Foton Auto SA’s managing director Brett Soso was certainly in fighting form at the launch event of the automaker’s new Tunland bakkie.“This is not a cheap Chinese car,” he made plain at the launch in Gauteng on October 16, 2012.IN SA FIRSTIt was designed and built for the global market (SA contributed to its development) and, since this was the first global launch outside China of the latest addition to the range, it was a slightly big deal. Chinese and local dignitaries, including the vice-president of Foton and the lead on the Tunland project Robin Wu, were in attendance in a sunny Pretoria East for the event. South Africa is, after all, said to have been identified as a strong export market for the brand. The Tunland was launched in South Africa as a five-speed manual double-cab 4x4 though the range will be expanded to include 4x2 in single and extended-cab bodies from January 2013. A two-litre petrol engine will also join the line-up from 2013, Soso said. However, since the 4x4 double-cab segment is the money-spinner in South Africa, it was decided to introduce these first as a foil (so to speak) for the Hiluxes, Rangers, Navaras and Amaroks dominating the segment. EURO-4 COMPLIANTPower is sourced from a four-cylinder, 2.8-litre turbodiesel from diesel lspecialist Cummins – an agreement Foton is so proud of that the Cummins’ oversized C is attached close to the truck's gills for those in need of regular reminders. The engine develops 120kW at 3000rpm, 360Nm from 1800-2600rpm. Foton also claims a paltry fuel consumption of 8.3 litres/100km and crazy CO2 emissions of 129g/km. Believe it or not, this is a Euro 4-compliant engine, so we suspect those claims might’ve been made with the correct fuel running through the Tunland’s hoses… Given SA’s precarious fuel situation, diesel with 50 parts per million (ppm) of sulphur is recommended although the Tunland will happily run on 500ppm, Foton said. This has, however, also required shorter service intervals, down from 20 000 to 10 000km. MONEY TALKSThis is a vehicle that can “compete for the first time with more established brands in South Africa", S,oso said. It’s pricing will arguably play a bigger role at convincing fence-sitting buyers – the Comfort-spec 4x4 double cab costs R334 950, the top spec Luxury model R354 950. Standard spec includes aircon, power windows, rear parking radar and 16" alloys. The Luxury spec adds features such as running boards and leather seat trim and wood veneer finishes. Based on a driving experience that took us from Gauteng into Limpopo and included a go on the Rust de Winter 4x4 track, this Foton certainly delivered a lot more than I expected. Its Cummins engine works well to deliver its power and the Tunland had no problems zipping along the back roads en route to the track though the clutch and gearshift required a degree of guesswork – there was a fair degree of clutch travel and a mushy gear action made selecting the correct gear slightly harder. The bumpy ride is somewhat expected from a bakkie but it was definitely comfortable whether seated on the fabric or leather seats. Its off-road ability was impressive, too, although it came as no real surprise given that four pre-production Tunlands tackled the treacherous Bobbejaan’s Pass in Lesotho and passed with flying colours (an a few bumps and bruises and some tyre changes along the way…)SOME SQUEAKSOf course, while Foton lured top engineers away from rivals at Toyota and Nissan, for example, to address issues such as NVH and increase its bakkie’s refinement.So there were a few details that would probably have been given greater attention in the rivals costing more by R100 000-plus. On the Tunlands I drove, there were some squeaks and rattles in the cabin, the fascia panels didn't quite line up and the hard plastics were fairly abrasive. Worth bearing in mind, perhaps, is that this is an automaker that has only been in operation since 1996 but is already the top commercial brand in China. The good-looking Tunland, which will run alongside the Thunda in the automaker’s South African line-up, will probably do a fine job of increasing Foton’s overall exposure, too. All Tunlands are sold with a five-year or 70 000km service plan, three-year or 100 000km warranty and a three-year roadside assistance package.