Video Review: Golden Dragon Minibus

By: Steve Skinner, Video by: Andrew Britten and Steve Skinner


The Golden Dragon minibus has arrived on Australian shores, Steve Skinner checks it out

You don’t have to look too closely at the Golden Dragon to see it bears a remarkable resemblance to the popular Japanese-built Toyota Coaster; similar looking shape, same headlights, same tail-lights, same grille, same windscreen, same dash layout — even precisely the same wheelbase, at 3.935m.

Nevertheless there are also significant differences, some good and some not so good.

The most obvious contrast is in the driveline.

In the Golden Dragon this consists of a 3.8-litre Cummins engine made in China, with selective catalytic reduction (SCR) emissions control; combined with a 6-speed Allison automatic transmission made in the United Kingdom, as standard.

This is against the 4-litre Toyota engine in the Coaster with exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) pollution control; matched to either a manual gearbox or a 4-speed auto transmission.

As you’d expect there’s sharp difference in price.

The Golden Dragon lists at a touch under $100,000 (including GST) for the 22-seat version, including driver.

This compares with $123,000 (including GST) for the auto equivalent in the Coaster.

By the way, the ‘70’ in the GD70 model name refers to the vehicle length of 7m. ‘GD77’ refers to the 7.7m length of the 25-seat version.

POINTS OF DIFFERENCE

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We haven’t tested the Coaster yet, but we will be reviewing the upgraded version when it’s released later in the year.

In the meantime the importer of the Golden Dragon — Patico Automotive — readily concedes its 22-seat version of the GD is not as refi ned as its 21-seat Coaster competitor.

That is certainly the case when you contrast the 25-seat GD77 with the 25-seat Fuso Rosa, which we reviewed late last year. And after all, the big selling Japanese models have been around for many years.

In turn the Japanese minibuses lack the sophisticated electronic safety technology of the more expensive Europeans.

You may not have heard of Golden Dragon before — unless you’re thinking of your favourite Chinese restaurant — but the Xiamen based manufacturer sells 40,000 buses a year, both big and small.

It’s a joint venture established two decades ago between the better-known King Long Motor Group (60 per cent) and the Hong Kong Jialong investment company (40 per cent).

"The main selling points are the safety features; standard inclusions which you don’t get with the competitors; and value for money," regional sales and marketing manager for Patico, Guy Pex, sums up his company’s new GD product.

Indeed the GD70, which made its Australian debut at the Gold Coast Bus Expo last year, has some pretty impressive inclusions for the unbeatable price — some of which aren’t available in the Coaster.

Perhaps most significantly, it has Australian-made Styleride Orion seats with ADR68-compliant three point lap sash seatbelts. Adding to the safety factor is that these are high backed, and should prevent whiplash even in adults.

By contrast the Coaster has lower back seats with only the two-point lap seatbelts.

The Golden Dragon also has air brakes, which Patico rates as a safety advantage over the Coaster as well, by pointing out their reliability and that when the air park brake locks on, there is no way it will let go.

Other bonuses for your $100,000 include reversing camera, satellite navigation, full multimedia system with Bluetooth connectivity, five-year anti-corrosion warranty with the electrophoretic rust proofing treatment of the frame; and internal LED lighting.

There are also various appealing options including cruise control; factory fitted rear barn doors enabling a wheelchair lift to be fitted; and internal luggage racks.

 

ORDINARY AROUND TOWN

Golden D4

 

Of course can’t have everything if you want to keep your purchase price right down, and the first thing you notice when you fi re up the Golden Dragon is its agricultural sound and feel — at least when stationary and at low speed.

As far as we know Cummins engines have a good reputation, but their virtues do not include quietness.

Sure, the little donk is right alongside you, so it can never be as quiet inside as a rear-engined coach, but much improved soundproofing would not go astray in this minibus. Neither would a better engine trapdoor cover than the loose vinyl thing, which a schoolkid could easily souvenir.

There is also some vibration around suburban roads which, as the driver, you can feel with your feet.

There was too much play in the steering for my liking; the brakes need a lot of foot pressure; and the driver’s side mirror couldn’t be tilted up enough.

Hopefully and presumably these are all simple adjustment issues.

The brake pedal and accelerator are too close together, so your foot often slightly touches the bottom right corner of the brake pedal as you go for the throttle. But that’s a much better problem than the other way around.

The bus felt like it had a pretty ordinary turning circle, which indeed turns out to be 15.9m compared with the Coaster’s 14.4m.

The driver’s seat is comfortable, with in-built lumbar support, but there is nowhere near enough travel allowed.

A tall person won’t be able to push the seat back as far as they need to despite the fact there is plenty of room between the back of the driver’s seat and the first passenger seat. Presumably this is an issue which can be easily fixed in the factory.

There is a similar seat travel restriction in the Fuso Rosa but at least in the Rosa the seat can be jacked higher to make room for longer legs.

The Dragon’s driver’s seat is not suspended, but neither are the seats in the Coaster and Rosa.

Meanwhile the backrest parts of the seats in the last row of the bus angle way too far forward, because they are jammed up against the back window.

Pex says the cushioning at the top rear of these — only necessary for face-plants from passengers sitting behind, which obviously can’t happen in the last row — will be trimmed to straighten them up.

One of the most obvious drawbacks of the Golden Dragon compared with the Coaster and Rosa is that it lacks independent front suspension.

It has the traditional tapered leaf springs — with gas dampers — which is at least tried-and-true technology.

Notable positive features of the bus driving around industrial streets in Dandenong were very good handling pushing hard around corners, and smooth progression through the automatic gearbox.

 

GOOD ON THE OPEN ROAD

Golden D 2

 

It was out on Melbourne’s EastLink that some of the virtues of the little Chinese bus came to the fore.

The GD70 has plenty of get-up-and-go, with 50Nm more torque than the Coaster.

It gets up to speed on the open road with ease, and sits on 100km/h at just 2,100rpm, showing another benefit of the 6-speed transmission.

Once at cruising speed the noise and vibration drop right away, for both driver and passengers.

The exhaust brake works very well when you want to slow down in a hurry, mostly via kicking the gearbox down quicker.

The ride for passengers is good; their safe seats are comfortable and have adequate knee room; and there is a great view from the large bonded tinted windows.

The NTCAC air-conditioning with individual vent controls is excellent.

Getting in and out of the bus is easy for both the driver and passengers, and there is plenty of headroom for walking down the aisle.

The GD70 and GD77 buses are supported by Patico’s national franchise dealer network.

The company says these dealerships are in each capital city and major regional town, and provide 24/7 bumper to bumper back-up.

Patico says the GD product is also supported nationally by the Cummins and Allison service network, with more than 200 locations.

Summing up, the Coaster and Rosa are already regarded as no-frills budget minibuses, but if you want to squeeze even more value from your dollar, (with both some advantages and disadvantages in terms of features and refi nement) the Golden Dragon could be for you.

 

STATS

MAKE/MODEL: Golden Dragon GD70

ENGINE: 4 cylinder 3.8-litre Cummins with SCR

OUTPUTS: 105kW (143hp); 450Nm

TRANSMISSION: 6-speed Allison 1000 series automatic

BRAKES: Full air system, front discs and rear drum

SEATS: 22, including driver

PRICE: $99,990 incl GST, plus on road costs

 

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