Daihatusu, so far known in South Africa only for its small SUV's and cars, has ventured into light commercial territory for the first time with its Gran Max bakkie.

This dropside delivery-style mini truck brings a Japanese flavour to a segment dominated by slightly larger Korean machinery and the similarly styled Chinese contingent which will be the newcomer's most likely competition.

The Gran Max, however, outdoes rivals such as the Chana Star in nearly every category, including load box dimensions, payload and build quality - which is far superior.

The new Daihatsu - badged as a Toyota in other parts of the world - looks much tidier than its rough-around-the-edges competitor but, even with straighter edges and much sturdier materials, is still strictly a workhorse with bench seats and a features list as sparse as fruit farms in the Gobi desert.

Standard are anti-lock brakes and creature comforts such as a steering wheel and gear lever but its real credentials for its role as a runner for SA's small businesses are in its load-hauling abilities.

The Gran Max can piggyback a full ton - 200kg more than the Chana - and with a loadbed 2350mm long, 1585 wide and 340mm deep will happily carry a queen-sized bed. The Chana will only do a double.

Daihatsu also made mention of the 720mm load deck height, which is apparently close to ideal for lifting heavy objects up and on to, and a respectable 10m turning circle - which I had to test when I took a wrong turn on the media test drive.

It's a very easy-driving vehicle with very light steering and a much crisper gear-change action than the Chinese competition.

The ride is as bouncy and acceleration as nippy as you would expect from an unladen delivery truck but, with a load of twenty 50kg bags of cement, which was actually available to drive at the launch, the bakkie adopts Rolls-Royce suspension attributes and John Deere overtaking abilities.

Power comes from a 1.5-litre petrol engine similar to that of the Terios SUV with 71kW and 134Nm.

Options include a canopy (which negates the load box's drop sides), rubberising, radio, tonneau cover and a rear step.

BOTTOM LINE

Gran Max pricing is set at R119 995. That's an attractive number considering Toyota DNA and Japanese reputation but it's the one category where Daihatsu cannot compete with the way-under-R100 000 Chinese lookalikes. - INL Motoring