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A better Chinese ute attempt Down Under

Ateco has previously distributed Foton Chinese-made utes, but that agreement ended in mid-2017. Now, Ateco is distributing the LDV brand, hopefully with more longevity and market success.   A Trailrider limited edition model and upgraded suspensions on all variants were released in 2019, and a new diesel in 2020.

In 2009 the LDV brand was bought by
SAIC (Shanghai Automobile and Industrial Corporation); the largest and oldest automotive manufacturer in China and the largest auto company on China’s share market. SAIC sold more than six million vehicles in 2016 and has joint ventures with Volkswagen, IVECO and General Motors.

SAIC Motor’s business covers the research, production and sales of passenger cars and commercial vehicles. It makes engines, gearboxes, powertrains, chassis and electronic components.

LDV Automotive has been selling LDV vans in Australia since 2015, with limited success.

“The LDV T60 will transform the position of LDV in the Australian market, not just in terms of sales volume but also geographically,” claimed Dinesh Chinnappa, General Manager of LDV Automotive.

“As a van brand, our business was largely limited to metropolitan areas, where the vast majority of vans are sold and used, and while we have secured five per cent of the van sector since our launch in 2015, this sector is comparatively small.

“With the LDV T60 ute we are moving into the fastest growing sector in the market and one that covers the whole country, as well as a sector that now routinely provides the number one bestselling vehicle in Australia.”

Initial LDV T60 ute models for Australia were
double cab, four-wheel drive units, with a choice of six-speed manual and automatic gearboxes and a single cab/chassis manual.

Safety features included blind-spot warning, six airbags, tyre pressure monitoring, hill holding and electronic stability and traction controls.

All versions had a 250mm touch screen display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard, plus alloy wheels, side steps and roof rails. Power windows, remote central locking, automatic height adjusting and turning headlights, reversing camera and aircon were also standard across the range.

The power plant at launch was a 2.8-litre 110kW/360Nm VM Motori turbo diesel engine and all versions have high and low range (2.48:1) gearing.

There were two trim and equipment versions: Pro for the working ute and Luxe for the dual-purpose or family recreational model.

Luxe came with additional equipment, including leather seats, an Eaton self-locking rear differential and different suspension settings. It had a GVM of 2950kg.

The Pro had firmer rear suspension set-up suitable for loaded work and slightly higher GVM of 3050kg.

All TD60 versions had four-wheel disc brakes and were rated to tow up to three tonnes.

The T60’s load tub was fitted with a plastic liner, with a total of six load tie down points, four at low level and two on the tub rim. The Pro had a multi-bar headboard to protect the rear window and provide support for long loads, while the Luxe had a chromed sport bar.

The T60 LDV came with a five-year/130,000km warranty, with a loan car program and 24/7 roadside assistance. LDV’s confidence in its latest model was also demonstrated by a 10-year body perforation rust warranty.

Pricing was keen: $28,990 drive-away for the LDV T60 Pro manual and, for the LDV T60 Luxe manual, $32,990.


Trailrider limited edition model

In May 2019 LDV launched the Limited Edition T60 Trailrider, with suspension that had been calibrated by the Walkinshaw Automotive Group in Melbourne, the company that does right hand drive conversions for the Ateco Group’s RAM range.

There were only 650 vehicles planned in this specification.

The Trailrider had an additional ‘black’ equipment package, including 12-spoke 19-inch wheels, nudge bar, sports bar, side steps and grille, plus ‘Trailrider’ decals for the sides, rear and bonnet.

Adding security, as well as value, was a lockable Mountain Top roller tonneau for the load tray.

Trailrider manual gearbox models started at a recommended retail price of $38,937 drive-away and the six speed automatic, $41,042 drive-away.


On and off road in the T60

The LDV T60 evaluation vehicles had very good fit and finish, and safety levels have been judged sufficient to score a five-star NCAP rating. These factors should help dispel the poor-quality image of Chinese vehicles.

LDV opted for easy connectivity to android and Apple devices, so there was no navigation system. Owners could use their phone systems that have familiar destinations and also get automatic mapping upgrades. That seems like a sensible idea, provided the mapping stays displayed when the phone loses cell coverage. Owners who have mapping software downloaded to their phones should have no problems.

Unfortunately, the screen was somewhat grainy and the touch screen controls were not intuitive, so this area needed upgrading, we felt.

Getting comfortable in both Pro and Luxe models was easy enough, thanks to adjustable driver’s seats – powered in the case of the Luxe – and tilting steering columns.

Mechanical and road noise levels were commendably low and there were no squeaks or rattles.

The climate-control aircon systems worked well, without excessive fan noise.

All the evaluation vehicles were unladen, but even without loads in their trays, modest engine grunt became immediately apparent.

LDV was using the VM Motor 2.8-litre, variable-geometry
turbocharged, common rail, four-cylinder diesel in the T60, but at a much lower state of tune than the versions in Holden Colorado and Jeep models.

Figures of 110kW and 360Nm may well have been chosen in the interests of long-term durability and that could prove to be a wise decision, or it could be a torque limitation issue with the LDV transmissions.

Stirring those outputs along was a choice of six-speed manual and automatic transmissions. The manual lever position showed LHD priority, being further away from the driver than the auto shifter.

The manual ratios seemed fine, but there was not much torque available under 2000rom. The much preferred auto box had three operating modes: standard, economy and power, and there was a marked difference in performance between the settings.

In ‘power’ the T60 held on to intermediate gears much longer and performed well during a test day that was more about checking behaviour than seeking the best economy. Despite some ‘press on’ driving by most of the journos the average fuel consumption of the auto models was around 11L/100km, so figures in the 8-9L/100km area should be possible for the lighter-footed.

We drove the Pro and Luxe models on four-lane roads and on lumpy secondary roads and dirt tracks. Obvious was serious under-damping that allowed dangerously wayward suspension action, so after-market shock absorbers are a necessity on these early-production models.

Off-roading was limited to steep, dusty farm tracks that didn’t test wheel travel, low-range gearing and diff-lock operation, but did confirm the value of the standard hill-holder.  Speed-adjustable hill descent control wasn’t very effective at limiting downhill speed.

We did some rock-hopping when we got hold of a Trailrider test machine, with up-market Sachs units replacing the original shock absorbers. We couldn’t recommend anyone’s buying the launch-specification vehicle.


On and off road in the Trailrider limited edition model

We tested manual and automatic transmission versions of this vehicle an  it performed far, far better than the launch vehicles. LDV has fitted performance Sachs shock absorbers to the front and rear suspensions, with amazing results. (Sachs is a European brand that makes shocks for Mercedes-Benz, BMW and other performance vehicles.)

The new dampers transformed the T60 from the worst-handling and steering utes in the market into one of the best. It wasn’t far behind the coil-rear Ford Raptor and Mercedes-Benz X-Class.

This suspension change is now the standard offering on all variants. LDV has a cost advantage over its Japanese-brand competitors, so a little of that spent on top-class suspension was worthwhile, we reckon.

Handling and steering quality allowed us to ‘press on’ a bit and that showed up the engine’s lack of competitive torque; 360Nm was behind the class average around 400Nm and well below the peak offerings above 500Nm.

The first test vehicle was a six-speed manual that had smooth shift quality and just as well, because the stick needed stirring through the twisty bits and on hills. The auto six-speed masked that torque deficit to a large extent.

The Trailrider was firmly damped and moved around somewhat on severe corrugations, but ripple corrugations were handled with ease.

On our rocky trail the stiffer suspension didn’t seem to affect wheel travel and traction control and the self-locking rear diff took over if a wheel began to spin. Hill descent control wasn’t very effective, but the manual transmission model’s low-range gearing controlled descents quite well.

LDV has confirmed that the revised suspension is making its way into all new LDV T60s and that resetting puts the Chinese ute ahead of most of its out-of-the-box ute competitors.

Since we filmed the following video LDV announced its own 2.0-litre D20 diesel engine, in May 2020, with 120kW at 4000rpm and peak torque of 375Nm at 1500-2400rpm.

We’ll have a test ute as soon as possible.

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