Cars > Driven

Foton Thunder 4x2 AT Sports: Homely but well-built and packed with features

A lot of truck for the low side of a million bucks

It's not going to win any beauty contests, but it'll get the job done. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

The default choice for most pickup truck buyers has always been Japanese, with Ford steadily catching up through the years. With truck buyers being relatively old-school about their choices and seeing these as long-term investments, it has been tough for new brands to make inroads in this lucrative segment.

Yet Foton has found a niche in the market, focusing on affordable, commercial vehicles. They may not have the polish or yabang factor as better-known brands, but entrepreneurs who could care less about this and prioritize immediate, short-term savings and bang for the buck find a lot of value in Foton’s lineup of light trucks.

The 2.0-liter turbodiesel is torquey and refined. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

The Thunder nameplate has been around for many years now, and the latest generation is powered by a 2.0-liter diesel with a BorgWarner turbo rated at 161hp and 380Nm. The transmission is a modern eight-speed by ZF, and it works well enough with the engine for the kind of low-rpm grunt work that we want trucks to do.

It’s suitably quiet below 3,000rpm, with negligible shift shock. Between the flat delivery of torque and having so many gears to work with, the Thunder never feels or sounds stressed and will happily pull you up a steep hill all day if you need to. It even has paddle shifters—a very useful feature in a truck that only costs P1,130,000 for its Sports variant.

A compact steering wheel with paddle shifters does help in some driving fun. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

Unfortunately, as pleasant as the drivetrain may be, more work is needed in the suspension department. On paper, the front double wishbones and the rear leaf springs are standard pickup hardware, but like another Chinese truck (the GWM Cannon), the front is underdamped compared to the stiff back end.

Unless you’re going very slowly over rough roads, the front end would bounce up and down all the way to the bump stops, as if it lacked shock absorbers. But while the front end acts like a pogo stick, the back is as stiff as an ironing board. The whole experience makes for a dizzying ride when you’re not driving over tarmac.

The Thunder is proudly assembled at Foton’s plant in Clark, Pampanga. Throughout the weeklong test drive, nothing squeaked or rattled in our unit, which was 8,000km old. Flaccid suspension aside, the body was rock-solid. While it didn’t particularly feel nimble, it at least accelerated and stopped with alacrity.

Just because it's a workhorse doesn't mean it has to look like it belongs in a warehouse, guys. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

But as gratifying as the build quality was, I’d be lying if I said the Thunder was a looker.

The silhouette is obviously the usual double-cab, short-bed layout, but there’s something about the proportions that doesn’t quite gel. It could be the height of the roof, which works great for headroom, but makes it also look under-tired even though it’s already on 18-inch tires.

Roomy cabin has the unfortunate drawback of making the tires look tiny. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

Then there’s the plastic palette grille, which might be going for a neo-industrial look but just looks cheap, and there’s also the huge FOTON billboard tailgate. All truck brands stamp their name on the tailgate these days, but this one has got to be the most in-your-face. You’d almost think they’d be paying their customers to drive around with this advertisement at the back.

There's no way the guys behind you can't tell what brand you're driving. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

But you know what? I still liked this truck. It has one of the handsomest interiors in its class, with quilted leather upholstery, a low dashboard with a floating infotainment screen, and attractive analog gauges in the instrument panel. The steering wheel has a meaty rim with a flattish bottom; the shifter feels good in the hand; and nothing in the cabin felt cheap.

The cockpit is functional, but also elegantly styled. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO
Comfortable seats with quilted leather. Fancy. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO
The back seat offers decent legroom and headroom for adults. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

It also has a smart key that can power the windows down while you’re walking toward it on a hot day, and a six-way power adjustable driver seat.

The infotainment looks nice in pictures, but the display isn’t particularly high-definition, and takes some squinting to make out the small menus despite being a 10.25-inch screen. The reverse camera is also low-resolution, but at least you’ve got one, right?

As expected, the sound quality from the stock stereo is just average. There’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, but you can still pair your smartphone through Bluetooth and CarbitLink.

We love manufacturers that still go with nicely done analog gauges. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO
The reverse camera is low-res, but at least you've got one. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

With a payload capacity of 1,080kg, a squarish bed measuring a useful set of dimensions (1,520mm, 1,580mm and 440mm), and that torquey drivetrain, the Thunder has the basics down in what people expect these days for a workhorse truck.

Foton also included a sports bar and a spray-on bed-liner for this particular variant. A five-year/150,000km warranty is also reassuring.

Basic, utilitarian bed with tie-downs; spray-on bed-liner; and a sports bar. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO
Exposed bolts on the fender flares are an oddity, but yeah, okay... PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

Even though it’s destined for many, many miles of field work, Foton has also taken the time to outfit the truck with enough safety and convenience features to make the interior a nice place to spend a workday in. It’s not the prettiest truck on the market right now, but it’ll get the job done while giving you enough features to feel good while you’re working to get that ROI.


Engine2.0-liter four-cylinder turbodiesel
Transmission8-speed automatic
Power161hp @ 4,000rpm
Torque380Nm @ 1,800rpm
Dimensions5,340mm x 1,940mm x 1,870mm
Drive layoutRWD
UpsideWell built. Torquey drivetrain. Comprehensively specced for the price.
DownsideEasily discombobulated suspension. Wallflower styling.

Andy Leuterio

Andy is both an avid cyclist and a car enthusiast who has finally made the shift to motorcycles. You've probably seen him on his bicycle or motorbike overtaking your crawling car. He is our motorcycle editor and the author of the ‘Quickshift’ column.