The Tunland tackling the Baboon's Pass in Lesotho.

FOTON recently used the Baboon's Pass in Lesotho to put its Tunland double cab bakkie through a rigorous challenge. It is 26km of the toughest and most fearsome 4x4 trails in Southern Africa, and can make or break the reputation of any 4x4 vehicle - as more than one established manufacturer has discovered.

It is this extreme challenge to man and machine that Foton Automobile Distributors recently took on to prove to themselves - and the South African 4x4 community - that the soon-to-be-launched Foton Tunland bakkie will be more than a match for any of the premium bakkies that are being marketed in the country. And needless to say, the Tunland passed this first acid test with flying colours.

"We knew the Tunland was good enough to compete head-on with the established brands, but we needed a way to prove that fact to the South African public. Baboon's Pass is feared by all in the 4x4 community and to conquer it, you need a vehicle that is not only extremely capable off-road, but also tough, strong and reliable," said Brett Soso, MD of Foton Automobile Distributors.

"Bakkies are very much part of South African way of life and many are used in the most extreme conditions. Baboon's Pass was therefore the perfect location to prove the Tunland on Southern African soil and also to provide the engineers at Foton in Beijing with additional information before our first shipment of Tunlands arrive for the launch in October."

The model, powered by a Cummins turbo diesel engine, is the culmination of an extensive R&D programme that involved experts from more than 30 major component suppliers from all over the world, and all indications are that it is going to be a worthy rival for the likes of the Toyota Hilux, Volkswagen Amarok, Ford Ranger and the Nissan Navara.

Products of Foton, the world's largest manufacturer of commercial vehicles, have been marketed in South Africa for a number of years. These include the Foton Thunda single-and double-cab bakkie range and Foton Inkunzi minibus taxis.

The Tunland, however, is a different animal. It is large and powerful with a remarkably spacious cabin, and is equipped with all the safety, comfort and convenience features required at the top end of the market, including air-conditioning, ABS and airbags. And it has a huge load box - 1520mm long and 1580mm wide.

Initially only the Tunland double-cab, in two-and four-wheel drive and both with a high-torque 2,8l turbo diesel engine developing 117kW and 360Nm, will be launched locally. The Tunland will be marketed through Foton Automobile Distributors, a joint venture between the Imperial and Bidvest groups.