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Aussie ute market set for a shake up

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Mark Holgate is the driving force behind Exhaust Notes Australia, one of this country's premier automotive websites, with in excess of 1 million visits every year, and literally hundreds of car reviews and motoring stories.

With more than 20 years experience as a journalist, and five years as a professional blogger, he brings a wealth of knowledge about cars, bikes and everything in between.

The Chinese do not have a good rep when it comes to manufacturing utes. But the LDV T60 is a game-changer.

I'm off-road in the the dirt of country NSW, in the first Chinese ute to receive a 5-star ANCAP safety rating. This sounds like a recipe for disaster if you use the previous Chinese vehicle experiences, who we choose not to name here, as a benchmark.

2018 LDV T60 Luxe from the world's biggest car maker - SAIC Motor.

2018 LDV T60 Luxe from the world's biggest car maker - SAIC Motor

But this time it’s different. These dual-cab utes are good, really good, in fact - and that’s thanks to a massive multimillion-dollar R&D program by parent company SAIC Motor.

The investment shows, everywhere. The build quality is as good as anything else on the market, the vehicles look great, and they drive very well.

Read more from Exhaust Notes: Review: Isuzu D-Max a child-friendly workhorse

We had the chance to drive the new LDV T60 ute in both its variants, the tradie-oriented Pro edition and the Luxe, the upmarket recreational vehicle option designed for the weekend warrior. They’re not what we expected, but in this case, we were more than happy to be swayed and more so, impressed, by what we experienced.

These are the first two of a number of model variants expected to come into Australia over the next 18 months. If these are the litmus-test options, then the future could be very exciting for LDV.

Both models come with a host of standard features including remote central locking, blind-spot monitor, adaptive headlights, hill-descent control, rear parking sensors, reversing camera, heated door mirrors, tyre pressure monitoring, rain-sensing wipers, side steps, headboard, tub liner, airconditioning, and two USB ports.

They also gets a 10-inch touchscreen entertainment system, cruise control, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, heavy-duty suspension (Pro only), dust-sensing headlights and a multi-function steering wheel. Legroom is exceptional in both the front and rear, but there’s no driver’s foot rest in the automatics.

The Luxe model adds smart keyless entry and push button start/stop, electronic ‘on-demand’ rear diff lock, heated and auto-folding door mirrors, sports bar, auto-dimming rearview mirror, leather steering wheel, leather seats, six-way electric-heated front seats, climate-controlled airconditioning and comfort suspension.

Every model in the range so far is 4×4, and fitted with a common-rail, 2.8-litre inter-cooled and direct-injected turbo diesel that generates 110kW of power and 360Nm of torque, with a very flat torque range, butted up to either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic. It has a 3.0-tonne towing capacity and 300kg download weight on the tow ball.

We tested the Pro in an automatic, and the Luxe in both manual and automatic, and on the black stuff, all three options felt great if not a little under-powered for torque when climbing hills, with the manual version seeming to work way harder than the automatic gearbox.

The sizeable utility vehicles that LDV have hit the market with are only marginally smaller than the class-leading Ford Ranger and Toyota Hilux, and have a lot going for them - and it’s not just about size. Some of their features are exceptional. Hill descent on all variants is among the best we’ve ever seen, and was bang on perfect down a variety of extremely steep hills, a number of them gravel and rock.

On the down side, both model variants are loose unladen, especially on dirt roads, and want to step out and misbehave – in 2WD mode. Some sensible driving without a load, or a bag of concrete in the tray, would solve this. They are utes, after all.

In the Pro version, the suspension is very rigid and that’s great, because it is designed for the tradie and will work. But the Luxe has a much more relaxed suspension package and, if anything, feels a little wishy-washy over bumps.

The infotainment system is easy to navigate, with exceptionally clean fonts and display, but we couldn’t for the life of us get the Bluetooth to actually connect. No matter how many times we tried. But we’re sure it works.

The entertainment system is good, too, the local radio stations came across crisp and clean. The driver safety management system has a warning anomaly though, with “you’re going to fast, slow down” appearing on the dash when you exceed 80km/h in 4×4 high mode. Importer Ateco Group has advised this has no effect on the vehicle itself and is a hangover from China’s extreme safety consciousness, with plans to update this warning to 100km/h already in place.

Finally, it would be remiss of us to not rave about the pricing, because the T60 is astoundingly cheap. Pricing starts at just $28,990 drive away for ABN holders for the PRO base model ($30,516 RRP), through to $34,990 drive away for the automatic upmarket LUXE model ($36,831 RRP). The Chinese-owned brand is expected to immediately challenge rivals Mitsubishi on price alone.

The 2018 LDV T60 is available in five colours, including Obsidian Black, Blanc White, Lava Gray, Jewel Blue and Agate Red.

It comes with a five-year, 130,000km warranty, five-year 24/7 roadside assist, and a five-year loan vehicle agreement for servicing. A large range of accessories, including nudge bars, branded mats and a canopy, are already available to help you customise your new T60.

Our 2018 LDV T60 Pro and T60 Luxe were supplied by LDV and Ateco Group as part of a drive day. To find out more about the LDV T60, your local LDV dealer.

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