JAPANESE manufacturers have ruled the light truck (or pickup truck) segment since the ’80s, and continue their hold to this day. Only recently has there been a serious challenge mounted by American brands as they build their own light trucks.

    In 2008 Chinese manufacturer Foton entered the segment through its Blizzard, a near mechanical clone to a Japanese truck sold in the ’80s. The Blizzard was cheap and its parts were interchangeable with its Japanese clone. Then Foton replaced it with its second generation pickup model called the Thunder.

    Muscular in dimension and in engine output, the Thunder is no source for worries when it comes to engine noise and performance because it is powered by a 2.8-liter, CRDi, turbocharged and intercooled engine built by Cummins—yes, the American brand. That means its performance will not be left behind.

    Take note; what we have here is not a wallflower variant. The Thunder sent by Foton for review has 33-inch-diameter tires, a raised suspension similar in configuration and size to a leading Japanese pickup, and body protection upgrades designed to improve off-road prowess for play and hard work. The truck’s dampers have been upgraded in order to improve the harsh riding qualities associated with pickups when their beds are empty (or only lightly laden with cargo). You see, trucks still use leaf spring rear suspensions, which are more durable and can carry more payload, but compromise riding comfort.

    But why review a vehicle that has been upgraded? It’s because Foton is actually delivering such specially upgraded Thunder four-wheel drive variants to clients who want the convenience and practicality afforded by a pickup but who still want acceptable riding comfort. The unit here is one of several prototypes the brand had developed clandestinely in preparation for a “special edition” Thunder.

    Compared to a Thunder 4×2, the upgraded Thunder boasts a massive leap in ride quality and handling. Large 285/75/16 Nitto Terra Grappler A/T tires help soak up dips and bumps on- or off-road (Larger tires will always fill up a hole on the road and handle undulations better than smaller tires because their size improves ground clearance). The special Thunder’s raised height also gives it an intimidating stance, which compliments its body lines. Now, if only Foton can do something about the truck’s overly shiny grille. . .

    The Thunder 4×4 has a base price of P1.080 million (without the various upgrades). Ironman Off-Road from Australia is providing the added equipment.

    I took the vehicle to Baguio for a test drive. On the well-paved and open stretches of NLEX, SCTEX and TPLEX, the upgrades inspire confidence when it comes to straight-line, high-speed stability. It was no different on the newly widened and paved highways of Tarlac. The real challenge came in Pangasinan where intensive road repairs are ongoing, making it a necessity to drive over broken concrete and rutted gravelly road shoulders. But there, the truck’s ride quality remained impressive. With one side of the truck rolling on the rough shoulder while the other was on paved road, the difference was nearly unnoticeable.

    But a word of warning; avoid doing this because the difference in speed between the left and right wheels caused by the two types of surfaces beneath them can make a vehicle spin if the brake or accelerator inputs are improperly applied. If you have to drive on a loose road shoulder, do not enter it too fast. I have seen many road accidents caused by this.

    So, does the Thunder spiffed up with some upgraded lightning stand up in a sea of pickups? Most definitely the extra cost is worth it once you notice the truck does not cause back pains even after taking it for a long drive—thanks to its improved ride quality—as well as its excellent composure in off-road driving.


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