a lot to be desired in terms of power and torque. Strange as it sounds powerful, but the power that the 4 cylinder, naturally aspirated diesel with mechanical injection musters seems just adequate for the 1.7 tonne body, able to do 120 km/h before running out of steam.
Seems like the Blizzard may not be the automotive revelation from China that car lovers have been asking for, but seriously though, for 860 grand (pesos), the Blizzard is a definite bargain. Sure, it may not make power to move mountains (hills even), and sure, it produces enough noise and vibrations to massage you for free, but when push comes to shove, there is simply no other 4x4 pickup with this many features available for the price.