With the local launch of the LDV T60, the Chinese auto giant SAIC is making a big play for Australia's booming ute segment. But is the company's first dual-cab 4x4 good enough to mix it with the established players?
While Australia is waiting patiently for the arrival of the Mercedes-Benz X-Class, ostensibly the first ‘luxury’ dual-cab ute onto our shores, another entrant in the booming ute segment, albeit one with more working class credentials, has arrived, and with little fanfare. Or as much flash.
The LDV T60 is the first dual-cab ute from Chinese carmaker SAIC (Shanghai Automotive and Industrial Corporation) and it has launched in Australia hoping to lure buyers away from the traditional powerhouse workhorses from Toyota, Ford, Mitsubishi et al.
The ute is a first for LDV, better known for producing commercial vans and people movers. But with dual-cabs rocketing up the sales charts, the time is right for the company to expand into this lucrative segment. And it has arrived without fireworks, but with a lot of promise.
Forget what you think you know about Chinese-designed and built cars. With the T60, the goal posts have been shifted. It’s not a seismic shift, mind, but there is a definite move up the production chain that signals better quality and better features than what we have previously come to expect from that country’s burgeoning car industry. Is the T60 a game-changer? Probably not, not in this iteration, but the signs point to a sleeping giant waiting for the first rays of sunlight to hit its face and stir from a long slumber.
Launched locally last week, the LDV T60 enters the hot Aussie dual-cab segment with just two models – Pro and Luxe – each aimed at a specific type of customer. The T60 Pro is unashamedly aimed at tradies, farmers and worksites, while the Luxe makes no bones about its play for the ‘lifestyle ute’ buyer. The good news for potential buyers of either, both come loaded with standard gear that are cost-options on many of the established players in the segment.
But perhaps the T60’s most compelling argument is its pricing.
Starting at $28,990 drive-away (for ABN holders, regular folk pay $30,516 drive-away) for the T60 Pro, the range tops out at the Luxe which ABN holders can drive-away for $34,990 ($36,831 for us regular folk). That’s some pretty sharp pricing, but is it enough to lure buyers away from the more traditional offerings of the established players? Let’s take a look.
As already stated, just two models complete the T60 range – Pro and Luxe. Both are four-wheel-driven and both are available with a choice of manual or automatic transmission. And both are loaded with equipment and safety tech often optional in rivals.
Standard across both Pro and Luxe models: a rear-view camera, rear parking sensors; blind-spot monitoring, adaptive headlights, auto LED headlights, auto wipers, multifunction steering wheel, cruise control, a 10.0-inch touchscreen media system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, two USB ports, tub liner, side steps, heated door mirrors, hill descent control, hill start assist, remote central locking, tyre pressure monitoring, and 17-inch alloy wheels with full-size spare.
The Luxe scores additional goodies such as: smart key, keyless entry, auto-folding side mirrors, leather-trimmed steering wheel, leather seats, electric front seat adjustment, heated front seats, climate control air-conditioning, electronic rear differential lock, and a sports bar.
Helping the T60 achieve its recent five-star ANCAP rating are five lap-sash seatbelts, six airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain), ABS and electronic stability control. There are also ISOFIX and top-tether child seat points.
For prospective ute buyers, that’s plenty of food for thought.
Powering both models is a 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel, with 110kW of power (at 3400rpm) and 360Nm of torque (between 1600-2800rpm). If those numbers seem miserly, it’s because they are.
On the road, the T60 in Luxe form is surprisingly quiet. There is distinct clatter from the diesel unit out front, but it is muted. So too is tyre roar. What is a letdown, is wind noise. There’s a lot of it. That said, everything else about the driving experience is, well, okay.
The steering is direct, if a little light on for feel, while the softer suspension tune of the Luxe (the Pro model has a firmer tune to suit its workhorse aspirations) means the T60 is a fairly comfortable, if wobbly, highway cruiser.
Not so comfortable are those power outputs. At the lower end of the spectrum for the segment, they combine to give the T60 a breathless experience. Getting up to highway speed takes time and if you want to execute an overtake, plan well in advance as rolling response is, let’s just say, anaemic. This was especially evident in the manual variant we have on test. Trying to squeeze the maximum torque and power out of the 2.8-litre turbo diesel, it’s not long before you’re nudging the 3800rpm redline, but with little to show for it apart from a groaning engine begging to be eased back.
The manual ’box is, at best, vague with long, willowy throws and a distinct lack of tactility. And because of the low rev band and modest power outputs, you’ll find yourself shuffling up and down through the gears. A lot. And not in a fun way. But then, this isn’t a manual BMW M3 or even a Mazda MX-5. We suspect the six-speed auto may be the better option on the road.
Dynamically, well, it’s a ute. Mid-corner ruts and imperfections unsettle the rear-end, but not alarmingly so, while a short stint on gravel highlights the tail-happy nature of the T60. Our test car was, of course, unladen. With a full load in the back, the LDV’s handling could well improve, so we’ll reserve full judgment until we get one through the CarAdvice garage for a week.
Speaking of load, here are some crucial T60 numbers. Payload varies depending on model and drivetrain: the Pro, on its heavy-duty suspension, can carry 1025kg (manual) or 995kg (auto). The lifestyle-focussed Luxe riding on a softer suspension can carry 875kg in manual trim and 815kg (auto). The T60’s tow rating is 3000kg braked, or 750kg unbraked with a downball rating of 300kg. The combined gross vehicle mass is 6050kg. Outstanding numbers? Definitely not, but they’re close to par with the segment.
Look, on the road, the LDV T60 in Luxe guise is exactly what it says on the box. It’s not particularly good at any one thing, but neither is it terrible. Where, however, the T60 showed some spark of life was when I hopped into the workman-like Pro for a stint of reasonably tricky off-roading and paddock-bashing.
This time with the six-speed auto doing the hard work of extracting maximum torque and power from the diesel under the bonnet, the T60 Pro proved adept at handling some pretty gnarly terrain. Rocky tracks were swept aside with ease, while long, uphill climbs through little more than long grass also showed the Pro’s chops as a decent workhorse. Switching to 4WD low in the dial (you can switch between 2H, 4H and 4L), the T60 was never flustered or left floundering. Hill-descent worked a treat too, doing the hard work of modulating your speed while descending what was, a reasonably steep decline over grass and rocks. No complaints there.
The firmer suspension, courtesy of a leaf setup at the back, did a reasonable job too of keeping the Pro on track, despite being unladen for this test. Is it great? No. Is it a perfectly acceptable runabout for farmers and tradies more concerned with sure-footedness and an unflustered driving experience? You bet.
And with a starting price of $28k, the LDV T60 looks an attractive and affordable proposition for those wanting the ruggedness of a dual-cab ute but without the $40k-plus budget at their disposal.
LDV is pretty confident the T60 will find its place in the Australian ute segment, which accounts for around 14 per cent of all new cars sales in Australia so far this year. LDV is hoping to snare around five per cent of that market with this, its first foray into the dual-cab segment. And to provide some surety for customers, the LDV T60 range comes with a five-year/130,000km warranty with roadside assist.
The LDV T60 isn’t a bad first effort for the Chinese automotive giant (incidentally, SAIC is the 41st largest corporation in the world, while the LDV brand is associated with building vans and commercial vehicles since 1896, so it’s no Johnny-come-lately).
Is the T60 enough to have Toyota, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Ford and the rest of the segment leaders looking over their shoulders? Maybe. LDV has delivered a decent package, if not a great one. And with that ultra-competitive circa-$28,000 entry point, the company may have done enough to lure some buyers away from the more established brands.