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2023 Foton Thunder 2.0 A/T: Tougher But Gentler Modern Workhorse

“Workhorse”. That’s the term I used to describe the 2009 Foton Blizzard pickup truck for a test drive story that I wrote in the Business Motoring Section of The Philippine STAR when I still wrote for that popular broadsheet. Rommel Sytin, who was then the president of Foton Motor Philippines (FMP), liked it so much that they used the term “workhorse” for marketing their pickup truck models from the Blizzard to the first-generation Thunder and current Thunder 2.0, which FMP now dubs as a “Modern Workhorse”.

2009-2014 Foton Blizzard

It’s an apt description, after all. At the time, most of the pickup trucks being sold by popular automotive brands were luxurious, highly accessorized and fancy rigs that it would be a shame to load the bed with anything but clean cargo, or a couple of bicycles, or a racing motorcycle. I felt then that my test drive Blizzard with 5-speed manual transmission had such a tough character that you won’t find yourself cringing when filling the bed with any load – clean or not-so-clean – and then transporting it to any destination. I was proven right when a lot of business owners chose to have a Blizzard as their workhorse, transporting people and goods.

Changing with the Times (And the Market Demand)

Well… that was then, this is now. Foton has replaced the “Blizzard” nameplate with “Thunder” for its pickup truck lineup in 2014, and buyers of the current-generation Thunder 2.0 can now opt for a 4×2 or a 4×4 with 6-speed manual transmission, or a 4×2 with a 6-speed automatic transmission. In late January, my wife Shawie and I, along with a select group of motoring journalists, were able to take the 2023 Thunder 2.0 4×2 A/T for a one-day long drive from the Foton Balintawak dealership to Pampanga and back, and then came away impressed. With a higher payload rating, a smoother ride, and an exterior that’s at par with the current trends, who wouldn’t be?

I was so impressed with the Thunder 2.0 A/T that I immediately said, “Yes!”, when FMP asked if I would like to spend a week with their silver media test drive unit. Once I took delivery, I drove it in and around heavy city traffic, and then realized why a lot of drivers are now opting for an automatic transmission-equipped diesel-powered pickup truck. It’s just so practical, even though its 5.3-meter length and 1.9-meter width needs a little getting used to compared to our compact family car. My wife just loves the higher view afforded by the Thunder 2.0 A/T’s 1.9-meter height, the worry-free 220-millimeter ground clearance, and the tall and meaty tires. No wonder the market demand for 4-door crew cab pickups hasn’t ceased!

Let’s Get to the “Tougher” Part

Pickup trucks are all about carrying capacity and the Thunder 2.0 does not disappoint. Its cargo bed is 1,520 millimeters long, 1,580 mm wide and 440 mm deep with a maximum payload rating of 1,000 kilograms. There’s more than adequate power coming from its Aucan 4F20TC inline 4-cylinder turbo diesel engine that pumps out 161 horsepower at 4,000 rpm and 390 Newton-meters of torque between 1,800 to 2,600 rpm. There’s also more than adequate braking force with ventilated disc brakes at the front and drum brakes at the rear. Let’s just say that with the Thunder 2.0 A/T, we exceeded the speed limit easily and then scrubbed off speed as easily, too.

The suspension system consists of front independent double wishbones and rear live axle with leaf springs. The four 265/60R18 tires mounted on 12-spoke 6-lug 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels provide a wide footprint for better traction and grip while the tires’ tall side walls, along with the truck’s 3-meter-long wheelbase and tuned suspension, provides a much smoother ride than what is expected of mid-sized pickups. As we observed during our drive to Pampanga in January, the best seats in the house are the front seats because the ride in the back seats tend to be quite choppy when this Foton is thundering over uneven roads with an empty bed. However, at a much slower pace in city traffic, the ride is a lot smoother than anticipated.

And Now, for the “Gentler” Part…

Even though modern pickup trucks are designed for cargo hauling, their engineers and designers made sure that the interior of these vehicles are also comfortable enough for the long haul. In Foton’s case, the factory went overboard with the luxurious touches in the interior. After the engineers extended the wheelbase, tuned the suspension, and then installed tires with road-impact-absorbing tall side walls to provide a smoother ride, the designers installed soft leather with quilted portions on the ergonomic front bucket seats and rear bench seat, which features a fold-down center armrest, and a storage bin for the jack and some tools. Foton engineers also improved the Thunder 2.0’s NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) insulators to make the ride even more quieter and more pleasant than what you’d expect in a truck of this size.

As I’ve mentioned numerous times before, the best seat in any vehicle is the driver’s seat (specially if you love to drive like I do) and the Thunder 2.0 A/T features an inviting cockpit. There’s a nicely-padded 4-spoke steering wheel with multi-function control buttons in the spokes, a stubby transmission gear selector, two large round analog gauges in the instrument panel for the speedometer and the tachometer, with a fuel gauge and an engine temperature gauge on the side, and a pictograph LCD display in the middle for the warning indicators. The infotainment system is intuitive to use, although it annoyingly reverts back to start when you turn off the engine, requiring a reset, especially when I’m listening to music from a USB source. All the controls are within easy reach and the interior is so car-like that the only time I’m reminded that I’m driving a pickup truck is when I open the door and realize that the ground is much, much farther from the vehicle’s floor.

Proudly Made in the Philippines

Overall, I find the Foton Thunder 2.0 A/T impressive, even more so after I learned that it is assembled at Foton Motor Philippines’ 11-hectare factory in Clark, Pampanga, making it a pickup truck that is Proudly Made in the Philippines. What’s even more impressive is its price – FMP General Manager Levy S. Santos recently announced that they reduced the price By PhP300,000 to PhP1,050,000! With an affordable price like this, the Thunder 2.0 A/T is not only a tougher yet gentler modern workhorse, it is also a relative bargain, too!

I don’t normally gush about the vehicles I test drive but there is something about the Thunder 2.0 A/T that, initially, I can’t put my finger on. But after looking closely at all the photos I took of this pickup truck, I realized that at certain angles, its front end design reminds me of the face of Bolt, the hero dog from the 2008 Walt Disney movie. As a dog owner, I am perhaps attracted to the Thunder 2.0 because of this cute similarity. Just think of it: Thunder + Bolt = Thunderbolt! What a funny coincidence!

And when I think about it, I’ve test driven this 6-speed automatic pickup truck twice – during a day-long media drive in January and during a weeklong test drive in May. I sincerely hope to be able to evaluate it for a year-long test drive in the near future to see how it performs from an owner’s point of view. I’ll leave it up to Fate (and FMP management) if a Power Wheels Magazine Long Term Test of a  2023 Foton Thunder 2.0 A/T will soon be realized. Stay tuned!


Model: 2023 Foton Thunder 2.0 A/T

Classification: RWD 4-door crew cab pickup truck

Price: P1,050,000 (as of July 2023)

Engine type: Aucan 4F20TC inline 4-cylinder turbo diesel

Displacement: 1,968 cc

Maximum power: 161 hp (120kW) @ 4,000 rpm

Maximum torque: 390 Nm @ 1,800-2,600 rpm

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Steering: Electronic power steering

Suspension: Independent, front double wishbone, rear live axle with leaf springs

Brakes: Front ventilated discs, rear drums

Wheels: 18-inch 12-spoke 6-lug alloy

Tires: 265/60R18

Wheelbase: 3110 mm

Overall length: 5340 mm

Width: 1940 mm

Height: 1870 mm

Ground clearance: 220 mm

Fuel tank capacity: 76 liters

Cargo bed length: 1520 mm

Cargo bet width: 1580 mm

Cargo bed height: 440 mm

Payload rating: 1000 kg

Curb weight: 2605 kg