There is no doubt that Foton is the best performing Chinese automotive brand in the Philippines. In 2018, the local company that handles the brand was able to break into the top 10 in terms of sales, edging out Chevrolet for the ninth spot overall.
There's are quite a few reasons for that. Things like a good pricing strategy, a good reputation in after sales, and a robust line-up that -while not as well refined as more established marques- boasts of a robustness that really caters to those that want a tough, no-nonsense mover of materiel, people, or their families.
One of those models is the Foton View Traveller, a massive, high-roof van that has it where it counts in so many aspects, most especially in price.
I won't mince words with you: the View Traveller is an example of China's attack of the clones. You don't have to be an eagle eyed sleuth to realize the exceptionally strong resemblance the View Traveller bears to the Toyota Hiace, particularly the massive LXV variant. That's the reality of business in China, and intellectual property is a difficult thing to pursue given that Foton's parent is, uh, state-owned. We'll cycle back to this later on.
Back to the looks, yes, the resemblance is strong, though Foton made a few small changes, particularly with the fascia. They have their own grille, their own headlights, their own wheels, and a few other bits and pieces here and there. Yes, at this point I'm stretching it; vans aren't about winning beauty contests, and that's because they're all about size.
What matters with the View Traveller is the amount of mobile real estate it gives you for the money. The van measures in at 5555mm long, 2060mm wide and 2310mm tall thanks to that high roof, meaning most of us really can stand inside. That gives you about 11 and a half square meters of real estate, so all you really have to do is rent a parking space and you have your own little condo on wheels. Tiny house hunting, anyone?
I jest, of course. Besides, the View Traveller won't be good as a mobile condo given that it won't win awards for interior design; it prioritizes function over form. The dashboard is familiar, but differentiated slightly, particularly with the center stack for the audio unit and manual dual airconditioning system. The steering wheel is decent, and has good grip about it, despite the urethane construction. One thing I noticed right away, and something that's consistent with Chinese automobiles, is the relatively short seatbelt length. I guess they don't have too many laterally bigger gentlemen in China that drive.
The real edge of the View Traveller is seating. This van can accommodate 3 people in front (if the middle seat isn't folded down, revealing a center console), 3 on the second row, 3 in the third row, 3 in the fourth row, and another 4 passengers on side-facing, peripheral seats. That makes for a total of 16. And mind you, these seats aren't arranged in a manner that would punish your knees (unless you're really tall) as there's ample space distributed all around.
Since the View Traveller has to move 16 passengers (and their bags), Foton sought out an engine that can really cope with the requirements. They found it in diesel specialist Cummins: a 2.8-liter common-rail direct injection turbodiesel. Power is pretty good at 130 PS, but the key will be the 280 Newton-meters of torque. All View Travellers come with a 5-speed manual, and it drives the rear wheels.
The View Traveller, surprisingly, drives alright. The steering feel is even and fairly light, given that it has to move such a massive vehicle. The brakes are coping alright with the weight too, and the suspension is fairly even in terms of damping; in fact, I have a feeling that the suspension is slightly softer than the Hiace, which is a good thing. We're not expecting any great revelation from the way it drives, but it did meet our expectations for a big people mover.
There are some caveats though. The gear ratios are perhaps the only aspect I found to need improvement; fourth is a tad too tall for the engine as evidenced by the deep murmur the powertrain makes at 60 km/h. The engine is underneath the driver's seat, so I'll expect some vibrations and heat from the engine bay. Also, given that the driver also sits above the front axle, you will have to compensate for the way it corners or makes U-turns; it's easy to misjudge a curb if you're coming from a conventional car.
Truth be told, the press vehicle we're driving has had significant mileage on it, so there are some signs of wear and tear. Some may see that as a bad thing, but in reality it gives us the chance to evaluate how a vehicle is holding up after 22 thousand kilometers on the clock. Thankfully, most of the issues were superficial; dings, scratches, and scuffs. The one thing that needed a bit more maintenance on this older unit is the rear A/C system; it seems overdue for a servicing already, and could do well with a deep cleaning. All things considered, it's holding up quite well, despite the clear evidences that this example has had a rather hard knock life.
Some would contend that the high-roof View Traveller is a knock-off of the previous generation Super Grandia LXV, and that's fair. But Foton isn't really competing against them, as it's not not targeted at the same kind of customer; while the LXV with its captain's seats and other nicer bits is geared towards families, the View Traveller really is marketed more towards corporations that require a budget 16-seater vehicle or shuttle services that don't require a big brand name on the grille.
It is what it is. The Foton View Traveller will work well as a people mover if maintained fairly regularly, and that's pretty much all we can expect of it.