2017 Foton Tunland 4x4 review

$27,990 Mrlp
  • Fuel Economy
    8.3L
  • Engine Power
    120kW
  • CO2 Emissions
    219g
  • ANCAP Rating
    3Stars

It's one of the most affordable utes on the market, and while the 2017 Foton Tunland lacks some safety kit, it's a fairly strong performer for the money.

When it comes to getting a lot of brand-new ute for your money, buyers would be hard pressed to find a more affordable option than the Chinese-made 2017 Foton Tunland.

It may not be a name on many buyers’ minds, but the tough truck you see here can be had for as little as $30,990 drive-away – the same price Foton was asking when it launched the vehicle back in 2014. And it has been updated with new safety kit since, including electronic stability control and a lap-sash centre seatbelt.

Well, there are two utes here – one of them is less than twenty-eight grand on the road, the other is priced closer to the utes we had in our recent mega test.

That’s because we had both a regular ute and the heavily accessorised Foton Tunland model the Chinese brand’s local distributor has added to its press fleet to show what buyers can do to their ute if they so choose – and if the budget allows.

The options fitted include a snorkel, bullbar, winch, towbar, canopy and aftermarket wheels and tyres all fitted, as well as RidePro raised suspension front and rear (50mm). Inside there are all-weather floor mats to protect the carpet, too. The entire kit costs nearly fifteen-and-a-half grand – roughly 50 per cent of the purchase price.

It seems silly, right? Well, if you want one, or some, of these options, there’s a list at the bottom of the article so you can figure out if they’re worth the spend. You can’t deny it makes the Tunland look a heck of a lot tougher, though!

We didn’t set out to test the canopy (though the fact it has a split window backing the cab’s back glass is annoying, and you can’t see anything out the back in the wet), nor did we plan to do any serious off-roading that would see the winch come in handy (but we ended up using it anyway!).

In any case, to spend over and above what Foton is asking for a ute that lacks some of the safety and technology features we’ve come to expect in the class, you’d surely have to love the ute to justify the expenditure. The question is – can you love the Foton Tunland?

Love is a strong word. There are elements that are definitely likeable about this big Chinese dual-cab, but some parts of the drive experience could well be deal breakers, like the fact there’s no automatic gearbox option – only a five-speed manual is available.

It’s teamed to a Cummins truck engine. Yes, that’s right: a 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel by Cummins resides under the bonnet of the Tunland, with 120kW of power at 3600rpm and 360Nm of torque from 1800-3000rpm.

It’s a mill that offers decent grunt, but falls well short of the best utes in the class for pulling power. It doesn’t feel as though it’s lazy, but there’s certainly not as much urgency under throttle in the Tunland as you find in the torque-rich dual-cabs that sit in the next price bracket up.

The five-speed manual offers a good feel to its shift action, but is let down by a clutch pedal lacking meatiness, and we noticed it had some shudder from a standstill in the accessorised version.

Its gearing is perhaps a touch too tall – for instance, you’ll find yourself rowing through the gears a little more than you might expect when it comes to hill climbs, as the transmission has large troughs either side of the shifts. A six-speed 'box may fix all this if it were available, and it would make the Tunland a little more composed on the highway.

Speaking of the highway, the cruise control system is one of the worst examples in recent memory. Set it at what you think is, say, 90km/h, and it’ll fluctuate between 80 and 100. It’s unsophisticated at best.

That said, the fuel use claim from Foton is 8.3 litres per 100 kilometres, and during our time with the Tunland we saw a little more than that, at 9.3L/100km – pretty good, given we took it off-road, loaded it up and ran around on the highway and around town.

The Foton’s steering isn’t as town-friendly as some of its more modern contemporaries, with a hydraulic steering system that is heavy at low speeds, but it is accurate enough despite taking a few turns from lock to lock. As speeds rise the steering is decent on the straight-ahead, making it easy to hold a line on the highway, but in corners it can be a little wobbly.

It will understeer on the approach and oversteer on the exit if you put your foot down a little too soon, and the traction control system isn’t quite as sophisticated as other utes we’ve sampled. That said, there are name-brand Thai-built utes that can’t match the steering response of the Chinese-made Foton.

The ride comfort without a load on board is a bit rigid, with the live rear axle feeling sharp edges such as road joins. It’s jiggly over low-speed rapid bumps, but remains relatively composed over potholes and pockmarks at higher speeds – perhaps fine for a country tradie. The done-up version with the RidePro suspension and the bigger wheel/tyre package was better again for ride comfort.

Off-road the Tunland showed itself to be unflustered by mud, ruts, rough paths and slippery sections, with the ute's very quick acting push-button 4WD system and electronically operated DANA limited slip differential making short work of what we threw at it. Its 20o millimetres of ground clearance was ample, if not huge by class standards, and the tyres – Giti Savero HT Plus in 265/65/17 may not have as aggressive a tread pattern nor as much grip as the Toyos on the accessorised ute, but they were good enough on test.

Its payload plays to the name – there’s more than a tonne of capacity for all Tunland variants, with the dual-cab 4x4 offering 1025kg. When we loaded it up with 750 kilograms of ballast thanks to our mates at Crown Forklifts, the Foton got along without too much hassle.

The rear end sagged less than some of our recent comparison competitors, and the front barely lifted with the weight in the back. It was a little slow to settle with the weight in over speed-humps, but it didn’t wobble sideways, and the suspension offered decent ride compliance. While the quality of the ute is generally quite good, the tailgate seemed to twist when loading the weight in, making it hard to shut.

And there are some other driving annoyances: the car will turn off the air conditioning when you stop and take out the key, so every time you get back in you have to hit the button. It might seem a trivial complaint, but I’m sick of it and I’ve only had the car for a week.

On the topic of safety, it’s one of the key issues buyers need to consider if they’re looking at a Foton. The current model lacks standard mod-cons such as front side airbags, which are available in every other name-brand ute on the market, and it also misses out on curtain airbag protection for front and rear occupants.

There’s not a hint of extra safety tech, either – no autonomous braking, blind-spot monitoring or lane-keeping help: it has anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control, as do all of its rivals. When Foton first launched, the ute had just a lap belt, like you may have found in a mid-'90s dual-cab, and it scored just three stars when tested by ANCAP in 2012 – the rules have become a lot stricter since then…

As for space, the second-row is tight – surprising, given the Tunland is one of the longest utes on the market at 5310mm long, but its wheelbase isn't the lengthiest at 3100mm (it measures 1870mm tall and 1880mm wide). There’s good space in terms of width, and there’s hardly any intrusion from the transmission tunnel – but knee-room is tight for outboard passengers, as is toe-room.

The rear seat features a flip up base, meaning you can store items in the back cab if its raining outside, or if you just want to keep them secure. On that, the key for the Foton has one of the slowest reacting remote central locking systems we’ve come across.

Electronics aren’t the Foton’s strength: there is no option for a touchscreen media unit – instead, buyers have to put up with an old-school head-unit with buttons. There’s Bluetooth, so at least that’s covered, and you have CD, AM and FM radio. Don’t be fooled by the USB plug cover – it’s actually a micro-USB, so it’ll be useless for most energy-dependent smartphone users. There is a 12-volt outlet, though.

Storage is sorted, with decent sized door bins all around, a pair of cupholders between the front seats, and map pockets on the backs of both front seats. There are no rear air-vents, and no centre armrest for those in the back.

But the biggest thing that impressed me was the fit and finish. Sure, the materials used aren’t as good as you’ll find in most other dual-cabs in the circa-$40K range, but the way everything is put together gives some of the established players a run for their money. That said, we noticed one or two buzzy rattles at times, which could grow old, fast.

The Tunland’s tray is sizeable, too: it measures 1570mm wide (but just 1380mm wide at floor level and 1030mm wide between the wheel arches, meaning it is too tight to git a standard Aussie pallet), 1500mm long but a shallow 430mm deep. All 4x4 dual-cab models have a tray liner, and there are four high-mounted tie down points to strap down a load. A couple of hooks down lower in the tray wouldn’t go astray.

Towing is below standard for one-tonne utes (3.5 tonnes is the benchmark), with the Foton offering 2.5-tonne braked capacity or 750kg for trailers without brakes.

Foton can’t match the best utes on the market for ownership peace of mind: it has a three-year/100,000km warranty, which is down on, say, a Triton (five years/130,000km) but there is three years’ roadside assistance included. There’s no capped-price service program to speak of, either, but the company has a presence in every state and territory in the country.

I said earlier you’d have to love your Foton to justify the expense of all these accessories. I don’t love this ute, but I definitely don’t hate it, either. If you came across a really good deal, and you weren’t concerned by its safety and equipment shortcomings, it could be a decent thing for you to roll the dice on. Or, if you’re looking to buy a tough ute that can cope with whatever the apprentices will throw at it, it might be worth considering, and there's a three-year/100,000km warranty with the same coverage for roadside assist.

At the end of the day, the Foton Tunland feels a little outdated, especially when you can get super strong deals on dual-cab manual 4x4 models from Mitsubishi and Nissan for a fraction more. Our advice? Shop around and be sure to try before you buy.

Optional equipment fitted to accessorised vehicle (fitment not included in below prices):
Canopy with side windows – $4175
RidePro raised front suspension – $867
RidePro raised rear suspension (increases payload by 300kg) – $1244
Dynamic Python 17-inch alloy wheels (x5) – $1631
Toyo AT2 tyres 265/65/R17 (x5) – $1821
Airflow snorkel – $542
Bullbar – $2238
VRS winch with 9500lb wire rope – $1232
Towbar and kit – $819 (currently free with runout models)

Also fitted:
VRS full recovery kit – $344
Bonnet protector – $124
Four slim-line weathershields – $148
All-weather mat set – $238