FIRST DRIVE | Capable new JAC T9 offers style and substance

21 May 2024 - 08:37
By Denis Droppa
The JAC T9 has a striking design.
Image: DENIS DROPPA The JAC T9 has a striking design.

JAC is a Chinese brand that entered the country in 2017 with a range of commercial vehicles supported by a network that has grown to more than 70 dealers in Southern Africa.

After selling about 5,000 bakkies and trucks locally in the past seven years, the brand is ready to chase bigger volumes with the launch of its boldly styled T9 double cab range. After its world premiere at the 2023 Shanghai International Auto Show, the T9 arrived in local showrooms late last year as the premier model in the brand’s T-Series line up, positioned above the older T8 and workhorse T6 and X200 ranges, which remain on sale.

The company, which recently became 50% owned by Volkswagen in a joint venture in China, began producing light commercial vehicles and passenger cars in 2007 after starting as a truck manufacturer 60 years ago, and builds the T9 range in China for export to more than 40 countries.

Karl-Heinz Göbel, CEO of JAC Motors SA, calls the T9 a game-changer for the brand as it takes on established competitors such as the Toyota Hilux, Nissan Navara, Ford Ranger, Isuzu D-Max, Volkswagen Amarok and Mitsubishi Triton in technology and comfort. It also competes against Chinese GWM P-Series and LDV T60 bakkies, which similarly offer high specification levels at lower prices than the establishment.

Göbel aims to sell 3,000 JAC bakkies and trucks in South Africa this year.

I had my first drive in the T9 earlier this week at a media event hosted in Johannesburg by JAC Motors, and like most modern Chinese vehicles it is almost unrecognisable from the cheap-feeling fare that once emanated from that country, showing impressive strides in technology and perceived build quality.

The T9 range comprises four models, including 4x4 and 4x2 derivatives, all powered by a 2l turbo diesel engine paired with an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission. Behind the striking grille with vertical chrome bars is a family double cab with modern trimmings and safety, with a generous array of luxuries.

I drove the top-of-the-range 2.0CTi Double Cab 4x4 Super Lux priced at R659,900 that is loaded with a similar level of features as found in “establishment” rivals costing about R200,000 more. These include a 360º parking camera, sunroof, leather upholstery, front seats with heating and electric adjustment, 10.4-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring, wireless charging, a seven-inch driver-information screen, cruise control, multifunction steering wheel, a 220V power outlet and climate control with rear passenger ducts.

Both the Lux and Super Lux models have active and passive safety features including six airbags, stability control, hill-hold assist, ABS brakes, tyre pressure monitoring and automatic headlamps.

With a length of 5.3m, the T9 is a roomy bakkie with a 1,000kg payload and a cabin that comfortably accommodates rugby player-sized adults.

The interior has a premium feel, with diamond-pattern leather seats and soft-touch dashboard and armrests. How it will look after a few years is the R659,900 question, and the resale value is another concern, but initial impressions are positive and in my short drive the T9 appeared to have substance to go with its style.

The T9's modern cabin is filled with features.
Image: DENIS DROPPA The T9's modern cabin is filled with features.

It is a refined bakkie with minimal noise intrusion and a relatively comfortable ride, and seems solidly built. With outputs of 125kW and 410Nm the turbodiesel engine feels punchy and gets off the mark without major lag, making for good driveability. The eight-speed ZF transmission is a smooth-shifting delight and offers driving modes including Sport, Normal, Eco and Snow.

The 4x4 models can run in fuel-saving rear-wheel drive mode or can be switched to part-time 4x4 mode with low range and a rear diff-lock for enhanced off-road capability. A 210mm ground clearance and 800mm wading depth complete the adventure vehicle credentials, and it can tow a braked 3,500kg.

The JAC T9 double-cab line-up is sold with a five-year/100,000km warranty and five-year/100,000km service plan, and pricing is:

  • 2.0CTi Double Cab 4x2 Lux: R549,900;
  • 2.0CTi Double Cab 4x2 Super Lux: R599,900;
  • 2.0CTi Double Cab 4x4 Lux: R609,900; and
  • 2.0CTi Double Cab 4x4 Super Lux: R659,900.

Future models

JAC Motors intends to launch several models in South Africa over the next year, including the T9 SUV, which will be the brand’s first passenger car, taking on rivals such as the Toyota Fortuner and Mitsubishi Pajero Sport.

JAC Motors recently introduced battery-electric trucks in South Africa, including a fleet of N75 four-tonners operated by Takealot.

It will expand its zero-emission offering with the launch of a nine-tonne electric truck with a range of more than 300km, and an electric bakkie. To be priced below R700,000, the bakkie will be a battery-powered version of the cab-forward X200 which is available in two 2.8l turbodiesel models at R379,900 and R399,900.

JAC will also launch a single-cab version of its T6 one-tonne bakkie, until now available only in double-cab guise.