RoadTrip | Almost unknown in SA, here's another Chinese bakkie pulling its weight under the radar

With all the hype currently around the pending introduction of the new GWM P-Series bakkie, the release of another strong Chinese contender in the keenly contested local one-ton bakkie market has gone all but unnoticed.

Yes, the Anhui Jianghuai Automobile Company (JAC Motors) may be an almost unknown entity locally, but the state-owned manufacturer is a giant in the Chinese auto industry and a prolific producer of electric vehicles.

However, a recent slump in domestic sales sparked renewed efforts by the vehicle conglomerate. JAC produces sedans and pickups (bakkies), and trucks with model names such as Heyue, Refine, Shuailing, Junling, and Kangling. As such, the automaker is now represented in more than 130 countries worldwide.

Last year the local subsidiary of JAC introduced the Shuailing T6 one-ton double-cab bakkie (also known as the Frison) locally, and its success here led to the stealth-like introduction late 2019 of its latest and most modern contender in this market segment, the T8.

For JAC, the timing was right, as the unexpected Covid-19 pandemic interdicted the launch of GWM’s P-Series. The reveal, scheduled for this month, had to be postponed and will now take place in the second half of the year, possibly around September, dependant on the availability of right-hand drive supply. Meanwhile, we had the exclusive opportunity to drive the new T8 just before lockdown.

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jac t8.bakkie,china

2020 JAC T8. Image: RoadTrip / Ryan Abbott

Design

While based on the T6, the new T8 is positioned above its predecessor. Locally, JAC Motors’ leading contender in the higher-end double cab segment is offered with Lux trim, in 4×2 and 4×4 guise.

Designed specifically to take on the one-ton pickup offerings from Chinese rivals GWM, Foton, JMC, SAIC Maxus, BAIC, and BAW, it is also expected to compete against mid-range models from Mitsubishi (and Fiat), Mahindra, Ford, and Toyota.

The new T8 is about the same size as the current generation Hilux with a loading bay measuring 1520mm by 1520mm, and it has some definite Hilux design traits too. Its attractive lines combine the latest design elements from JAC Motors' international design centres in Italy and Japan, and its big chromed hexagonal grille, clamshell bonnet, and plain, yet strong, waistlines impart the T8 with a robust and sturdy aura.

With Xenon-headlights, LED tail lights with a double-C pattern, and attractive 18-inch alloy wheels specifically, it need not stand back for any similar product from Japan or Europe, and build quality is also surprisingly good.

The doors open and close with a solid clunk, the switches, buttons, and knobs are sturdy, and the interior plastics, while hard and inflexible to touch, are solid and seemingly quite resilient.

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2020 JAC T8. Image: RoadTrip / Ryan Abbott

Equipment

In Lux form, the T8 is well-equipped. It features an upmarket seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system, including Bluetooth compatibility, a USB port, and SD-card, sat-nav (optionally available), tyre-pressure monitoring system, a reverse camera, dual airbags, and artificial leather seats as standard. Exterior amenities include a stylised roll bar and running boards.

It took a while to get acquainted with all the functions, but the systems work well. Yes, the LCD readout is still old fashioned (much like in the Isuzu D-Max), the red hazard button with diamond patterns is novel, and the tinny artificial voice guidance of the navigation system was irritating and quickly muted.

Under the bonnet, the T8 is powered with a compact 1.9-litre, four-cylinder turbo diesel engine developed in cooperation with the German company FEV. It delivers 100kW and 320Nm of torque. This compares well with the performance figures of rivals such as the GWM Steed 6 (105kW/305Nm), JMC Vigus5 (103kW/310Nm), Mahindra Pik-Up S6 4×2 Karoo (103kW/320Nm), Isuzu D-Max 250 Hi-Ride 4×2 (100kW/320Nm) and Fiat Fullback 2.5D-iD SX (100kW/324Nm).

The common-rail engine with intercooler and Electrical Variable Geometry Turbocharger (EVGT) emits an Isuzu-like clatter at start-up, and under load, it is very audible in the cabin. At steady speeds, the sound is less intrusive, and its power delivery is smooth and stable (unlike the sudden power burst of the GWM Steed). Still, some extra sound-insulation will help to mask the powerplant’s racket.

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2020 JAC T8. Image: RoadTrip / Ryan Abbott

On the road

The mill, while noisy, is eager and quite willing at low revs, and it pulls strongly from below 2 000 rpm. However, the FEV grinder has a narrow power band, and it runs out of grunt before 3500rpm. This means a constant changing of gears to ensure optimal pulling power. The first gear ratio is also indecently short (to aid acceleration from standstill), and on a flat surface, it was better to pull off in second.

Changing gears was no burden, though, as selection via the six-speed manual gearbox is pleasingly slick and quick. It is even better than that of some of its more fancied competitors. The transmission of power to the rear wheels was smooth, too, ensuring a relaxed driving experience.

This was further enhanced by the quite roomy cabin and comfortable, manually adjustable seats but, as can be expected from a pickup with leaf-sprung rear suspension and 210mm ride height, ride quality was choppy over undulations, though well-suppressed. Steering feel and accuracy was adequate for a one-ton bakkie, and handling-wise, it compared well with most class rivals.

So, in terms of performance, the only real drawback on the T8 is its engine that runs out of breath too quickly. This impairs its overtaking ability and also saw us record a relatively high consumption figure of 10.1-litres/100 km (JAC claims 9.0-litres/100km). Still, this was in a very low mileage vehicle with an engine not yet properly run in.

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jac t8.bakkie,china

2020 JAC T8. Image: RoadTrip / Ryan Abbott

Price comparison

The new T8 Lux 4×2 is competitively priced at R349 900, and this includes a five-year/150 000km warranty and a five-year/60 000km service plan. This compares well with the Steed 6 DC 2.0 VGT XScape, available from R319 900, and the slightly lower spec Vigus5 2.4 TDCi (R317 990), although some may view the R20k difference as prohibitive.

Still, in comparison with the Steed and Vigus the T8 is a better proposition, considering its aesthetics, build quality, level of specifications, and all-round capability. 

READ: 'A resounding YES!' - GWM confirms diesel-powered P Series will be available in SA

The JAC is also well-positioned within the double cab market in terms of price, occupying the middle-ground between other Chinese contenders and entry-level offerings from more established players. Thus, it makes good sense as an affordable buy. Still, it will be interesting to see how it stacks up against the entry and mid-level models of the P-Series, once they are available here.

jac t8.bakkie,china

2020 JAC T8. Image: RoadTrip / Ryan Abbott

Specifications: JAC T8 1.9T 4×2 Lux

Engine         Four-cylinder, inline, turbo diesel

Capacity 1910cc

Maximum power 100kW @ 3200rpm

Maximum torque 320Nm @ 2000 - 2600rpm

Transmission Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Top speed 165km/h

Fuel capacity 67L

Fuel economy 9.5-litre/100km

CO2 emissions         186g/km

Warranty five years/150 000km

Service plan five years/60 000km

Extension 100 000km R12 000

Extension 150 000km R27 000

Price R349 900

We like: Attractive styling, good equipment level, acceptable build quality, good value at the price

We do not like: Noisy engine with very narrow power band, fuel consumption, limited dealer network


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