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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Road test: 2018 Maxus T60

The Chinese pick-up truck is great value, but is it rugged enough for the job?

While the most talked-about anglo-centric acquisition by Chinese company SAIC is its transformation of famous old sports-car marque MG, it has another subsidiary that has taken on a British influence. The link to Maxus is subtler than MG’s total brand reboot: it is named after the final model made by LDV, the Birmingham-based vanmaker that went under in 2009. SAIC bought its assets the following year.

In China, Maxus probably sounds like a heroic mantle bestowed on a cult truck. In reality, LDV gave off an outdated air long before its post-global financial crash death — the name would probably have been best left to rest.

Nomenclature aside, though, if the T60 looks somewhat familiar, it’s less to do with China’s long-standing predilection for copycat cars and more indicative of the fact that the pick-up truck shares a chassis with Nissan’s popular workhorse the Navara. Not a bad thing at all, given the Japanese cousin’s rugged reputation.

Maxus isn’t only aiming at the commercial market, but when you hop into the T60’s double-cab two-wheel-drive variant, that is distinctly the permeating vibe, rather than a fun five-seater to take out around town. The cabin is certainly at the more functional end of the scale, although it is more than passable for a truck with a starting price of Dh48,000.

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The steering wheel is festooned with literally zero buttons, which is almost a retro touch. The seat adjustments are all manual. There is no cruise control. You can have any interior colour, so long as it’s grey. The truck’s exterior, meanwhile, comes in either white, red or silver — in my white test model, there is an overarching feel that this is the equivalent of a supermarket own-brand truck.

On the plus side, the cabin is spacious, there is a USB slot, and allergy suffers will be glad to know that the air conditioning features a pollen filter. There are parking sensors, but no reversing camera.

The four-wheel-drive alternative will definitely be required to cart a quintet of workmen and a bunch of equipment around the building sites of the UAE — I manage to get the two-wheel-drive T60 temporarily stuck in relatively light sand in a parking area inside the first couple of hours of my test drive. Oops.

The 2.4-litre engine’s 136hp and 360Nm of torque would surely be better distributed evenly to all four corners — that torque figure should suffice for mediumly rough ground, yet the horses are short when you try any notable acceleration on tarmac. When on the road, it is fairly nondescript to direct – much like the cabin, it exists without offering much in the way of thrills or spills.

The choice of transmission is debatable — manual probably comes in handy when in four-wheel mode, but with only half the tyres being driven and nothing in the way of speedy on-road enjoyment to be had, automatic seems a no-brainer. Gladly, that will be an option on future T60s, according to Maxus.

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As ever when it comes to Chinese cars, the price tag is where most eyes are directed before worrying about such trivialities as whether the model in question, y’know, actually has anything in the way of driving chops. And in this regard, the T60 holds the expected trump card — that starting price is mighty favourable compared to the Navara, for example, which will set you back at least Dh69,300, Dh20,000-plus more than the Maxus. And you do get a lot of metal for your money.

The real test, though, will be in the long-term — because you sense that despite Maxus’s ambitions to make this pick-up cross over to drivers beyond the commercial sector, its bread and butter here looks set to be hauling kit and pounding the highways in punishing heat. It feels a mite flimsy in places, but if it can handle the hard miles, then we have a budget contender on our hands.

The specs: 2018 Maxus T60

Price, base / as tested: Dh48,000

Engine: 2.4-litre four-cylinder

Power: 136hp @ 1,600rpm

Torque: 360Nm @ 1,600 rpm

Transmission: Five-speed manual

Fuel consumption, combined: 9.1L / 100km