The humble family sedan may still be a favorite among Filipinos, but if you're a new auto brand that wants to grow fast and attract buyers, you better have crossovers, MPVs, as well as other light commercial vehicles at your disposal. That's what JAC Motors did when they set up their first car dealership in the Philippines last year.
Instead of a bevy of four-doors and hatchbacks, JAC decided the best course of action was to offer a plethora of high-riding vehicles and people carriers. From the tiny S1 all the way to luxurious S7, to the practical M3 and spacious Sunray, JAC Motors has plenty to offer for almost every car buyer.
But JAC wants to expand further and attract more buyers towards their vehicles. What better way than to bring in an all-new pickup truck, and a new compact crossover. They are called the T8 and S4 respectively, and both are set to arrive in the Philippines in the not so distant future.
In order to get a closer look, as well as get a feel as to how they drive, JAC Motors recently invited us to their headquarters in Hefei City, China. While we we weren't able to exactly drive them on public roads, JAC let us drive both the T8 and S4 on one of their test tracks. With more than 2 kilometers of paved road ahead of us, along with some long straight roads and some turns, we just had to wring out these cars and see how well they perform.
Let's start off with the pick-up truck, the T8.
Tough yet refined
Let's get one thing straight, pick-up trucks today are vastly different from the ones you would have seen over a decade ago. No longer do they appear brutish or dull. Much like crossovers and SUVs, they have to have a striking appearance that some times consist of neat creases, nice curves, and a rather sophisticated front fascia.
If I were to describe how the JAC T8 looks, it would be roguish yet spartan. It's not exactly the most handsome or striking of pick-ups, but it looks the part without being overly styled. The headlights, the front grill, and even the alloy wheels give the T8 a distinct visual appeal. But unlike other pick-up trucks that now look like pieces of art, JAC sticks to a familiar workhorse aesthetic, albeit more chiseled.
The car-like headlights are of a particular favorite of mine. It’s not as imposing as the rest of its contemporaries and its overall design is neither gaudy or boring. However, I do have to admit that it sort of resembles a certain pick-up truck from Toyota. What I'm not a fan of, however, are those 18-inch alloy wheels. The floral-inspired design just doesn't fit with the brutish look of the T8.
There's no denying the fact that vertical taillights are pretty much the standard on pick-ups. Dull they may be, JAC decided to spruce them up by giving the T8 a unique 'Double C' LED motif. That way, not only are they easily noticeable at night, they give the truck a more eye-catching appearance.
All in all, the JAC T8 looks rugged and cool at the same time. It is certainly not as stylish when compared to the American and Japanese pickups, but for those that want a truck that looks like a truck and nothing else, the T8 is just that.
A work and play interior
Much like the exterior, the interior of pick-up trucks of old are not known for being stylish or comfortable. But times are changing and automakers are now busy making these workhorses look (and feel) a bit more upscale. On this particular tester, which happens to be the top-spec 4x4, the cabin is covered in acres of leather which can be seen on the seats, dashboard and interior trim.
Upon sitting on the driver's seat, there was plenty of support from the backrest, as well as the seat cushion. It even came with seat height adjusters, a big plus for drivers of short stature. Sadly the steering wheel column can only be adjusted for tilt, which might disappoint drivers with short arms. At least the wheel is wrapped in leather, which makes it easier to hold on to.
The center dashboard is pretty much straightforward; it has a touchscreen display, along with manual air-conditioning controls. But unlike most pick-up trucks that come with rotary-style knobs that control the 4WD system, the T8 has buttons instead which frees up some real estate on the console. Below that is a cubbyhole that hides the 12V power socket and USB port. There are also huge front cupholders, and a deep center glovebox which can stow away cameras or other thingamabobs.
Not much can be found at the back seats however. What I do like is that it has a center armrest which is not something you'd always find in pick-up trucks. The rear backrests are more on the upright side, but what did you expect, this is still a pick-up truck, not an SUV.
Diesel is still the prime choice
Yes, the T8 is available with a turbo-gasoline engine. But for it to be a serious contender against the competition, it has to have a turbo-diesel. Fortunately, JAC brought out the diesel version of the T8 for us to test, and boy were we impressed. Despite only displacing 2.0-liters, as well as producing 138 PS with 320 Nm of torque, the compact engine felt it had more pull than what the brochure stated.
A twist of the key brings to life the 2.0-liter engine that is accompanied by a distinct clatter. It's not as refined as some of its contemporaries, but to be honest I was more curious how it will perform. With the rest of my colleagues going for the crossovers first, I had plenty of time to familiarize with the T8.
Paired to a six-speed manual transmission, I was expecting the T8's clutch to be heavy and have a high biting point (i.e. working level). But to my surprise, operating the clutch was relatively light which allowed me to switch gears easily. As for the stick-shift itself, it was slick in changing cogs, if a bit notchy at times.
Don't let its 2.0-liter displacement fool you. Off the line, there was substantial torque from the engine. Once I was up to speed, I found myself easing up on the throttle since torque was always available. When I decided to be a bit more heavy with the accelerator, the T8 did not let up and was more than eager to deliver more power. And since it was paired to a manual gearbox, reigning in all that torque was easy and fun.
Given the engine's compact size, we couldn't help but compare it with Ford's Ranger Raptor Bi-Turbo which also displaces 2.0-liters. We wonder if the JAC T8 came with a bi-turbo setup, can it match (or be near) the Blue Oval's output ratings? Perhaps that's for another story.
So it has the power to carry you, your family, as well as the proverbial kitchen sink. But how does it handle and ride exactly? Well like most pick-up trucks, it is not something you'd want to carve mountain roads with. With its tall ride height and relatively heavy curb weight, the T8 is a commercial vehicle through and through. Don't try to make sharp turns with this thing as it will easily sway from side to side.
No electronic power steering here, as the T8 comes with the good ol' hydraulic power steering assist. Archaic that may be for some, I actually like hydraulic steering more than electric assist. Sure it may not be as light, but what it has is more road feedback. This translates to a better feel of the road or the terrain.
What also impressed me was the T8's somewhat soft ride. Even with just me inside the pickup truck, it went over bumpy roads without much trouble. When fully-packed with four other passengers, the ride quality became better. Of course it will never be as comfortable as an SUV / crossover, but for something that was built and designed to be a workhorse, the pliant ride of the T8 is worth mentioning.
Now that we were finished testing out the T8, it was now time to check out JAC’s upcoming compact crossover, the S4.
Sleek and suave
The first time I laid eyes on the S4, I was taken aback at how good it looked. Take out the JAC badge, and I could have mistaken it for something that was made / designed in Japan or Korea. Perhaps JAC borrowed some styling cues from both nations in order to make the S4 stand out?
The distinct front grill and tapered headlights, give the S4 a sporty appearance. Meanwhile, the wraparound taillights at the back is reminiscent of high-end SUVs from Europe. Giving the S4 its rugged appeal are the 17-inch alloy wheels and squared wheel arches.
While it may look like it has a faultless design, I do wish the S4 had a larger back window. While having a smaller rear glass gives it a sleeker appearance, looking out through the back window is a bit more difficult due to its limited size.
An inviting cabin
If the exterior was impressive, you might the like the cabin even more. Instead of going for a traditional design, JAC decided to change it up a bit for the S4. Perhaps its most eye-catching feature are the center console and dashboard. As much as we would have liked to remove the cellophane and plastic from the cabin, we were told we weren't allowed to do so, but I digress.
A free-standing touchscreen infotainment makes its home on the center of the dash, while a high-tech touch panel manages the automatic climate control and the media display. For something that will supposedly start at less than a million Pesos, I have to commend the designers for making the JAC's cabin upmarket but still ergonomic.
Like the pickup truck, the seats are covered in leather and are spruced up by sporty contrast stitching accents. Even the flat-bottomed steering wheel get the same finish which further adds to the S4's charming looks. And since we're already talking about the steering wheel, it has plenty of buttons and controls which manage the infotainment system, as well as the cruise control.
A turbocharged heart
A naturally-aspirated engine might have been enough to propel the S4. But JAC wanted to deliver a bit more oomph for customers, while still making it fuel efficient. That means the S4 is powered by a small yet rather potent 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. It musters 147 PS along with 210 Nm of torque. Power is then sent to the front wheels via a CVT.
Weighing in at less than 1400 kg dry, you might think that this turbocharged crossover is a fun thing to play around in? It's both a yes and a no. Off the line, the powertrain seemed hesitant at first, as if it's confused. I liken it to a dual-clutch automatic when you first set it in gear and proceed to drive off. However, once you're on the move, the engine and transmission appear to work in unison.
At highway speeds, there is certainly some punch from the rather small engine. Put your foot to the floor and the powertrain immediately adjusts itself in order to deliver more pep. Boost comes in as early as below 2000 rpm and goes all the way to 4000 rpm. It tends to lose some steam at the upper rev range, but that is to be expected from most turbocharged cars. If you wanted the powertrain to be more lively, the CVT can be set to 'Sport' which sharpens acceleration.
While the turbocharged powertrain of the S4 left me with mixed results, the handling of the crossover was far better. With its light and precise steering, driving the S4 was like getting behind the wheel of a hatchback.
Whether driving at city or highway speeds, the S4 was easy to maneuver around and was predictable. Turn the wheel in and there was practically no delay from the electronic power steering. Despite being slightly taller than a sedan, the S4 remained planted to the pavement when taking on sharp corners.
Ride quality, on the other hand, was good as it wasn't too stiff or too soft. A better test of its ride comfort would be to test it on pock-marked roads. And since it is set to arrive in the Philippines soon, we will gladly test it to see if it is as comfortable when we drove it on the test track.
Which is which?
After getting to drive both the T8 and the S4, you might be wondering which I'd prefer more. Personally, I'd rather have the T8 pick-up truck. While it may not be as comfy as the S4, it has more pulling power, and will not have any problems carrying or towing almost anything.
But whether you choose the T8 or the S4, I have to say I was impressed by the level of safety equipment that is available in both the pick-up and crossover. Both have anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, electronic stability and traction controls, as well as parking sensors.
The S4 does have a bit of an edge over the T8 thanks to its intelligent driver aids. These include: adaptive cruise control, 360-degree around-view camera system, tire pressure monitoring, blind spot detection, rear cross traffic alert, and forward collision warning. As for the T8, it comes with lane departure warning, as well as front and rear parking sensors.
But perhaps the most important question is how much will the two cost once they arrive in the Philippines. The S4 will supposedly start at around the Php 900,000 mark and could top out at Php 1.1 million, which could make it quite the bargain. As for the T8, we'll just have to wait and see as JAC has yet to state its starting price.
With the S4 set to arrive before the end of 2019, you can expect JAC to hold its launch just in time for the holidays. What about the T8? Apparently, it might arrive in Q1 of 2020. Either way, JAC has some very promising vehicles bound for the Philippines, and we cannot wait to drive them on our roads soon.