Toplander lands atop the City of Pines

In Photo: The seven-seater SUV nonchalantly cruising along the highway

Story & photos by Ronald Rey M. de los Reyes

IF the 16th-century poet William Shakespeare would have been first to initiate the question: “What’s in a name?” originating from his epic masterpiece Romeo and Juliet, this writer would basically reply with the perfect answer of “everything”—perhaps, even without batting an eyelash.

So, when Foton Philippines first introduced their inaugural sport-utility vehicle (SUV) into the local market tagged with its specific title “Toplander” back in 2015 during their Big Show, the Chinese carmaker surely won’t be kidding around if they would aspire to lead the market with this prodigy one day. Sure, the said borne moniker is not just any other marketing move either.

The Toplander taking in stride the off beaten path

Foton Philippines’s EVP Anna Parado even confidently stated, “The Toplander is Foton’s decisive foray into the highly competitive market of diesel-powered SUVs, and is engineered to keep up with even the most rugged and active lifestyles.”

Truly, it was a tad on a par with other contenders in its segment in terms of power, fuel efficiency, aesthetics, cabin space and the like.

In fact, fast-forward two years later and a number of new edition SUV models thrown into the fray, the Oriental wonder came up with their automatic transmission version, which the local media was recently glad, if not excited, to bring up to the mountain city of Baguio.

The two-day adventure would mark the beginning of yet another quest—or rather chance, for the Chinese ace to prove their mettle and perhaps change the game in the ever-cutthroat local world of midsized SUVs, specifically the pickup platform vehicle (PPV).

At the onset, this whiz of an SUV looks as tough as any of its contender in the segment. It is bold, rugged and has the right curves fit for its kind and functionality.

Inside, the Toplander has fairly modern style concepts, except for that “plastic” feel. Nonetheless, it’s roomy, cozy and driver-friendly—thanks to its perfectly suitable ergonomic design cues.

Not to mention under its hood is a 2.8-liter Cummins ISF SOHC turbo-diesel engine that produces a hearty 161 PS along with soulful 360 N-m of torque.

Thus, embarking from the Home Depot branch along Edsa en route to our first destination in Pampanga via the North Luzon Expressway, the eager group onboard the 2018 4×2 Foton Toplander A/T took everything in stride. From the tricky traffic along Edsa, overtaking slower vehicles in the highway in hostile weather conditions and eventually finding ourselves in the mere jungles of Pampanga, the Toplander, now also in six-speed transmission, is relatively a smooth ride.

Most of the time being behind the wheel can be spurts of bliss as we nonchalantly cruised on the asphalt road—surprisingly even when traversing the off-road trails. Torquey and it can muscle its way through smoothly, plus add that much-needed pulling power for its size after marching 100 kilometers to visit the local Aeta community at Nabuclod Elementary School in Floridablanca, this writer would be quaint if it won’t be mentioned that we have a winner right in our midst. Just emit the idea of the need for a better Noise, Vibration and Harshness (NVH) and slicker brakes, and I think we’ll do just be fine.

After a brief moment of charity, we were off for lunch at Foton’s dealership in San Fernando, Pampanga. With filled tummies to our delight, their very own head honcho Rommel Sytin was able to shortly impart a few words about the company’s progress before bidding us for a safe 188-km trip up to the City of Pines.

Now, the steep uphill climb via Kennon Road was the defining moment for this brute. For its brawn, we can say that its power came from the 1,800 rpm revs—a mature take for this kind of which with such vigor was topnotch for this breed of terrain. And with its grunt, it did not even disappoint in the extreme tight and torturous twisties.

Once atop, we were housed at the Manor inside Camp John Hay, where we had a sumptuous dinner and an enjoyable time with a Dice Game right after. Then, at the middle of all the merriment, we were shortly put on hold for a brief program led by none other than their lady EVP and their VP for the business development, Alvin Lu. Here, we were informed of their plans for their dealership expansions, the Toplander’s overview, the other models in their lineup’s promising business strategies and their Jeepney Modernization Project with the government.

This writer personally was able to talk to Parado herself, in which she mentioned that aside from their high hopes for their maiden SUV, they also plan to specifically develop their Gratour business, among others.

The seven-seater SUV retails at P1.280 million for the entry-level EL, while the top-spec EX is priced at P1.4 million.

Overall, the Foton Toplander 4×2 A/T has proven that it can rival with other competitors in its class—and thus deriving from its name itself, with much anticipation, this debonair of a machine can eventually hold true to somehow someday land at the top, if not in sales volume, perhaps maybe in the hearts of its Filipino customers.

 

Image Credits: Ronald Rey M. de los Reyes