Foton has come a long way from peddling cheap HiAce clones for ambulance use and outdated pickups to commercial buyers. With new technology and the all-important Cummins partnership, Foton's current trucks are worlds better than the ones the local distributor entered our market with. The most dramatic change, however, is in the van offerings, with the new TransVan and Traveller taking the View nameplate to new heights. Literally.
The Traveller is a van. A very modern, very large van, but still a van. Like many Chinese vans, it shares a lot of similarities with the Toyota HiAce, styling-wise. While the bubble roof grants it bus-like interior space, it does give it a rather odd appearance, even compared to the tall-roofed HiAces plying our streets. There's also a noticeable chop in the bodywork on the side where the extra wheelbase has been added, and the overhangs are understandably large.
There are few cars as intimidating on the road as the Traveller, save perhaps for an actual bus. Full-size American SUVs are eclipsed by its bulk. The only disappointing part of the package are the rather small 15-inch wheels.
Despite some unfinished plastic trim in odd spots, the Traveller doesn't make you feel like you've cheapened out in terms of interior quality. Most Japanese box vans themselves are full of hard plastic, mind you. While vans like the base Grandia and the Urvan might offer similar seating arrangements, the Traveller's extra length and width mean that you can have a pass-through aisle between the seats and still maintain three-across seating. As opposed to the grade-school benches in other high-capacity vans, the Traveller's seats are well shaped, with full backs and reclining mechanisms. This may be a 14-seater, but comfort and space are more reminiscent of eight- and nine-seat competitors.
The 2.8-liter Cummins turbodiesel makes just 130hp, but short gearing and an aggressive boost profile make it very lively. There's more than enough oomph to overtake, and while the claimed top speed is a paltry 145kph, that's more due to the van's brick-like aerodynamics than a lack of power. The console-mounted gearshift is a doodle to use, though third requires a bit of rev-matching to slot in cleanly. Short gearing seems picked for acceleration and in-town use rather than long cruises. Fuel mileage of 6km/L in heavy traffic seems reasonable, given the weight and power on hand.
RIDE AND HANDLING
With a 2.3-ton curb weight, a tall driving position and long-geared steering, piloting the View is much like driving a bus. A very nice bus. There's body roll, but not as much as you'd expect, and handling and braking are both secure and tidy. The ride is actually quite soft, yet the damping is relatively well-controlled (except over the largest of bumps).
As with other forward-control vans, you turn into corners 'late' to compensate for sitting in front of the front tires, but here you have to keep an eye on your mirror, to avoid grinding the inside rear tire against the curb. Rear parking sensors are a big help when all you see in the rearview mirror are 12 headrests and the parking assist mirror mounted on the tailgate. With a full load of passengers, that mirror becomes all but useless.
The Foton's specs are relatively basic. Aside from the parking sensors and the tailgate mirror, you do get keyless entry, a stereo and pretty good rear air-conditioning. Then again, given the space and size for the price, it would be rather mean to complain.
The Foton View Traveller stands as one of the biggest vans on the market, and probably the most space you can get for your money, even compared to locally assembled van conversions from the Japanese manufacturers. And in terms of quality and refinement, it's much better than these Japanese-branded mega-vans. That's not something I'd have imagined myself saying the first time I drove a Foton.
SPECS: FOTON VIEW TRAVELLER
Engine: 2.8-liter Cummins CRDi diesel
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Power: 128hp @ 3,600rpm
Torque: 280Nm @ 1,400-3,000rpm
Drive layout: RWD
Photos by Niky Tamayo