When the FOTON Toano high-roof passenger van was first introduced to the Philippine market, we heard some talk about it being an “imitation” of the second generation Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van. In spite of the fact that the Sprinter has been sold under various nameplates aside from Mercedes-Benz like Dodge, Freightliner, and Volkswagen (as the VW LT and VW Crafter), some critics shunned the Toano because of its country of origin—China.
But unknown to these critics, FOTON Motors is part of the Beijing Automotive Industries Corporation (BAIC) group of companies, which also assembles and distributes Mercedes-Benz, MAN, and Hyundai among other international car brands in China. So, sharing the platform of the Sprinter is not a far-flung idea. In fact, badge engineering has been a staple of most auto manufacturers since multi-branding became an ideal marketing strategy to cast a bigger net over car buyers. We later realized that any similarities between the Sprinter and the Toano is strictly intentional.
The Toano is NOT an imitation of the MB Sprinter. It is actually a Sprinter with some minor differences.
Even the exclusive local distributor, FOTON Motor Philippines, which is under the umbrella of the United Asia Automotive Group Inc. (UAAGI), is proud of the Toano’s origins. They flaunt the van as “specially designed by the original Mercedes-Benz Sprinter car design team based in Stuttgart, Germany”. With that issue set aside, the Toano is actually an easy-to-drive and easy-on-the-pocket luxury van with an elegant and expansive interior propelled by a powerful yet economical Cummins turbo diesel engine.
Looking at it another way, this high-roof FOTON van is an affordable way to getting a luxurious ride with ample and comfortable seating for 15 passengers comparable to a Mercedes-Benz without the price penalty of the European luxury brand. It’s like having your cake and eating it, too, except that it’s a tall 2.4-meter-high and 6-meter-long cake on wheels. Now, try eating that!
Improving on the Original
Whoever wrote the tagline “The original is always the best” for a food product must have forgotten the process of evolution, which tends to improve on the original. The Toano proves that it can improve on the bones of the 2006-2018 Sprinter as much as the third generation Mercedes-Benz van has improved on its previous iteration. First and foremost, FOTON installed a 2.8-liter ISF-series Cummins turbocharged diesel engine with common rail fuel injection system (CRDi) that churns out 160 horsepower at 3,600 rpm and 360 Newton-meters of torque between 1,800 and 3,000 rpm.
2.8-liter Cummins ISF CRDi turbo diesel
With the Cummins ISF CRDi 4-cylinder turbo diesel engine, the Toano has more power and torque than the Sprinter fitted with a 156-hp 2.7-liter Mercedes-Benz OM 612/647 inline five-cylinder diesel engine. Add a 6-speed manual transmission and you’ve got the makings of an economical touring van that is environmentally-conscious as well, since it complies with Euro 4 emission standards. Power is delivered to a live rear axle sprung by progressive leaf springs and transmitted to the ground via 215/75-16 tires wrapped around 10-spoke 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels. Disc brakes on all four corners ensure safe, fade-free stops every time.
When we went to the Foton Motor Philippines offices in Balintawak, Quezon City on a Wednesday to pick up our 2019 Foton Toano S test drive unit, we were initially intimidated by its size. But after a few minutes of driving it along A. Bonifacio Avenue and through EDSA and then parking it at the Trinoma Mall, where we had lunch with visiting relatives, it didn’t seem that big. Until, of course, you realized that you can only park it in open parking spaces because it’s too tall to fit in parking structures. And that it’s longer by a meter than most vans it’s parked alongside with.
We initially were intimidated by the Toano’s size since we looked small next to it.
Wednesday and Thursday found us driving the van around Metro Manila while Friday saw us driving to Mt. Samat in Bataan for some historical sightseeing and to Subic Bay in Olongapo, where we stayed at the exclusive ACEA Beach Resort. By sheer coincidence, our friends from Nissan Philippines, Inc. (NPI) were having their team building activities at ACEA. When we parked our Toano alongside their fleet of high-roof Nissan NV350 vans, our Foton van still stood out – because of its height and length.
Believe it or not, there’s a full-size SUV parked at the right side of our van.
Comfortable Touring Machine
Foton engineers took advantage of the Toano’s high ceiling and long 3.75-meter wheelbase by fitting five rows and fifteen seats with generous legroom and headroom for a stately, comfortable and relaxing ride. Our passengers enjoyed the spacious interior and comfortable light-colored fabric seats with individual head, back rests and seat belts. They also got entertained with the music emanating from the AM/FM radio, CD player, and AUX and USB inputs. The long drive on the highways and around traffic seemed like a breeze inside the Toano S.
Separate controls for the rear aircon ensures the occupants’ cooling comfort.
Getting on and off the van is likewise a breeze with an automatic retractable footboard, except for the driver and front passenger who have to climb to their respective high seats. Foton recommends a chauffeur to pilot the Toano S to fully enjoy the ride but we enjoyed piloting the van ourselves, especially with its tight turning circle, uncanny maneuverability (for a long vehicle) and built-in driver’s aids such as reverse cameras and sensors, large side mirrors, and anti-lock brake system (ABS) with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD).
Our time with the Toano S was filled with great memories of pleasant rides and happy family moments inside its comfortable interior. But we got a bigger surprise with our Amber Bronze 15-seater FOTON Toano S. It only costs P1,970,000 and comes with a 5-year / 150,000-kilometer warranty, which makes for great value-for-money and affordability, something that its glitzy and more expensive Mercedes-Benz counterpart won’t be able to offer. And that’s where the comparison, and any similarity, ends.