Nissan's new bakkie - it's big for a 'baby'
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Let's first look at the good things about the Nissan NP200, the replacement for the long-lived Nissan 1400 half-tonner, now out of production after 37 years.
The NP200, like its predecessor built at Nissan's Rosslyn plant near Pretoria, has a considerably larger cabin and a bigger load bed so it's a more comfortable and more efficient workhorse. The 1400 is a Jack Russell to the NP200's Staffie.
The new bakkie's cabin has enough leg and headroom for folk as tall as a basketball player and there's space behind the tippable seats for things such as tog bags, briefcases or tool kits. Each door has a pocket, the glovebox is double-volume and there are two cupholders.
The ergonomics are hugely improved and the instrument panel fully visible; there's a functional ventilation system, an intermittent setting for the windscreen wipers and the clock, odometer, fuel and temperature displays are digital!
It's impossible to predict a vehicle's longevity after a one-week road test but the NP200 felt encouragingly solid and was rattle-free.
I liked the ride , too; even unladen, the NP200's not as bouncy as you might expect. A longer wheelbase and coil springs have replaced the old 1400's rear leaf springs.
There's a lot more power; a new 1.6-litre, fuel-injected engine wields 64kW and 128Nm compared to the carb-fed 1400's 47kW and 97Nm. The new bakkie's a lot heavier, though, so its predecessor had a better power-to-weight ratio.
There are no performance fireworks but the NP200 delivers honest performance with good tractability so you don't have to rev it till the pistons bounce. Fuel consumption of our test vehicle averaged 7.7 litres/100km - but it was unladen most of the time.
The steering's power-assisted - the 1400's wasn't. The gearshift is also smooth, although selecting reverse was sticky and sometimes took a couple of tries.
Load capacity's grown from 591 to 800kg, which gives the NP200 the best cargo-hauling capacity in its class (Fiat Strada 715kg, Ford Bantam 650kg, Opel Corsa Utility 670kg, Proton Arena 645kg).
The NP200's load bed is rubberised and the tailgate, which opens with a central release, can bear 300kg when open. The bed's pretty deep, its sill (which has a step) is low. There are 16 anchor points.
Well, it's now front-wheel driven and some purists believe a true working bakkie needs to push, rather than pull, its load. Second, the NP200 is a very plain utility item that lacks both the charisma of its predecessor and the modern zhoosh of rivals such as the Opel Corsa Utility and Ford's Bantam.
I was lukewarm about the NP200 at first - mostly because of its lack of character - but I liked it more every day I drove it. Charisma only goes so far in any case and then what becomes important in daily use are things such as elbow room, ventilation and being able to see the instruments.
The engine's quite loud and there's some road noise so, while the NP200 hasn't quite brought Nissan's small bakkie into the 21st century, at least it's time-warped it a few decades forward from the 1970's.
More spacious the newcomer might be but the spec is still bare-bones, save for the power steering.
The NP200 will be for be available in a single model selling for R88 900 with no air-con, radio or crash bags and the windows, mirrors and door locks all require manual operation. More models are expected in 2009.
Also, although the quarter rear window greatly improves visibility over its predecessor, there's still a bit of a lane-change blind spot.
The 1400 bakkie developed a cult following (thieves loved it too so it was SA's most-hijacked vehicle) and whether the new one will garner such loyalty remains to be seen.
Ultimately the NP200's still a workhorse, not a lifestyle, bakkie. You can picture it flitting about industrial areas and along farm roads with a load of tools and equipment, whereas some of its rivals are more likely to be schlepping a quad or jet ski (even if our pix show the opposite!)
Though it may be low on image it rates high on value-for-money. If you're looking for one of the most affordable ways to lug that load you can't really go wrong here and the fact that Nissan's been able to price this far superior bakkie at R1000 LESS than the outgoing 1400 Champ is remarkable (or indicates that the Champ was hopelessly overpriced).
The Nissan NP200 is the best rand/kW deal in the half-tonner class and has the best load capacity.
Test vehicle from Nissan South Africa.