|Photos by Ulysses Ang|
With an overall length of 5.2 meters and a height of 2.25 meters, driving the King Long Univan comes with a strong warning: it won't fit in your standard mall parking. Considering the propensity of Filipinos to go "malling" in the weekends, the Univan has severely limited use. Still, that didn't stop me from taking one for a weekend spin, and exterior dimensions aside, it's a remarkably good van considering the price.
If the brand seems familiar, it's because King Long is the very same company that builds buses, especially the deluxe ones, that ply EDSA and our provinces. It's a partially state-owned Chinese brand that started in 1988. Since then, King Long prides itself by being the first to achieve ISO TS16949 manufacturing status as well as being designated as a "National Vehicle" in China. Throughout its history, King Long is the choice for ferrying people to important events such as the National People's Congress, the APEC Conference, as well as the Summer Olympic Games in Beijing. There, King Long fielded 2,000 buses with a "zero failure" rate in 60 days.
With such a history, Focus Ventures (the same company that distributes the Chana cars and FAW trucks) expanded its portfolio by bringing in the King Long line of light commercial vehicles and vans, starting off with the Univan. Known as the "A+HIASE" in China, the Univan is as basic and utilitarian as a van gets. From the outside, the Univan doesn't even attempt to mask its boxiness. It's got a sliding door on one side, a large hatch at the back, a bubble roof on top, and that's about it. Still, you have to hand it over to the folks at King Long for adding some pizzazz like the projector-type headlights, multi-reflector taillights, and the standard front fog lamps.
Inside, the Univan boasts of a molded dashboard, and as simplistic as it sounds, it's a big leap from its most direct rivals: light-duty trucks converted to passenger carrying duty. Combined with the integrated ceiling-mounted vents (dual air conditioning is standard), it gives off a much more refined and modern feel. Plus, the Univan doesn't scrimp on creature features: a height adjustable steering wheel with power assist and an AM/FM radio with CD and USB input are present. And eerily, even a fire extinguisher is standard. All in all, the Univan is sounding like a real deal, and we haven't even talked about the 14-seater capacity yet!
Driving the Univan is very similar to driving a typical light-duty truck. Ingress requires a good step up, so thankfully there are step boards for the front passengers. Once on board, the driver and two front passengers are treated to a high seating position which offers a commanding view of the road ahead. The seating is precariously high, but comfortable. Thankfully, King Long offers a much more car-like experience with the pull-type handbrake and well-set steering wheel. Visibility is alright given the Univan's expansive size thanks to the large greenhouse. Despite the light steering and great exterior visibility though, careful manoeuvring is needed to operate the Univan. Because of its sheer length, you literally have to count two seconds before committing a U-turn. It literally feels like driving a car through two time zones: the front and the rear axle. Plus, parking it is quite literally a pain. Even if it's got rear parking sensors, finding a suitable slot where the Univan won't stick out is almost impossible to do.
Parking limitations aside, the Univan actually feels more stable than its size or dimensions suggest. The technologies underpinning the Univan are as rudimentary as they come, but they work. And that's the important thing. The suspension is a torsion beam axle upfront and leaf springs at the back providing for a safe, but otherwise unremarkable handling and ride. The Univan rides on 195/70R15 radial tires, again a car-like feature next to the ply-bias tires offered by the competition. The Univan is taller than it is wide, but it corners safely as long as it isn't pushed too hard. The brakes are discs in the front and drums at the back. Again, nothing remarkable. However, the Univan does offer something it's typical competition doesn't: LSPV or Load Sensing Proportioning Valve. Though a common feature in passenger cars, LSPV is a rarity in trucks and commercial vehicles. LSPV works to distribute front and rear brake bias reducing premature brake lock-up. This is a very important feature for vehicles with lightweight back ends like vans.
Another ace up King Long's sleeve is its engine: a 2.8-liter turbocharged CRDi engine with 90 horsepower and 220 Nm of torque. Again, since this is a van, we can't quote acceleration times or top speeds. The five-speed transmission is designed for pulling power, so the Univan feels spirited from a standstill. The engine's got modest pull, but swapping through the gears is a less than precise affair. It must be noted though that I didn't load a single soul or cargo on board the Univan, so I can't tell how it'll perform when filled to capacity.
Clearly, the King Long Univan isn't designed to ignite your soul. It's a basic people carrier for the business-minded. It promises to be practical, low-cost, and worry-free thanks to the 2-year / 50,000 kilometer warranty. The King Long Univan delivers on those promises, and is perhaps a much more refined solution than adding a passenger cabin to a light-duty truck. As long as your garage is long or tall enough, it's best to consider the King Long Univan for for shuttle requirements.