Maxus, known for its commercial vehicles and the G10 MPV, will be venturing into the pick-up truck market in Malaysia. Weststar Maxus is set to introduce the Maxus T60 pick-up truck here by the end of 2018. This was revealed at the recently concluded 2018 SAIC Motor Overseas Media Tour event in Shanghai.

SAIC Motor (Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation) is the largest auto company in the world’s largest auto market, and is ranked 41st in the Fortune Global 500 list, with sales of 6.93 million units in 2017. It’s the JV partner of not just Chinese market leader Volkswagen, but second placed GM as well. SAIC Motor’s own brands include Roewe, MG and Maxus.

The Maxus T60 made its debut at the Guangzhou Motor Show in November 2016 as SAIC’s first pick-up truck, one that is made to international standards, the company claims. The T60 – under the legacy LDV brand – was launched in Australia in September 2017, and has a five-star ANCAP crash test rating. Australia, a big market for ‘utes’, is the first right-hand-drive market to get the T60.

The T60 is powered by a VM Motori 2.8 litre four-cylinder turbodiesel putting out 150 hp and 360 Nm of torque, available from 1,600 to 2,800 rpm. The R428 DOHC oil burner with VGT can be had with a choice of six-speed manual and automatic transmissions, the latter with manual mode. Normal, Eco and Power driving modes are available, as is 4WD, which can be engaged via a rotary 2H-4H-4L dial.

Demand for petrol-powered trucks is strong in rural China, and Maxus responded by introducing a 2.4 litre naturally aspirated engine (134 hp/200 Nm) and a 2.0 litre turbo unit late last year. With 221 hp and 360 Nm, the 2.0T has more power and the same torque as the 800 cc larger diesel engine. Petrol T60s get electric power steering (EPS) and auto start-stop.

The rest of the spec sheet doesn’t veer far from the one-tonne truck course – front double wishbone suspension, rear leaf springs, hydraulic power steering (for the diesel), front/rear ventilated disc brakes and 17-inch wheels are attached to the ladder frame.

In Australia, the T60 is packed with plenty of kit. Standard equipment include a reverse camera, blind-spot monitoring, auto LED headlights, LED daytime running lights, auto wipers, cruise control, a 10-inch touchscreen head unit with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth with audio streaming, heated door mirrors, hill descent control, hill start assist, blind spot monitor and tyre pressure monitoring.

The Luxe variant, which tops out at A$36,831 (RM109,740), adds on keyless entry with push start, auto-folding side mirrors, leather on the steering and seats, electric heated front seats, auto air con, an electronic rear differential lock and a sports bar. ABS, ESP, Isofix and six airbags contribute to the five-star ANCAP rating.

That’s a comprehensive list of kit for a pick-up truck, and content/price is the T60’s main draw in a segment packed with dependable mainstays (Toyota Hilux) and “lifestyle” options such as the Ford Ranger and Nissan Navara. The T60 for Malaysia will be locally assembled in Johor, but all Weststar can disclose now is that the Maxus truck will be “competitively priced” with “good specs” relative to the market leaders. In China, the T60 is priced from 99,800 (RM60,645) to 213,800 yuan (RM129,812).

Moving on, we understand from SAIC Maxus that there are plans to introduce the Maxus D90 SUV here as well, although there’s no fixed timeline yet and the T60 is number one on the to-do list. Unveiled last year, the flagship D90 is a seven-seat SUV sister to the T60, like what the Toyota Fortuner is to the Hilux. The Fortuner and Hyundai’s Santa Fe are seen as rivals to this body-on-frame, off-road capable SUV.

It’s a big upright SUV at 5,005 mm long and 1,932 mm wide, which is 210 mm longer and 77 mm wider than the Fortuner. Like Toyota’s truck-based SUV, the D90’s body and design bears no resemblance to its truck sister, and it appears more sophisticated.

The face is a little Hyundai-like, but the signature lines – one from the bonnet diving down at the door mirrors, and a straight crease that sharpens on the way to the back – are unique. Another flourish, which is perhaps more apparent, is the joining of the glass area’s chrome underline with the roof rails, broken by the top stroke of the DLO (in black). It’s an inoffensive design that’s even a little handsome from certain angles.

If the exterior plays it safe, the D90’s interior is bound to elicit response. There’s nothing utilitarian about the design, which is contemporary, and materials, which are plush for a truck-based SUV. BMW-inspired? Perhaps, but I don’t think prospects would mind a bit. Coupled with a very wide central screen, sharp graphics and a digital meter panel, the D90’s cabin is its surprise party piece that gives off a whiff of premium.

You’d expect it to share the T60’s big diesel engine, but the D90 only comes with petrol power, for now. It’s a 2.0 litre turbo four-pot with 221 hp and 360 Nm from 2,500 to 3,500 rpm, which is also available with the T60 truck in China.

The 2.0T is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission and there’s auto start-stop, while one can choose between 2WD (RWD) and 4WD with Rock, Mud, Sand and Snow off-road modes. Combined fuel consumption in the Australian cycle is 10.2 litres per 100 km for the 2WD and 10.9 litres for the 4WD.

Down Under, the D90 is available in three trim levels – Mode, Deluxe and Luxe – priced from A$36,990 (RM110,326) to A$46,990 (RM140,141). The equipment list is extensive.

The top D90 gets adaptive LED headlamps, panoramic sunroof; a 12.3-inch HD central screen; 8-inch MID, electronic parking brake with auto hold, keyless entry with push start; electric tailgate; three-zone auto air con; leather seats (synthetic leather for the third row); eight-way electric driver’s seat with four-way lumbar, memory, massage, heating/ventilation; heated second row seats; Apple CarPlay and Android Auto; 12 speakers and a 220V socket, among other things.

Safety wise, the five-star ANCAP rated SUV comes with six airbags, autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitor, fatigue reminder and attention assist, lane departure warning, traffic sign recognition and a 360-degree view camera.

That’s some list, and it’s bound to turn some heads, along with the eye-catching interior. Like most truck-based SUVs, you’ll need to climb in (there are handles on the A and B pillars for passengers), but once inside, the D90’s perch is high and commanding, which fits well with the expansive dash and big seats.

We can’t report much about ride comfort or NVH from a few laps of a short track, but the latter should be decent on the road. The D90’s petrol engine gives it a refinement edge over diesel rivals, and the boosted unit provides decent shove, although response could be faster. The steering is light and easy, and the Maxus hangs on competently for something so tall and big, with less body roll than you might expect.

Like the T60, Malaysian pricing and content will be key. Should those be attractive, the Maxus D90 would be an interesting alternative to the Fortuner, armed with safety (kit and ANCAP rating), size, a pleasant cabin and turbo petrol power. What do you think of the Maxus T60 and D90?

GALLERY: Maxus T60

GALLERY: Maxus D90