Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Foton's Game Changer: Upclose with the Toplander


During one otherwise uninteresting afternoon, I received a rather peculiar phone call. “Sir, would you be interested in driving the Foton Toplander in Indiana?” Given the quality of our cellular service in Manila, I was almost sure I misheard the other person on the line. “Sure,” I said. When will you need me to submit my Chinese Visa requirements? “No sir. You won’t need it. This drive will be in Indiana, USA.” A long pause ensued. A Foton drive in the Midwestern US? They must be kidding, I thought. Lo-and-behold, two weeks later, I was actually on a 31-hour plane ride to Columbus, Indiana to see the Toplander.

Initially, this didn’t make a whole lot of sense given the Toplander (Sauvana as it’s called globally) isn’t offered in the US. Jeff Caldwell, Cummins’s General Manager for Global Pickup and Van Business clarified things though. Foton is one of the largest customers for America’s diesel engine specialist and this is especially true for the ISF 2.8-liter common rail engine—currently Cummins’s smallest engine. Cummins produces 400,000 of these engines annually and half of the lot end up in a Foton vehicle. What’s more, the Toplander is actually the first SUV application of this powerplant and it will soon be joined by two more SUVs that’ll even be more luxurious. It’s easier to see that a lot’s at stake when it comes to the Toplander and its American-designed engine.



After a quick tour of the Cummins factory, the Toplander was unveiled for everyone to see. Joining the highly competitive mid-sized 7-seater SUV market in the Philippines, the Toplander does come with its own unique style. Clearly, it’s not merely a copycat; instead, it’s a unique design that’s well-proportioned if a bit understated when looked at for the first time. Still, nothing seems out of place on this one. Upfront, it features a trapezoidal waterfall grille (Foton’s new design trademark) and diamond-style headlights. It’s also got roof rails, daytime running lights integrated into the fog lamp cluster, and LED indicators on the side view mirrors. Over at the side, it’s got a sharp waist line that reduces the slab-sided look while 265/65R17 tires fill each corner. At the back, it has a simpler treatment with multi-reflector tail lamp clusters and a standard rear spoiler. It has a wheelbase similar to that of a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado, but overall, it’s longer and wider than Prado, but lower.

Inside, it’s surprisingly modern and ergonomic in its execution. Material-wise, it’s still pretty much of the hard plastic variety, but the fit and finish of the two-tone cabin feels pretty consistent. The dashboard is laid out by operational zone with the two-barrel instrument cluster front and center of the driver and the large infotainment system located on the same eye level. Directly below it sits the automatic climate control and below that is the gear knob with a shift-on-the-fly rotary controller for the 4WD system. All power convenience features is standard on the Toplander as is a separate aircon blower for the third row, but the 4x4 tops that with steering wheel-mounted audio and cruise control buttons on the steering wheel and a power moon roof. Space-wise, the Toplander can easily match the other mid-sized SUV offerings and is highly flexible with a second row that folds in a 60/40 split and a third row that folds flat to the floor.



Carefully developed and engineered to serve Foton’s growing global customer base (they sold 670,000 vehicles last year), the Toplander is underpinned by a rugged platform shared with the Thunder pickup. When equipped with the shift-on-the-fly 4WD system (with a Dana-sourced rear axle no less), it can traverse grades of up to 60 percent and travel on terrain with up to a 40-degree tilt. It also has a 220-millimeter ground clearance and 600-millimeter water wading depth—making it a perfect ally to tackle Manila floods. Of course, careful consider has been made to improve the on-road and urban driving comfort and this necessitated a rear five-link rear coil spring suspension as well as four wheel disc brakes.

The excellent underpinnings aside, the main event is brought about by the Cummins ISF 2.8-liter engine with 160 horsepower and 360 Nm of torque. This Euro-IV emissions compliant engine features a Bosch electronically controlled high-pressure common rail direct injection system as well as Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR). It’s mated to a five-speed Getrag manual and coming soon, a 6-speed ZF automatic transmission. In either application, it can make the Toplander tow up to three metric tons—perfect for those who plan to use it for recreational use.



A short run through a specially-designed off-road course in Rawhide Range in Indiana says a lot about the engineering know-how that went into the Toplander. The engine is quiet with low levels of noise, vibration, and harshness. In this purely non-pavement drive, the Cummins engine has very good pull but the high engagement of the clutch and long throws of the shifter takes some getting used to. Still, master them and this SUV is surprisingly good at tackling extremely muddy terrain. The suspension travel isn’t as generous as some of its Japanese counterparts nor is the bump absorption on the same level, but at least it feels capable and secure in this kind of unforgiving terrain.

Despite its affordable pricing (P 998,000 for the 4x2 M/T and P 1,150,000 for the 4x4 M/T), the Toplander also comes equipped with a slew of active and passive safety equipment. Apart from the rugged and tough body, it has dual SRS airbags, anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, and rear parking sensors as standard. The 4x4 model adds electronic stability program that integrates hill start and hill hold assist.



It’s easy to dismiss the Foton Toplander mainly because of its country of origin, but considering the amount of engineering and technical know-how put into this SUV? It’s more than meets the eye. In fact, it’s pretty good. Considering how a lot of archaic Asian Utility Vehicles or AUVs remain popular choices in the country, the Toplander can be instrumental in its demise. If there’s living proof that the Chinese are quickly catching up in the global stage, especially in producing world-class commercial vehicles, it’s this one. It’s all good news, because while others are divesting car manufacturing in the country, the Toplander will soon be assembled at Foton Philippines’s new assembly plant in the Clark Freeport zone increasing employment opportunity for Filipinos and becoming an instrument in the country’s rapid development.

52 comments:

  1. Meron na kayang units ang mga provincial dealers para maka test drive?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Looking at the photos, I just saw something which I badly needed in an SUV. It's the assist grip for the second row seat. My Fortuner does not have this and I'm still looking for an after market assist grip for the second row seat. Very minor but very high in utility value. i wish the new Fortuner will install a second row assist grip.

      Delete
  2. 7 seater ang toplander?

    Bakit nung launch naka indicate na 5 seaters lang, medyo magulo na haha

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's available in both 5 and 7-seater configuration. Our market has the 7 seats but with a 5-speed MT.

      Delete
    2. Thanks Uly for the info!

      998k for a 7 seater 5-speed MT. Just like the innova before

      Delete
    3. There are a lot more better 7 seater choices out there which are cheaper and safer.

      Delete
    4. Maybe the suzuki ertiga, but nothing else comes to mind

      Delete
    5. Mobilio and Avanza.

      Delete
    6. You can't put the ertiga, mobilio, and avanza on the same league as the toplander cause they are mpv models which are mostly 5seater family cars. Toplander is an suv which is a 7seater platform.

      Delete
    7. Yeah but ertiga, avanza and mobilio are also 7 seaters and they're better than this unsafe piece of chinese crud.

      Delete
    8. How can you say it is unsafe? Crosswind no air bags but still have a good market.

      Delete
    9. You can't call the ertiga and mobilio a true 7 seater cause a person like me who is 5'6 can't comfortably place my legs in there when the 2nd row seat is locked up in place

      Delete
    10. Made in the Philippines is the operative word. This is a truck based SUV which makes it durable. Not to mention that the drive train is Cummins/Getrag/Dana.
      Sayang I just bought a new car before I saw one in Trinoma last night.

      Delete
  3. Despite being a Chinese brand (don't we all hate China?) Foton has a surprisingly good reputation in the Philippines, particularly in the provinces. This is priced very well, but a 5 speed manual? I suppose those in the provinces would prefer manual. City guys like me have already surrendered to automatics due to the traffic.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They will release the 6AT soon.

      Delete
    2. Ulysses when exactly will they release the AT variants? I want to test drive an AT version of the toplander so that I could differentiate it against known nameplates. I've been thinking about selling my XX limited vios in exchange for an suv as of lately.

      Delete
  4. very well priced vehicle, it will give the underpowered mu-x a run for its money. I am already seeing a lot of foton trucks, and vans here, cant wait to see this on the streets as well. for that money, you are getting a lot than you paid for, euro IV diesel engine, unlike the totl isuzu crosswind with that smoke belching prehistoric engine

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. first of all, stop with the underpowered bs. second, why are you comparing the crosswind to this? shouldn't it be turd world SUV against turd world SUV? crosswind is an AUV. boblaks!

      Delete
    2. But the pricing is comparable so we cannot totally blame the reader and even Mr Ulysses Ang if this SUV is compared with the dinosaur Crosswind!

      Delete
    3. Compared with the Crosswind, maybe. But against the mu-X? Really? I doubt if it will last even half the lifetime of a mu-X.

      Oh and like what Anoymous said, enough with the underpowered BS.

      Delete
    4. nah its true. ithe mu-x is very underpowered. cant even keep up with a 2006 fortuner. plus it belches smoke past 2000 rpm. also, the dinosaur crosswind is a deathtrap, doesn't even offer airbags as standard which for its price is kinda dumb. how nice of isuzu to include lcd screens on the headrests but can't afford to put airbags! and the leather quality is dirt ass cheap, starts to tear in less than a year, isuzu won't even cover it because it is under wear and tear, seriously? leather that disintegrates in less than a year!?

      Delete
    5. Underpowered? Nah not really. My Dad owns a MuX and I own a 2015 fortuner and I I've driven the MuX and its runs good. I like the way how it picks up speed and there is like a slight sudden burst of speed when it reaches the 60kph point. I even like its pick up of speed more than the fortuner. And guys for your info, all diesel engines are smoke belchers, it will not belch if you guys are maintaining it properly. I'm a toyota lover, most especially the fortuner line, but just by driving my Dads top of the line 4x2 MuX, I was already willing to tell him to switch his MuX to my fortuner right out of the gate, but I just can't cause I love fortuners and my fortuner is my first fortuner

      Delete
    6. I think you are wrong,my uncle owns a 2002 Nissan Frontier. Its a Diesel but its not a smoke belcher.

      Delete
    7. My foton truck (not cummins) don't emit smoke even over loaded with 5cu.m. gravel running 1st gear at a climb for about 5 minutes at 2.5 rpm.

      Delete
  5. after a zen moment i got enlightened, the foton is the equivalent CD-Rking, you know that you've seen the technology but earlier, you know that it is the cheapest and you know eventually it may breakdown but its all good cause you knew what your getting into and your prepared to buy cheap or your monies worth

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think Foton isn't that bad. My family in the province have bought Fotons in the recent years for their business and maganda raw. Cheap to run at hindi maarte. Pwede ipangharabas. Like another anon said popular siya sa probinsya. Pero mga taga Maynila medyo sosy ang taste kaya talagang hindi uubra si Foton duon.

      Delete
    2. I agree, my foton dump truck consumes fuel same as my strada and kia bongo averaging 12km/L.

      Delete
  6. Good pricing for what you get but the styling looks like it was sponsored by the mid 2000s. Uly is usually on point in his reviews but its hard to take his opinion seriouslybin this one become of that sweet chinese cooking ala gilas vs china in fiba asia

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Technically not a review yet. Still waiting for a longer seat time with the Toplander. We drove it though an off road course only, so you can't really gauge the real world performance.

      Delete
    2. how was the ride compared to similar vehicles? say compared to a Fortuner?

      Delete
    3. I don't think it can be compared as early as now to the ride of Fortuner, Montero and Everest! Give 5 to 10 more years for the Chinese technology to catch up. But compared to Crosswind or Adventure where its really fearsome going above 100 kph because you feel like floating, this SUV is much better.

      Delete
  7. Mr Ulysses Ang is right. This SUV, because of its pricing or value for money, will soon eat up the market share of dinosaur AUV's like the Crosswind and Adventure. These 2 AUV's have outlived their importance and deserve to be mothballed as soon as possible! This might be a game changer after all!

    ReplyDelete
  8. are you serious? those auv's have been the work horse of our public transportation because they are build though reliable and durable to tackle everyday motor life in our country, nobody is running towards any of your china made brands to replace them, why cant china wait for us to die of old age than kill us with your death on wheels

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tough and reliable but not environment friendly since they employ old diesel engines. Again since they are made in the Philippines, I think they deserve a little slack. At least they give employment opportunities for the Filipino craftsmen, and at the same time the truck gets a little of the Filipino touch.

      Delete
  9. Side and back looks a lot like the everest. Dashboard is a perfect imitation too.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Is it just me or is this car eerily similar to the new Everest? Both inside and out! Very good effort though. Would be a worthy contender if it gets good parts supply outside of the casa. The good thing about their old Japanese copycats was that you can easily replace parts with parts from their genuine Japanese counterpart.

    ReplyDelete
  11. this is like an apple iphone clone, it looks similar with a few offsets but you dont expect it as good as the real thing

    ReplyDelete
  12. It looks promising but contrary to what the author said, it is a copycat in terms of exterior design. At first glance, I thought it was a BMW's crossover.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I love that engine, but overall? Nuuh. I'd still prefer the "underpowered" mu x(for those who doesnt have time to test drive it and prefers reading the reviews on facebook) than this crap. The engine is great, but it's not the only part in a car. The engine MIGHT as well be reliable, how about the other parts? And after market services? Poor. For those who keep appreciating this brand, just get it. It only reflects how low your standards in choosing a car is. :)

    ReplyDelete
  14. I've seen some crash tests of chinese cars on youtube. It wasn't pretty. One even got 0 out of 5 stars in its rating. If you really love your family, you would never buy chinese cars. You have a 0% survival rate in the event where you crash or someone else crashes onto your car.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Any word if Foton Philippines will be making this model at their new plant on Clark? I'd be more inclined to purchase if it was built here in the .PH Actually, CarGuide.PH, I'd like to see some coverage of this new plant.. maybe you can get an interview and do an exclusive story. (Thanks in advance!)

    ReplyDelete
  16. Surprising how people say that China produced things are low in quality. All the big brands are made and assembled in China. It's stupid to go with this stigma without even testing. It doesn't mean that because you see a lot of the other brands on the streets automatically makes them better. Remember that these other brands have been here longer hence more people have gambled on them. Plus, remember that the Filipino mentality is they buy what they always see without looking into anything. People try to be car guys but it's funny because most only know how to drive and their "car guy knowledge" ends there.

    Try it out, compare it and then go back here. If the Chinese brand can make reliable heavy equipment, common sense states they can surely make passenger vehicles.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Hey you guys there i all read your nice comments but just remember this all ICE engine has same principle the most important is we are all both in comportable riding ...of course i would like to try this FUTON toplander....

    ReplyDelete
  18. Will the thunder have the auto tranny as well? Cause I think Foton just can't let the Toplander have the auto tranny. The thunder should too cause both of them have the same engine with the same tuning. Hopefully the auto tranny will come sooner than later cause I like the fact its a ZF auto tranny which is one of the best auto trannys out there.

    ReplyDelete
  19. upon looking at the engine, the way it was set up, it was much simplier to maintain..., foton company is the second biggest heavy equiptment company in china, with over a billion population, they are also become global, having market at australia and other parts of western world,which are very stringent when it comes to quality control,...i believe not all chinese product are of inferior quality. to say the least, few are just arrogant to admit...in fact our ancestor traded with them even before the spaniards. their kind have more inventions that mankind are using until today, how about us? we dont even have one proper car, not a jeepney,...which we can call our very own...a car that is one hundred percent made of philippines. from the smallest nut, whole component of the engine, body, etc...

    ReplyDelete
  20. so stop being to proud...which sometimes at the eyes of other nationalities we become dumb and fool...

    ReplyDelete
  21. well i bought foton toplander 4x2 mt. wheeeh its so nice to drive with . i test drive it from iligan city to davao city my fuel cons is only 25 lts thanks foton for the nice engine isf 2.8 cummins. well only 1 thing i want to know what is the meaning of ISF 2.8 ?? anybody brooo.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. How was the ride? Is the suspension soft? How about the acceleration?..

      Delete
    2. meron akong fortuner 2015 model, when i tried foton toplander, nabigla ako, mas maganda yung riding comfort nya kaysa fortuner ko.

      Delete
    3. Rodil Chavez, ISF is the engine badge, "IS" stands for "Intellect Series" while the "F" is the identifier for the category (2.8L engine category). Meron pang ISV (5.0L engine) used by Nissan Titan, ISB, ISL, and so on.

      Kumusta naman po yung consumption nyo ngayon? I got mine 3 weeks ago and I am already at my 1200KM, parang medyo malakas sa Diesel and cumsumo kasi yung AFC ko is 14.4L/100KM (about 7Km/L). Yung sa inyo po ano ang consumo?

      Delete
  22. I am interested with the Foton Toplander' maybe should give it a try. It will be my first car.

    ReplyDelete
  23. I am interested with the Foton Toplander' maybe should give it a try. It will be my first car.

    ReplyDelete