When the Foton Toplander debuted in the Philippine market three years ago with a price tag just under a million pesos, I thought it would sell like hotcakes. Here was an SUV in the Fortuner/Montero/Everest/mu-X/Trailblazer class that offered pretty much all that its rivals offered in terms of engine power, fuel economy, interior space, as well as features and amenities, but with a price lower by as much as half a million pesos.
But it did lack one crucial feature—an automatic transmission.
But now that the current Toplander offers an automatic (since late last year), it’s time to take another look to see how worthy it is of inclusion in the exclusive and coveted midsize SUV club.
Modern, multinational powertrain. Let’s take a closer look at it, piece by piece. First—and to address any China-made concerns—the Toplander (whether with manual and automatic) comes with a made-in-Indiana Cummins 2.8-liter Euro V-compliant common-rail direct-injection turbocharged diesel engine. Cummins is one of the world’s foremost and biggest manufacturers of truck and diesel engines. Expect what’s under the Toplander’s hood to be one rugged powerplant. It generates 161hp (at 3,600rpm) and 360Nm of torque (at a low 1,800rpm)—not exactly class-leading, but perfectly adequate for 99.9 percent of everyday driving. And what the motor lacks in sheer power, it more than makes up for with impressively low vibration and noise and excellent fuel economy (thanks also to German company Bosch’s fuel-injection system). In any case, the power never seemed lacking in our spirited drives on NLEX and SCTEX.
Slick six-speed automatic drivetrain. But the United States is not the only country Foton turned to to design and produce the Toplander’s drivetrain. When it needed an automatic transmission, Foton went to no less than Mercedes-Benz’s parent company, Daimler. And the German company sent over a slick six-speed automatic to be paired with the Cummins motor.
This sophisticated automatic boasts a manual shift override (manumatic “+” and “-” mode) and four driving modes: Normal, Eco, Sport, and Winter.
The Toplander automatic comes in two variants: EL and range-topping EX.
Tweaked exterior trim. On the outside, the EX gets chrome side mirrors with LED turn signals, while the EL gets body-color side mirrors, also with LEDs. Both variants are set apart from their manual-transmission siblings with their LED daytime running lights, chrome window moldings, step boards, and roof rails. The EL variant gets 265/70R16 tires, while the EX gets bigger 265/65R17 all-terrain rubber.
Generous specs list. Inside, the well-equipped automatic Toplanders feature auto-on headlights, rain-sensing wipers, and a leather steering wheel with audio controls. The EX adds leather seats and a larger 2-DIN touchscreen Bluetooth/Aux/USB/SD card infotainment system. Space, even in the third-row rearmost seats, is generous—thanks to the Toplander’s lengthy 2,790mm wheelbase.
State-of-the-art safety features. Foton Philippines did not scrimp on safety features when checking the spec order list: reverse parking sensors (the EX adds a reversing camera), dual SRS airbags, ABS with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist, a limited slip differential, Electronic Stability Program (ESP) with traction control, Hill Descent Control (HDC), and Hill Hold Control (HHC).
High value pricing. Put together in Foton Philippines’ assembly plant inside Clark, Pampanga, the Toplander AT’s maintain the model’s high value for money pricing: P1,388,000 for the EL and P1,488,000 for the EX. That’s an easy 250 to 300 grand less than its rivals’ entry-level AT models and an impressive half a million grand less when comparing top-of-the-line 4×2 AT models. That’s one compelling proposition right there (even if you factor in the sharper and newer styling of its competitors).
Now armed with an automatic gearbox, feature-rich specs, and still maintaining high value pricing and solid performance, the Foton Toplander is more assured now of asserting its place in the local SUV landscape.
Engine: 161ps/360Nm 2.8-liter common-rail direct-injection Euro V diesel turbocharged inline-4
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Suspension: Double wishbone/Rigid rear axle with 5 link and coil springs
Brakes: Vented discs/Discs with ABS and EBD
L x W x H: 4,830 x 1,910 x 1,840mm
Other features: AM/FM radio/Bluetooth/Aux/USB/DVD touchscreen infotainment system, Brake Assist, Hill Start Assist, Hill Descent Control, Tire Pressure Monitoring System, dual airbags, reverse sensor with camera, anti-theft system with engine immobilizer, ISOFIX child seat system, adjustable headlight beam height, leather seats, LED daytime running lights