Johannesburg - It's not without some trepidation that I first got behind the wheel of South Africa’s cheapest double cab 1-ton bakkie, the Changan Star 1.3.

With a pricetag of just R164 990 it costs about the same as Nissan’s NP200 single cab half tonner, and such a bargain-basement price immediately starts ringing alarm bells in your head about how well built (or not) this Chinese cheapie might be.

And when that driver’s door closes with a tinny thunk, and you see there’s no airbag symbol on the steering wheel, the low price starts making a bit more sense. And even more when you start driving it.

But before we get to that part, just a quick history lesson: Changan is one of the big four Chinese automakers and launched its vehicles in South Africa in 2007, but the first local importer went belly-up, leaving Jiangling Motors Corporation (JMC) to take over the local distribution in 2013.

In July this year JMC South Africa unveiled the new-generation Changan Star 3 range of rear-wheel drive bakkies. Available in single cab, double cab and minivan derivatives, they all share a normally aspirated 1243cc 4-cylinder petrol engine producing outputs of 72kW/119Nm.

All versions feature cab-forward body styles with the engine located under the seats to provide maximum load space, with all three having a full 1-ton loading capacity. The double cab’s available in a basic version for R154 990 that comes with a radio and little else, and a ‘Lux’ for R10 000 more which throws in basic comforts like aircon, electric windows, and remote central locking. The warranty is three years/100 000km.

The cloth-covered seats are reasonably comfortable and the hard plastic fascia has neat styling, with no excessive panel gaps. The floor covering is some creased and ill-fitting plasticky/rubbery material.

The cabin’s reasonably roomy and will take four adults (five at a squeeze), but this a pure workhorse with no designs on being a ‘leisure’ double cab. The rear seats are there so that workers can sit inside, instead of in the load bay attracting negative social-media posts.

So the Chinese bakkie has great price-list appeal, but the value-for-money plot starts falling apart when you drive it. Ditch the idea of this being any kind of family vehicle - at least if you wish to stay on friendly terms with your family. The Changan’s as rough as a bear’s backside, with a very third-world feel.

The ride quality’s atrocious and the Changan bumps and lurches over every minor hump. It tootles around town with reasonable pace, and the five-speed gearshift’s smooth and the clutch is light, but the steering isn’t power assisted and it takes some arm power to turn the wheel - which should at least save the driver on gym membership.

Increase the speed above 90km/h and it starts picking up some major vibrations, and not the good Beach Boys kind. The bakkie feels like it’s going to shake itself apart with wheels that feel as if they haven’t been balanced, and there’s also major driveshaft vibration.

It’s also as noisy as a Friday night in a shebeen, and I don’t think the factory spent any money on sound deadening material. As the speed and noise rise you have to constantly crank up the volume of the tinny little sound system - but it’s mostly a losing battle.

Overall, with all the noise and shaking, it feels like a bakkie that’s already done a few hundred thousand hard-working kilometres. Safety is also absent from the deal; there are no airbags or ABS brakes, and not much of a frontal crumple zone to provide cushioning in crashes.

As a workhorse there’s little to complain about. We used the Changan to haul a few loads of garden rubble and were impressed with the large amount it could carry in its one-ton load bay, which is a generous 2.06 metres long. It was also easy to get it loaded due to the sides of the cargo bay being at only about waist height, and for even easier loading the hinged sides and tailgate drop down.

VERDICT

As a budget workhorse the Changan Star double cab does the job with its large, easy-to-load cargo bed, bargain-basement price, and low fuel consumption which we measured at 6.6 litres per 100km.

There’s a value-for-money workhorse lurking in there somewhere, and this Chana bakkie has no real rivals in terms of price. But some might feel the dirt-cheap pricetag just isn’t enough to compensate for it being so rough and shaky, and may rather choose to spend an extra 25 grand to buy the more refined 73kW/180Nm GWM Steed 5 2.2 double cab.

FACTS

Changan Star 1.3 double cab Lux

Engine: 1.3-litre, 4-cylinder petrol
Gearbox: 5-speed manual
Power: 73kW
Torque: 119Nm
Top speed (Claimed): 120km/h
Ground clearance155mm
Payload1000kg
Price: R164 990
Warranty: 3-year/100 000km
Service/Maintenance plan: None

Drive360