Living up to its name

Steven Yu finds out how Foton defines a cool ride
by Steven Yu | May 20, 2009
Though both are Chinese, there is a world of difference between William Hung and Yo-Yo Ma. Amidst a rapidly-growing number of Chinese car manufacturers, Foton is Yo-Yo Ma. Both exhibit a laudable consistency and precision.

Foton is a government-operated company established in 1996 and became part of the DaimlerChrysler group in 2007. Foton's R&D centers in Germany, Japan and Taiwan ensure that their products stay above status quo.

The marketing brass of Foton Philippines ingeniously decided to rename the entire local product line with names we can actually pronounce without having to learn a new language or, worse, sound infantile. The Foton Blizzard is one of them.

As I was handed the keys to the black 4x4 pickup, known as the "SUP" elsewhere, I immediately noticed that it was an updated reincarnation of the beloved Isuzu Fuego - an indefatigable workhorse in its own right. No coincidence or copyright infringement here: Foton was founded on Isuzu's old factory in China after the latter's ten-year business contract expired. Can the doppelganger live up to its predecessor's reputation? You bet.

With over 7,000 km on the clock and 35psi in each tire, I was expecting a harsh, loose and squeaky ride. What my skepticism got in return was a car-like ride that was very comfortable and encouragingly tight. Even over potholed sections of Manila's roads, the only perceptible noise came from the familiar, muffled clatter of the Foton-built, naturally-aspirated 2.8 liter 4JB1 engine; which pulls hard off idle but, without a turbo (to keep pricing affordable), takes a while to wind out. When it does, the mild cacophony is easily squelched by a decent audio system with one speaker in each door.

The seats are properly supportive and the center armrest/storage area is very functional. The dashboard is laid out in a modern, IMV-like pattern which also accommodates the 4wd transfer case's drive-mode buttons. Indiglo gauges with pointers in contrasting red are effortless to read.

The leather-and-faux-wood steering wheel felt pleasant in my grip, as did the beefy shift knob that moved through the gears fluidly. The interior door triggers looked slightly crude, until I pulled on them and discovered they were cut from indestructible, quarter-inch plate steel. Why?

"In China," National Dealer Development Manager Jam Santiano explains, "vehicles are used according to their designed purpose". While pickups here are used recreationally, pickups in China are used commercially.

This also explained the Blizzard's washable, resilient rubber flooring material which factored in keeping interior noise down to acceptable levels. The air-conditioning system works so well even in this un-tinted example, that I could probably reverse global warming if I used it with the windows open. Reassuringly, those open windows closed sequentially once I exited the Blizzard and pushed "lock" on the remote-locking fob.

An overall feeling of quality prevailed so much I honestly forgot this car's birthplace and almost forgot to return it on the 4th day.

Rarely, a vehicle's name will attest its character. The Fuego was hot. Right now, this Blizzard is absolutely cool.
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