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By Charl Bosch

Motoring Journalist


VIDEO: JAC T9 makes a strong case silencing the sceptics

Latest Chinese bakkie is aiming high and largely delivers.


Jianghuai Automobile Corporation, better known by its abbreviation JAC, has has a relatively quiet presence in the South African bakkie segment since opening-up shop seven years ago.

Gradual growth

Renowned for its medium and heavy-duty trucks its business is largely build on, one of China’s oldest vehicle brands only ventured outside its comfort zone in 2019 with the unveiling of the T6 bakkie.

ALSO READ: Opposition tracker engaged as JAC T9 Hunter pricing emerges

Since then, it has continued to focus on its truck business, while expanding its double cab footprint with the unveiling of the step-up T8 above the T6 three years ago.

Watch walkaround of the T9 below

Very much in the lower ranks of the bakkie market, the overdue unveiling of the dramatic looking T9 Hunter this week, serves as a game changer JAC says will boost its sales above the projected 3 000 units this year.

Difficult arrival

Shown as far back as 2020, the T9 Hunter has faced several hurdles since being approved for South Africa just over 12 months later.

Initially supposed to have debuted in 2022, the unspecified delay saw it being postponed to the final quarter of 2023 powered by either a turbodiesel engine or a petrol fuelled plug-in hybrid.

JAC T9 Hunter first drive South Africa
Rear is more straightforward though unlike in China, the Hunter suffix has been dropped.

Minus the Hunter suffix, the planned launch also failed due in part to the country’s port issues that ultimately caused the first units to only arrive in February this year.

A planned first quarter premiere also dead-ended, although at this stage, enough stock had arrived for sales to commence, meaning buyers experienced it first before the media.

Aim is clear

As such, the launch outside Krugersdorp provided the first opportunity to sample the T9 JAC is pitching as not only an alternative to the Great Wall Motors (GWM) P-Series, but also the Mitsubishi Triton, Nissan Navara, Isuzu D-Max and mid-spec versions of the Toyota Hilux and Ford Ranger.

A statement sceptics will brand as “wishful thinking”, the route, which meandered through the Cradle of Humankind and then back to Krugersdorp via the outskirts of Randburg, resulted in an interesting conclusion.

T9 in detail

One of the longest double cabs in South Africa with an overall length of 5 330 mm long, height of 1 920 mm, width of 1 965 mm and wheelbase of 3 110 mm, the T9 conforms to the usual bakkie norm by sporting payload of 1 000 kg, tow rating of 3 500 kg, a limited slip differential and ground clearance of 210 mm.

Adding to this is a wading depth of 800 mm, a BorgWarner system with low range on four-wheel-drive models, a breakover angle of 23⁰, approach angle of 27⁰ and departure angle also of 23⁰.

Love or hate looks

Similar in conceptualisation to the Ford Ranger modelled on the F-150, the T9 adopts a brash and aggressive American-esque truck look not everyone will find favour with.

Distinctive and unique, the design is a polarising one, yet an aspect that could be is biggest selling point before the specification sheet or price is looked at.

Riding on 18-inch wheels and further furnished with a tow bar, sports bar, side-steps and a tonneau cover, the T9’s colour palette spans six hues that look anything but dull against its styling.

Loaded

As is common place with Chinese vehicles, the T9’s interior is more SUV than bakkie, which incidentally will become a reality next year when it spawns a rival to the Toyota Fortuner, Ford Everest, Isuzu MU-X, Mitsubishi Pajero Sport and Mahindra Scorpio-N.

Inserted behind the wheel of the top-spec, rear-wheel-drive Super Lux, the cabin is both neat and ergonomically sound as JAC has opted for physical buttons, dials and toggles rather than touch-sensitive items.

JAC launches T9 bakkie in South Africa
Despite a few cheap trim finishes, the interior appears upmarket and is ergonomically sorted

Trimmed in leather throughout, the general fit-and-finish came as a surprise, though not the imitation brushed aluminium inserts on the dashboard and around the gear lever.

In fact, the main issue involves the Kia-esque steering wheel’s lack of height adjustability, compounded by the seat not being able to drop down low enough.

The rest of the cabin is, however, impressive, not only comfort-wise, but also from a spec front as previously mentioned.

JAC launches T9 bakkie in South Africa
Seat comfort is good with the front chairs being electric and heated on the top-spec Super Lux grade.

In fact, while the standard fitting of a sunroof come as something of oddity in a bakkie, the rest of the T9’s sheet includes dual-zone climate control with rear vents, a wireless smartphone charger, a seven-inch digital instrument cluster, heated front seats, keyless entry, auto on/off LED headlights, folding electric mirrors and a 10.4-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Safety and driver assistance tech is also taken care off by means of all-around parking sensors, a tyre pressure monitor, Brake Override Assist, six airbags, Hill Start Assist and., exclusive to the Super Lux, a 360-degree surround-view camera system.

The drive

Out on the short drive of just over 50 km, the surprises continued and largely the opposite of recent drives in vehicles hailing from the People’s Republic.

Up front, the T9 makes use of a 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine, whose 125kW/410Nm is directed to the rear or all four wheels through the ubiquitous ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic gearbox – a first for JAC as only a manual is available on the T6 and T8.

A combination that promised much, the engine pulls strong and lacks for little, though tweaks have seemingly been applied to the transmission which, although slick, exhibited a tendency to “rush” through the gears to get to eighth.

JAC T9 Hunter first drive South Africa
Powering all models is a CTI-badged 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine

Most likely as a result of aiding fuel consumption, which JAC claims is 7.8 L/100 km, the oddity can be solved by clicking the stubby gear lever into the manual mode as no paddles are provided.

Besides the all-paw system, which couldn’t be experienced as no gravel section was included in the route, the T9 gets a drive mode selector as standard with four modes; Eco, Normal, Sport and Snow.

Ride-wise, and with no load in the rear, the JAC felt stable and comfortable, although the big annoyances involve the overly light steering and the brakes which, as my driving partner noted, acted as switch by being either off or incredibly sharp on.

Conclusion

Its long awaited arrival culminating in JAC’s 60th anniversary this year, the T9, while not perfect, didn’t come as a nasty surprise by being frankly better than expected.

A proverbial solid entrant packed with kit and at a price that will rattle GWM, the T9, while highly unlikely to upstage the Ranger, Hilux or D-Max, has all the makings of troubling the lower rank offerings in a way similar to what the P-Series did.

Backed by a dealer network of 71, and with a reputation forged in the trucking, the T9 warrants a serious look based not only on value, but for being a product best represented of its kind to emerge from China thus far.

Price

Standard across the T9 range is a five-year/100 000 km warranty and service plan over the same timeframe.

  • T9 2.0 CTI Lux AT – R549 900
  • T9 2.0 CTI Lux 4×4 AT – R609 900
  • T9 2.0 CTI Super Lux AT – R599 900
  • T9 2.0 CTI Super Lux 4×4 AT – R659 900

NOW READ: Hunting commences: JAC T9 Hunter heading to South Africa in 2023

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