The problem with Chinese vehicles is perception. Granted, some of the sneers and lingering doubts are justified but in context, they are all workable within particular budgets and certain timeframes.
Foton, a division of China's giant Beijing Automotive, gets a lot of it right with a dual-cab ute that is priced between the entry-level Great Wall and more established models such as the Mitsubishi Triton. Foton has 20 national dealers and wants 30 by next year to help it add a van, people-mover and a Tunland-based SUV.
The Tunland TK price is $32,490 drive away for a dual-cab ute with diesel engine and part-time 4WD. This is about $5000 dearer than Great Wall, ZX Grand Tiger and Mahindra Pik-Up. Foton plays heavily on the international respect of its drivetrain components - Cummins engine, Dana axles, Getrag gearbox and Borg Warner transfer case - but understand that these are all built under licence in China. The feature list is, compared with most Thai-built utes, almost generous.
Tunland gets rear park sensors, tub liner with fold-back tie-down hooks, metallic paint, 16-inch alloys, Bluetooth and iPod/USB connnectivity, wood-look dash trim, lots of cabin grab handles and Isofix child seat anchors. There's no capped-price service and needs six-monthly, 10,000km schedules. Glass's Guide reckons its resale after three years is a reasonable 43 per cent of its purchase price.
The ornate, overly-chromed grille is the only external giveaway that this is Chinese. The ute's body is substantially wider than other homeland utes and its contemporary shape - notable in the door, side-glass and the tailgate design - puts it in the same crowd as the Colorado, Triton and Isuzu D-Max.
Cabin treatment is similarly impressive in appearance though in keeping with the genre, there's acres of hard plastic. Some of the switchgear and closing panels feel weak. Cabin room is on par with rivals but this may be the most comfortable dual-cab for rear seat passengers thanks to the more relaxed seat-back angle.
A higher ladder-frame chassis (looking remarkably like a Hilux) makes the tub higher than many rivals though its dimensions are bigger than, for example, the Triton. It tows 2500kg and has a 950kg payload.
The Chinese-built Cummins ISF 2.8-litre claims 120kW/360Nm, the latter at 1800rpm, for an 8.4 L/100km fuel consumption drawing from a 76 litre tank. The manual five-speed gearbox is a Chinese-assembled Getrag, the rear axle is from Dana and the transfer case is an electric-action Borg Warner.
No one has put there hands up for the chassis though it's probably a copy of an early Hilux, while the brakes are front vented discs with standard-issue drums at the back. Unlike most peers, the steering is rack and pinion with hydraulic assistance. In-cab electronics include Bluetooth hands-free.
I hope you're not expecting a lot here so I won't disappoint. It gets a three-star crash rating and ANCAP says it is unsuitable for carting children aged under four years because it has no top tether anchorage points. Electronic brakeforce distribution, ABS and two airbags are standard, as is a full-size spare wheel.
The honourable list of component suppliers is impressive but doesn't translate into the drive experience. The engine is sometimes weak at low revs and though I initially blamed turbo-lag, it's more likely an electronic throttle hiccup.
The Getrag box has a nice set of cogs (and I bet you say that to all the girls) but the shift quality is vague and the high axle gearing - which makes quiet 100km/h cruising at 1800rpm - makes for sluggish acceleration. But the rack and pinion steering is more precise that the valium-stunned vagueness of other Chinese utes' recirculating-ball units.
Ride comfort is reasonable - certainly within class averages - and the US-designed seats are supportive and comfortable. Off the road the electric push-button transfer case engages cleanly. Performance in the dirt is good though tyre choice is vital as mine clogged with mud and was a no-go within a few minutes.
Engine delivery is greatly enhanced by the low-range reduction. Ground clearance is adequate and there's a metal skid plate to protect the front of the engine. Though this is the best Chinese ute I've driven, it doesn't relay a lot of confidence which keeps the speed low, especially when entering a corner.
Foton gets the aesthetics and the features right. It now needs to refine the drivetrain.
Price: $32,490 Drive Away
Warranty: 3 Years/100,000km
Capped Servicing: None
Service Interval: 6mths/10,000km
Safety: 2 Airbags, Abs, Ebd
Crash Rating: Not Tested
Engine: 2.8-litre, 4-cyl Turbo-diesel; 120kw/360nm
Transmission: 5-spd Manual, 2-spd Transfer; Part-time 4wd
Thirst: 8.4l/100km; 222g/km Co2
Dimensions: 5.3m (l), 1.8m (w), 1.8m (h)
Spare: Full Size