The premiere Foton passenger vehicle, the Toplander, is now one of the SUVs that you should take a look! From a very sturdy but less appealing driving form, due to its manual transmission, the all new Toplander 4×2 is now equipped with a 6-speed automatic tranny!

I was fortunate to be one of the lucky media people to join Foton’s Ride & Drive recently to sample this AT variant, in which Foton believes will be the model to bring them up the ladder.

Ride & drive
The test drive activity saw motoring scribes going up to Northern Luzon to bring us to Foton’s annual corporate social responsibility activity in the Aeta’s Nabuclod Elementary Schoo in the outskirts of Floridablanca, Pampanga. Foton, headed by its president Rommel Sytin, made a lot of children happy with grocery bags and Jollibee food for all.

We logged in more than 500 kilometers with the new Foton Toplander EL through rough roads, highways while going up to Baguio and back. I can safely say I can give a good review after this trip!

Auto difference
The biggest difference from the previous model is the 6-speed AT, which is why I believe the new Toplander is way above the older one. The new model has a no fuss, and had smooth shifting and well sorted out automatic transmission that a lot of car manufacturers should take notice of.

For a first timer, I expected some teething problems especially on how the transmission engages the 160-hp, 360-Nm torque, Cummins engine. As soon as our group, composed of my partner Lindy Pellicer and Manskee Nascimento of Top Gear, got on board and drove away, my apprehensions were thrown out the window! The transmission earned an excellent rating from me!

The seamless shifting, the properly engineered gear ratios and the quiet performance made the Toplander feel like a Japanese SUV. Shifting it manually also didn’t dampen my impression as it performed flawlessly and without complaints. Cruising speed of 100 kph along the highway was very easy and only needed 1,900 rpm to do it. The SUV can go faster without any hesitation.

Getting there
If the automatic transmission gets an excellent rating, the exterior and interior designs plus the engine are still coming up to standards. The Toplander has its best look from the back where there is some tinge of European and Japanese SUV look. The front fascia is unique and you will either like it or not. I’m sure it will be easy to make it look good with aftermarket parts.

The top variant has the infotainment upgrade with touchscreen display with back up display indicated. The sound system is basic and will need more bass and clarity for discerning passengers.

What I also like are the high roof and roominess of the interior. The front seats were comfortable even after than four hours coming home on highway roads. I know the rear was also very roomy as we were more than happy to be there at some part of the trip.

Driving dynamics
The 5-link rear suspension also made the Toplander ride the bumps well. The suspension settings were firm and compliant but not too good for high performance driving. There were big roll angles when I drove along Kennon road leading to Baguio.

The Cummins power is enough for regular driving but can be made better for spirited runs as other cars and SUVs have higher power and torque already. The engine comes to life at higher rpms and has the power to cruise above the speed limit. Buy it is also noisy when idling and at slow speeds.

The brakes can be made better with more firmness on the pedal. The Foton SUV though will stop at a very good rate once you step firmly on the brakes and will just need more pedal pressure to do it. There is ABS in all models with Hill Descent / Hill Climb features in the higher variants.

We were also amazed at how Foton has grown with their Clark and Subic operations. They are now building truck bodies and putting up the Gratour Dealerships that sell their minivans with the same name. The target of 100 dealerships will likely be accomplished and that will be a great achievement for the growing company.


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