2018 Foton toplander has all the right stuff

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Chromed roof rails, chromed side mirrors, chromed window moldings, and chrome-lined side step boards

Despite the higher excise tax rates imposed by the new tax reform law, light commercial vehicles, especially SUVs, continue to dominate sales.

In the midsize pickup-based passenger vehicle (PPV) sport utility vehicle market, competition is keenest in the 4×2 automatic transmission CRDi (common rail direct injection) turbo diesel segment.

Five brands are fighting for market share in the lucrative 4×2 A/T PPV segment: Toyota Fortuner, Mitsubishi Montero Sport, Isuzu mu-X, Ford Everest, and Chevrolet Trailblazer.

An upstart

Recently, an upstart from China, the 2018 Foton Toplander 4×2 A/T, entered this crowded field, challenging the competition with a lower suggested retail price (SRP) to offset its newcomer status in the Philippine automotive industry.

The 2018 4×2 Toplander is offered in two variants: the manual transmission EL (P1.28 million) and the automatic transmission ELX (P1.488 million).

Compare the SRP of the top-of-the-line Toplander ELX with the SRPs of the 2018 competitors, all of which are imported completely built units: Toyota Fortuner 2.4 G 4×2 A/T (P1.682 million), Mitsubishi Montero Sport GLS 2.4 4×2 A/T (P1.696 million), Isuzu mu-X 3.0 LS-A 4×2 A/T Blue Power (P1.845 million), Ford Everest 2.2 Titanium 4×2 A/T (P1.839 million), and Chevrolet Trailblazer 2.8 A/T 4×2 LTX (P1,805,888).

In spite of its lower SRP, the Toplander has all the right stuff when it comes to powertrain, safety equipment, cabin space, convenience features and infotainment.

Daimler and Cummins

Launched in Manila in 2015 by the United Asia Automotive Group, Inc., the formerly manual–transmission-only Foton Toplander has been refreshed and upgraded for 2018 with a six-speed A/T using Daimler Benz technology and a new 2.8-liter Blue Energy Euro 4-compliant diesel engine developed with Foton’s 12-year engine building partner, Cummins of Columbus, Indiana, U.S.A.

Cummins, if you don’t know it yet, has been building engines since the 1930s. The ISF (Interact System F) Blue Energy 2.8-liter SOHC 16-valve inline-4 intercooler turbodiesel engine powering the 2018 Toplander is the lightest and strongest in its displacement class.

It produces 163 ps @ 3600 rpm and 360 Nm @ 1800-3600 rpm max torque, its fat torque curve capable of achieving 100 km per hour at a low 1,800 rpm in top gear.

The ISF design’s advanced thermal engineering allows the engine to smoothly deliver high torque and power, even at high temperatures, without needing large cooling packages.

Bosch-computerized

It has a turbocharged intake system, Bosch-computerized high-pressure CRDi, exhaust gas recirculating system, and diesel oxidation catalyst, all of which contribute to cleaner and more thorough fuel burning while reducing noxious emissions and diesel clatter.

The 4×2 2018 Toplander A/T has a ground clearance of 220 mm, wading depth of 600 mm.

I did notice that the Toplander’s engine runs more quietly and produces less NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) than the powerplants of other turbodiesel SUVs, although it does get a bit noisy at highway speeds.

The 6-speed A/T with manual mode goes through the gears smoothly with the hydraulically-assisted power steering, helping to make maneuvering in tight spots less hefty and providing a feel of the road when the vehicle is being driven.

The speedometer indicates the active driving mode: D1 for default, or normal, S1 for Sport, and an icon for Eco. When you turn off the engine, the driving mode automatically returns to D1.

What needs improvement are the numb brakes. As a pickup-based, body-on-frame vehicle with a 3-ton towing capacity, the Toplander needs strong brakes that engage instantly.

Bouncy

Also, as a PPV, the rear wheel drive Toplander does not provide a comfy, carlike ride, but rather a firm, bouncy, truck-like one. Like any tall vehicle, the Toplander shows noticeable body roll when negotiating corners.

Common sense prevails in the cockpit with user-friendly controls, gauges and touchscreen infotainment system.

The Toplander’s ground clearance is 220 mm, its wading depth, 600 mm.

The ELX variant’s exterior has more chrome than the EL plus 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlamps, LED turning lights on the chromed side mirrors, DRLs (daytime running lights), and chromed roof rails.

Leather seats, cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, dual zone climate control, reverse parking camera and reverse parking sensors, adjustable lumbar support for the driver’s seat, touchscreen infotainment with AM/FM radio, six speakers, Bluetooth audio, USB, aux, iPod interface and SD are standard features in the ELX.

On the other hand, fit and finish are not as top drawer as several competitors, and hard plastic abounds in the cockpit.

Generous

With a wheelbase longer than the Fortuner’s, the seven-seater Toplander offers generous headroom, elbow room and legroom at the back, although the 50/50 split/fold third row seats are suitable only for children.

The second row split/fold 60/40 seats have three headrests, which indicates that three passengers can be comfortably accommodated.

The Toplander’s tailgate resembles that of an old model Toyota Fortuner, but larger.

For a bargain-priced SUV, the Toplander ELX’s suite of safety features is more than adequate.

Aside from the usual two front airbags and ABS with EBD, electronic stability control, limited slip differential, hill start assist, and hill descent control are standard equipment.

The reverse parking camera and sensors function well, giving a clear picture of what’s behind with green, yellow and red lines, indicating how near or far the parking block is.

The Cummins ISF 2.8-liter Blue Energy Euro 4-compliant CRDi turbo diesel engine is the lightest and strongest in its displacement class.

The Cummins ISF 2.8-liter Blue Energy Euro 4-compliant CRDi turbo diesel engine is the lightest and strongest in its displacement class.

The sensors don’t chirp too loudly or alarmingly. Once, when I was backing up too close to a cement wall, the warning “18 cm” showed up on the touchscreen.

The Toplander, along with other Foton commercial vehicles, is assembled at the 11-hectare, P1.2-billion Foton production plant in the Clark Freeport Zone, Pampanga.

Premises considered, the made-in-the-Philippines 2018 Foton Toplander 4×2 A/T has all the right stuff—plus the right price.



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