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New Ford Bantams driven

2009-04-02 08:28
Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Ford
Model Bantam
Engine 1.3, 1.4TDCI, 1.6
Power 55kW @ 5 500r/min, 50kW @ 4 000, 70kW @ 5 500r/min,
Torque 110Nm @ 3 000r/min, 160Nm @ 2 000r/min, 137Nm @ 2 500r/min
Transmission Five-speed manual
Fuel Tank 48l
Tyres 165/80TR13 (steel wheels), 175/65R14 (alloy wheels)
Service Intervals 15 000km
Warranty 4year/120 000km
Price Nissan NP200, Opel Corsa Utility, Fiat Strada

Lance Branquinho

Ford’s Bantam bakkie range has been subtley revised and boosted with turbodiesel power to regain traction in the rigorous small bakkie market.

The Bantam remains a uniquely South African offering, despite the facelift engineering being done by Ford’s Australian division.

Coming to market now after being shown at the Johannesburg International Motor Show last year, changes are primarily of the cosmetic variety, with the single most notable running change the introduction of turbocharged compression ignition power.

This new engine option, in the form of an Ikon-sourced 1.4 TDCi engine, finally restores diesel fleetability to the Bantam range after the naturally aspirated 1.8D was discontinued. It also dramatically improves workhorse appeal for Reef buyers where, admittedly, the 1.6l petrol can exhibit a touch of breathlessness when fully loaded.

New engine, extended range

Beyond the new 1.4TDCi engine, trim levels are essentially carried over.

Entry level bakkies are delivered in workhorse spec without air-conditioning or a radio/CD player. XL trim adds the aforementioned entertainment option as standard, a rear step bumper and side body mouldings. XLT derivatives roll on 14-inch alloy wheels, sound off with a four-speaker sound system and increased convenience with powered windows, mirrors and remote central locking.

The range topping XLE trim adds dual airbags, a leather steering wheel and gearshift top, yet is curiously only available with the 1.6l engine. Bantam customers do have the option to add dual airbags to XLT models though, which includes the new 1.4 TDCi engine.

Ford opted to not introduce the revised Bantam at peak Gauteng altitude, or at the coast, for that matter. Instead, we headed to the Lowveld, with its portfolio of winding roads of variable quality providing a good real world test for the bakkie.

Bantam interior remains car-like, lack of steering wheel adjustment means rural spec South African males will be feeding the steering with hands and rim brushing the knees at times...

The revised Bantam’s interior is pretty much standard Ford Ikon, carrying over an ergonomic arrangement that is not in the same class as Nissan's NP200, yet is hardly cramped either.

Sweeping cubby hold surfacing and mostly positive switchgear aside, the ageing design renders some choice ergonomical irritations.

Chief amongst these, especially for a product which is sold locally only, is the bizarre location of the hazard light switch behind the steering wheel, on top the steering column.

Dual airbags are standard on the single XLE model (an 1.6i) and optional on XLTs - splendid. A lot less splendid is the infuriating emergency indicator light switch behind the steering wheel...

Reaching and actuating the hazard lights is not intuitive, and subsequently there were plenty of slow-moving logging vehicles on the road between Nelspruit and White River that did not benefit from the traditional light-flash thank you for moving onto the yellow line.

The rest the interior remains pleasantly car-like and, on all but the base spec models, a sturdy cab protector shores up to provide additional peace of mind (to a degree) when transporting large objects and suddenly being confronted by an emergency braking situation. Your cadence braking skills had better be up to scratch though, considering the absence of ABS.

Dynamic driver, and refined too

On the road, Bantam’s suspension - MacPherson struts up front and a leaf-sprung, solid rear-axle - ensures it remains the choice of the small bakkies with regards to ride and handling.

The steering is light yet uncannily tactile, buoyed by power assistance which is mechanically hydraulic, instead of electrically controlled like most contemporary cars. On the sweeping roads of Mpumalanga, despite some rather challenging road surfaces, Bantam remained essentially unflappable, displaying an uncanny fun coefficient.

As a small workhorse bakkie, performance of the new 1.4TDCi engine is a key point of interest. Featuring an aluminium alloy block and aluminium cylinder head, the long-stroke engine architecture predisposes the TDCi to be decidedly torque biased.

Quiet and lively, whilst shifting through five-well spaced ratios, the new TDCi drivetrain is a peach. Refinement benefits from two-stage direct injection for both pilot and main injection cycles.

With clever Siemens engine management electronics and high-pressure, common-rail, direct injection fuelling the engine, the 1.4TDCi engages with lively performance. Despite the figures of only 50kW at 4 000r/min and 160Nm at 2 000r/min, the 1.4TDCi Bantam is an infinitely more responsive drive than the old 1.8D.

Boasting a low 1 036kg kerb weight, the Bantam 1.4TDCi, with a touch over 100kg in the load bed during the launch, displayed determined acceleration through the gears.

Refinement is redoubtable too, showing that much of the noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) engineering validity done in Australia was worth the budgetary outlay.

If you’re a dedicated short-shifting driver, and can manage without air conditioning, expect the new engine to return consumption around 5.3l/100km - unladen.

Tough market

Assessing the half-ton market currently is not the work of a moment. Nissan is still in the midst of rolling out the NP200 range, which will be buoyed with additional models featuring diesel power, ABS brakes and airbags.

We can only conjecture on the pricing, so a direct comparison to the Bantam, with regards to value, is guesstimating at best. NP200 does offer better loadability (800kg versus Bantam's 650kg) and interior space though.

Bantam’s traditional rival, Opel’s Corsa Utility, offers ABS modulated brakes, albeit on its top-spec 1.8l Sport only.

Driver and passenger airbags are standard across the Corsa Utility Sport range too, yet top-spec Bantams undercut their GM rivals on price, so even with the Bantam XLT's optional airbag box ticked, pricing remains quite competitive.

All things considered, the facelift cannot hide Bantam’s ageing interior design.

However, turbodiesel power has given the range much needed traction in the half-ton market again, especially for utility buyers who are highly cogniscant of running costs.

Bantam’s ride and handling qualities, which have always been class leading, dovetail perfectly with the reengineered NVH refinements to ensure it remains the most entertaining ride of all the small bakkies.


Ford Bantam 1.3i                            R101 950
Ford Bantam 1.3i A/C                      R109 800
Ford Bantam 1.3i XL                        R121 050
Ford Bantam 1.3i XLT                      R136 350

Ford Bantam 1.6i                            R115 951
Ford Bantam 1.6i A/C                      R124 300
Ford Bantam 1.6i XL                        R135 750
Ford Bantam 1.6i XLT                      R143 500
Ford Bantam  1.6i XLE                     R163 050

Ford Bantam 1.4 TDCi                     R141 251
Ford Bantam 1.4 TDCi A/C               R148 100
Ford Bantam 1.4 TDCi XLT               R171 750

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