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September 13, 2016

Review: 2016 Foton Toplander 4x4

Normally, it’s hard to separate a carmaker from its country of origin: Toyota is from Japan, Hyundai is from Korea, Tata is from India, and Foton is from China. Subsequently, there’s some temptation to judge how good or not-so-good a car is based on where it’s made. But you’re not going to read any of that. Instead, you’re only going to read about how the Toplander performs on its own merit; how it performs as a mid-sized SUV. Known more for their commercial vehicles and heavy equipment, it’s hard to imagine what lengths Foton had to go through to design and engineer their first-ever SUV. Yet, the Toplander easily passes all the requirements of a would-be Filipino buyer.

Though it looks somewhat plain to the eye, there’s no line that looks out of place. It’s decisively less sleek than the newer-generation SUVs, but you have to hand it to the Toplander’s designers for penning an elegant-looking body. The main draw here is the trapezoidal waterfall grille, which happens to serve as Foton’s new design trademark flanked by complex-looking headlights with projector low beams and LED signal lights. At the side, a sharp line at the waist cuts the silhouette visually lowering the height while 17-inch alloy wheels and LED rear lamp clusters complete the external design cues.

Getting into the cabin requires a step-up, but pillar-mounted grab handles for both the first and second rows make this an easy task. Settling in, it’s clear than the interior echoes the exterior in its design and execution in that it’s pleasantly modern, if a bit plain. Pretty much all of the materials used for the cabin are hard to the touch, but at least the fit and finish is consistent. Though there’s some nice texturing going on, there are still some cheap bits like the stalks and the vanity mirror lid, but they aren’t major deal breakers.

That said, it’s easy to get accustomed to the Toplander’s cabin. The controls are laid out in a clear, concise manner. In front of the driver is a two-barrel instrument cluster with the tachometer placed on the right side (a trait shared with performance-oriented cars) and to its right is a large infotainment system with both physical and touchscreen controls. Directly below that is the manual climate control system, and below that is the gear lever with all 4WD-related controls neatly arranged in a column to the right.

Aside from the solid ergonomics, the Toplander mostly succeeds in providing for a roomy and practical cabin. The front seats themselves offer surprisingly good support and generous space in terms of head, shoulder, and leg room. The second row is also comfortable with ample knee room along with reclining seatbacks and adjustable headrests for all. It’s only in the third row where the space feels compromised. With the second row not being able to slide fore and aft, taller individuals will find the rearmost accommodations lacking. The high floor design means that knees on all three rows are slightly bent up, though it’s most noticeable for those in the last row.

For its exterior size, the Toplander’s cargo space is smaller than expected. Around four full-sized luggage and numerous carry-ons can still fit with the third row stowed, but the tall loading height means having to exert extra effort to put them in or out. What’s more, folding the third row seats isn’t exactly a single button or lever affair. Two levers are required; one to spring the seat cushions up and another to bring the seat backs down. In theory, it’s supposed to all work smoothly until the cushions bang up against the fully reclined second row. This necessitates having to pull the second row seatbacks to a fully upright position first before being able to fold the third-row seat completely. It’s the same situation when trying to retrieve the third-row seats from a stored position.

While the Toplander needs some work with its seat mechanism, there’s no denying about how solid a drive it is. The foundation here starts with the platform which is comprised of front double wishbones and rear coil springs with five links. In the urban environment, it offers a compliant ride that absorbs some of the worst bits of Manila’s roads. Potholes, road ribs, and expansion joints rarely make it unfiltered through the cabin. It’s only when going over long, continuous expanses of uneven terrain (like that dreaded truck lane on C5 again) or larger obstacles that shocks can be transmitted into the cabin. Still, these occurrences are rare.

Being a pick-up based SUV, the Toplander doesn’t offer any sporty pretensions. Rather, it’s going more for a predictable and safe experience. The hydraulic power steering means more effort to maneuver at low speeds (especially during parking), but makes up for it with good visibility. Despite the size, it’s quite easy and natural to drive in the city. At highway speeds, it remains feels solid and planted enough, though there’s noticeable wind noise at speeds above 85 km/h. Though the entire duration of the drive remained on pavement, it is equipped with a shift-on-the-fly 4WD system. It can traverse grades up to 60 percent and travel on terrain with up to a 40-degree tilt. The 220-millimeter ground clearance and 600-millimeter water wading depth make it a dependable flood-proof daily driver.

Speaking of being a daily driver, knowing how to drive a stick is imperative to Toplander ownership since a row-it-yourself 5-speed gearbox is the only transmission available (for now). Those who don’t mind will find the clutch light in effort and easy in modulation. Starting uphill is no problem thanks to a Hill Start Assist system with the bite point and engagement remaining entirely predictable. The only let down actually is the shifter itself. Aside from consistently crunching going into second gear, the gear ratios as a whole feel out of whack—as if the odd-numbered gears are all low and the even-numbered gears are all high. Even after hours of seat time, it’s hard to get acclimatized to it.

The odd nature of the gearbox effectively neuters what could have been the Toplander’s best-selling point: the 2.8-liter Cummins ISF engine. On paper, with 160 horsepower and 360 Nm of torque, it should make this SUV feel adequately fast. And to some degree it is, but there’s some throttle digging necessary to find it. From a standstill, it feels sluggish, the 2,060-kilogram curb weight and oddly ratioed first gear showing its ugly head. Once it gets going (hitting 2,000 rpm or when any gear apart from first is engaged), it finds a good rhythm. NVH isolation also isn’t exactly a strong point, though it does feel marginally quieter than another mid-sized SUV fitted with a 2.8-liter diesel engine. Fuel efficiency is also something to be desired, registering just 7.14 km/L at an average speed of 14 km/h.

Knowing quite well the competition it’s facing in the local mid-sized SUV market, Foton has equipped it generously given the P 1,298,000 price tag. Apart from the touchscreen infotainment system and rotary dial 4WD system, it comes with dual SRS airbags, anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, electronic stability control with hill start assist and hill decent control, rear parking sensors with reverse camera, and steering wheel controls, even a power tilt/sliding sunroof. The only thing missing is leather seats—something you can get in the more expensive “Executive” edition.

With the Toplander, Foton still hasn’t completely shaken off its commercial vehicle roots, which could be both to its advantage and disadvantage. On one hand, it feels over engineered with a solid, robust platform and an engine designed for durability and reliability. On the other, the more luxurious trimmings such as the folding seat mechanism and even the omission of an automatic gearbox means some work still needs to be done. Still, at this price range (and more so with the P 998,000 4x2 version), the Foton Toplander is hard to beat when it comes to value. Priced to take on the archaic Asian Utility Vehicles or AUVs, it presents itself as a solid and practical choice. It’s also proof that a good vehicle need not be dependent on its country of origin.

2016 Foton Toplander 4x4
Ownership 2016 Foton Toplander 4x4
Year Introduced 2015
Vehicle Classification Mid-sized SUV
The Basics
Body Type 5-door SUV
Seating 7
Engine / Drive F/4WD, Part-Time, Auto, Low Range
Under the Hood
Displacement (liters) 2.8
Aspiration Turbocharged
Fuel Delivery Direct Injection
Layout / # of Cylinders I4
BHP @ rpm 160 @ 3,600
Nm @ rpm 360 @ 1,800 - 3,600
Fuel / Min. Octane Diesel
Transmission 5 MT
Cruise Control Yes
Fuel Economy @ Ave. Speed 7.14 km/L @ 14 km/h
Dimensions and Weights
Length (mm) 4,830
Width (mm) 1,910
Height (mm) 1,840
Wheelbase (mm) 2,790
Curb Weight (kg) 2,060
Suspension and Tires
Front Suspension Independent, Double Wishbone
Rear Suspension Five-Link, Coil Springs
Front Brakes Vented Disc
Rear Brakes Disc
Tires Giti Savero H/T Plus 265/65 R 17 T (f & r)
Wheels Alloy
Safety Features
Airbags 2
Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS) Yes
Traction / Stability Control Yes
Parking Sensors Yes, w/ Rear Camera
Other Safety Features Hill Start Assist (HSA), Hill Descent Control (HDC), Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS)
Exterior Features
Headlights Halogen
Fog Lamps Yes, Front and Rear
Auto Lights Yes
Rain-sensing Wipers No
Interior Features
Steering Wheel Adjust Tilt
Steering Wheel Material Leather
Seating Adjustment Manual
Seating Surface Fabric
Folding Rear Seat Yes, 60/40 (2nd row); 50/50 (3rd row)
On-Board Computer Yes
Convenience Features
Power Steering Yes
Power Door Locks Yes
Power Windows Yes
Power Mirrors Yes
Climate Control Manual, Dual Zone
Audio System Stereo
# of Speakers 6
Steering Controls Yes


  1. This SUV will probably be more reliable than a Ford Everest in the long run. Hahaha

    1. I think the everest is more
      reliable than isuzu

    2. Isuzu is more reliable than Ford. With Ford you mostly have to order parts from the US which takes a lot of time and money. Isuzu has parts readily available in the casa or even in banawe if you like to go cheaper but still want a reliable part. I love the Everest and Ranger, but Isuzu still wins the reliability and durability factor here


    4. ford is powered by mazda diesel, chevrolet is powered by isuzu,, japanese diesel and european diesels are reliable

    5. We all have biases towards a specific make and model so there is no need to bash the competition. Your choice is as good as mine.

    6. We all have biases towards a specific make and model so there is no need to bash the competition. Your choice is as good as mine.

    7. I have a 25-year old Isuzu LS Pickup. The Non-Turbo 4JA1 engine and at 750,000+ kilometer on the odometer. No problem until now, even the timing gear haven't done anything to it for 25 years. Still, my car can achieve speeds of 120kph in the highway. And very frugal in diesel. What can you say about it? Truly quality build.

  2. Just curious, how many of the Toplander and Thunder do they sell in a month? CAMPI reports never indicate per unit sales.

    Oh and the Clark facility is P 1.2B only, not P 12B.

    1. Yes, it's P 1.2B...sorry I'm just typing these replies using my phone.

  3. i drove this beast that can run about 160kph faster enough to satisfy your adrenaline then you could throw your pride away.. the turbo kicks on third as you overtake without even flooring the gas pedal.. the engine sound's like agricultural outside (just like kenworth rig)but luxurious limo inside..

    1. cummins is used in dodge trucks and we find it better

  4. that toplander was only a regular one (not 4x4, not extreme) and i dont even own was my uncle's. i usually dont like driving a vehicle when it's not mine but this one, you have the right SUV for the right price im telling you.. i hoping that Foton view Traveler (which we're planning to buy) has this kind of features... the turbo, the downhill assist system and the built in GPS are the most important.

  5. I dont know what king of brain that is? Trying to boycott chinese products, i think that stupid idea.

    1. So you won't buy an iPhone because it's made in China?

    2. The iPhone is made in china but Apple isn't a chinese company. Foton is a chinese company. There's a difference. It's all about sending a message.

    3. ^ apparently this guy didn't do his economic class or research

    4. Traydor!!!! Lumipat ka na lang sa china! Pwe! This has nothing to do with economics.

    5. patriotism my ass Yellowtard!Nood ka nang nood ng TV Patrol at Heneral Luna!CRAZY!

    6. What's wrong with you PPL, Foton is doing great in our country, #3 selling trucks and heavy equipment and its more reliable because made of cum-mins engine company, the best company engine in US, and its business nothing personal.

  6. Great looking suv. I hope quality is much better than the legendary Cherry QQ.

  7. American engine, Chinese body built in Philippine soil. If build with standards across the world, it's a good deal.

  8. sir uly, typo po - yung tachometer po ay nasa kanan. you mentioned kasi its on the left side ng cluster. yun lang.

    1. Thanks for pointing that out. I meant that the tachometer is on the right side. Corrected.

  9. I'll leave geopolitics aside and just talk on my actual experience with the car. Afterall, this is a car website. I own a regular Toplander 4x2 for 6 months now and it has racked up around 15,000 km already. The longest I have driven is from Manila to Leyte and back in both hot and stormy weather. That's a total of over 1,000km each way. I have only gone to the casa (Foton Sta. Rosa, which is currently being served by Chevrolet Sta. Rosa as they have the same owner and Foton's building is still under construction) only twice: first on the first 1,000km and second on the first 10,000km. I haven't had any issue with the car, mechanical or electrical, minor or major. My reason for getting the car is primarily price (sub P1MM), the cummins engine (I did some research on it first), its size hence the ability to get me through the potholed C6 road everyday and flooded streets if necessary, the 5-year warranty, and PMS interval and cost (every 10,000 km at roughly P5k give or take depending on what gets replaced). I am used to driving a stick through traffic so a manual transmission is a non-issue for me, though the second gear did take some time to get used to but after a week I adjusted perfectly. The sound quality of the audio system was horrible at first but a simple adjustment in the EQ fixed it right away. Do not use the presets since these are horrible. Adjust the bass to -2 and treble to +7 and your audio sounds quite good. All seat adjustments are manual, plastics used are hard but textured, and free seat covers are made of cloth which is ok since the car does not pretend to offer luxury in the first place. The car auto-locks all doors when it reaches 20kph. It has one-touch button to roll all four windows down. It has adjustable projector headlight and visibility at night time is good. The engine pulls strong and achieves cruising speed comfortably. It sounds a little bit on the agricultural side from the outside but you can hear very little of it once you're inside. The doors feel thick and close with reassuring thud (more reassuring than my Chevrolet Captiva). I feel comfortable driving in both highway and traffic (I don't have much experience as a passenger but my wife said its comfortable as the second row seat has a lot of legroom). There is very minimal body roll for a car this big and potholes do not jar you. Careful with the ceiling upholstery though since it is textured cloth and dirt is very hard to clean (I gave up cleaning some stains in mine). The double-barreled instrument cluster has good visibility and the trip computer gives distance-to-empty (aside from giving the real time and average fuel consumption) which is very helpful. So far I am happy with the car. So long as you treat it as it is (it is a people mover that does not pretend luxury) and set your expectations right, I think this is one car which offers so much value. Again this is just my personal experience from an actual owner.

    1. One more thing, you can roll down all four windows of the car without entering or using the key (helpful during those hot sunny days) by simply pushing the open button of the remote for a few seconds

    2. To clarify, while the car is locked and you are on the outside, press the unlock button and hold for a few seconds. The car would unlock and automatically roll all four windows down.

    3. Thanks for sharing first hand info. I've been eyeing this vehicle for quite some time now. Might just make the plunge already.

    4. Thats a good feature for its price. Im just wondering, I was following one here in our place and saw black smoke coming out of the muffler. Considering it was new, Im wondering if it was just an isolated case?

    5. Must be the EGR (Exhaust Gas Recirculator)? Excessive black smoke will be caused by the EGR failing. If it's just a puff, that's normal. Any diesel--even the European ones--will experience that even with our Euro 4 diesel fuels.

  10. I hope they release an automatic version soon!

  11. sorry guys... but I can t see any rear ac vents... good engine and price point... matched with metro manilas unpredictable roads...

    1. Vents in third row only, like first generation Fortuner

  12. Yes, third row right side. There is a button in the front aircon panel to switch on the rear AC then full control panel in the rear.

  13. I recently purchased the Base model Toplander 4X2. I am down to my 1220KM trip and already had serviced it for the 1K PMS. I have no issues on the unit as I already made my in-depth research over the net and actually it exceeded my expectations so I am happy with my purchase. The only thing that I noticed with my unit is the fuel consumption.

    Based from standard computation of fuel consumption, I am only getting about 7KM/L from a mixed city/provincial driving. Is this somewhat normal for a brand new engine? If so, then their claim of 8-9L/100KM was inaccurate? How does it compare with other brand SUV of the same category? I usually drive at nighttime as I work GY shift, home-work-home, caught up in traffic only during times when I am going home. Had a provincial trip to Cavite twice and once going to Lucena (which explains the 1200KM trip in a month). Never been heavy with the pedal as I am still getting accustomed with driving a vehicle this big. Usual max speed at 80KM and always shifting before 2K. It bothers me because to date, I've already had three full tanks of the same fuel (Petron Diesel) and I feel that it is a gas-gussler beast. My comparison is my old FOTON Blizzard pickup with an old 2.8 4JB1 engine, same base model 4x2. When we got it brand new, it consumes about 12KM/L and gradually goes high to 9.5KM/L on the same driving condition after 5 years of ageing.

    I was looking at Sir Uly's review but I'm a bit confused on his computation of 7.2Km/L @ 14KM/h... To the others who bought it, any inputs on your fuel consumption?

  14. I'm getting around 8-9km/L combined based on the average fuel consumption in the trip computer. I havent tried doing the manual measurement. My unit is now 6 months old and running over 16,000 kms. I was hitting around 11-12km/L purely highway driving.

  15. Thanks Anonymous, that is what I am telling them. There is something wrong with my settings. Now I just finished 1/3 of my full tank and I am just running about 100KM. Based on my fuel consumption in the trip computer, I am running at 17.6L/KM which is about 5.6KM/L purely city driving with a mix of traffic. I've never had an experience with 11-12KM/L during my highway driving.

  16. Hi sir, I agree something must be wrong. Better take it to the casa to find out. Have you tried resetting the trip computer and see if you get reasonable results?

    1. Yup, I reset it. I am now running 306KM and my tank is measured at 1/4 remaining (roughly 17.5L). I am guessing I'll hit about 420KM on empty (assuming I consume the total 70L). Which will give me more or less 6.3KM/L, too much consuption for a brand new "fuel efficient" engine....

  17. Something's really wrong there. My unit (running over 16,000 km already) is now averaging 9km/l from Antipolo to BGC and back via C6 (with heavy traffic in both C5 and C6).

  18. H! My mom is planning to buy an suv from foton. And were not really good on identifying if its a good or not mahalaga meh ma sakyan. So reading all ur reviews mukang ok naman and about the fuel wala kaming idea sa mga calculate calculate na yan. Hays. Sana walang magiging problema sa suv nila.

  19. Wait for review by botchi TABA

  20. Cummins ISF 2.8 engine, Gertrag MT, Dana axles, Bosch fuel injection system, Daimler ZF 6-speed AT...


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