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Nissan's Bantam rival gets better

2009-05-14 08:50
Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Nissan
Model NP200
Engine 1.6, 1.5 dCi
Power 64kW @ 5 500-, 77kW @ 5 750-, 63kW @ 3 750r/min
Torque 128Nm @ 3 000-, 148Nm @ 3 750-, 200Nm @ 1 900r/min
Transmission Five speed manual
Fuel Tank 50l
Fuel Consumption 8.1l/100km, 6.3l/100km
ABS Yes, with EBA (SE)
Tyres 185/65 x 15
Front Suspension McPherson strut with anti-roll bar
Rear Suspension Solid axle with coil spring and anti-roll bar
Service Intervals 15 000km
Warranty 3 year/100 000km

Lance Branquinho

Since its introduction in October last year, the Nissan NP200 has found a surprising measure of traction in the bakkie market, despite weakening general demand and Nissan retailing a sole, entry-level model.

There was also the small matter of NP200 supplanting the legendary B140 bakkie range, which was a rear-wheel drive working class hero and part of the country’s national identity. All things considered, it has not been the most welcoming environment for Nissan’s locally-built three-quarter tonner.

From the outset Nissan sketched a timeline for the introduction of comprehensively equipped NP200s (as production volumes at Rosslyn were sufficiently ramped up), boasting not only additional comfort and safety features, but multivalve petrol and compression ignition engines too.

Eight months hence, and the NP200 range has now been fleshed out from one to five models, with a multivalve 1.6 in either mid (S) or high (SE) trim joining the range, augmented by base and high specification 1.5 dCis too.

Embellished styling, enhanced safety

It was hardly an ungainly looking little bakkie from the outset, yet the newfangled styling enhancements finally usher in the necessary image factor NP200 was missing. Style is surprisingly key in the severely image conscious small bakkie market, where many owners see their bakkies as diminutive pseudo-leisure vehicles of sort.

NP200’s new front styling treatment, with its Livina X-Gearesque lower bumper, is immediately noticeable.

S models feature distinguishing wheel arch extensions and colour coded bumpers fore and aft, with a new sill cover rounding off the mid-spec updates.

SE models add black door mouldings balanced by a blacked out B-pillar, whilst integrated front fog lamps and 15-inch alloy wheels easily identify the high spec model’s status.

NP200 cab's class leading spaciousness and utility further enhanced by new stowage compartment behind the B-pillar in SE models. French twist ergonomics see powered side-mirror control on the floor, in front of the hand-brake...

Beyond the purely aesthetic styling trim updates, NP200’s extended range finally offers those interior comforts, and safety features, contemporary bakkie customers have come to expect – and were notably lacking in the single model range.

Considering comfort and convenience, S model owners will be grateful for standard air-conditioning and a detachable face (I kid you not) Blaupunkt CD/MP3 reading radio, the latter having a decidedly late 1990s faux pas feel.

Seats are reupholstered in cloth, instead of the base model’s thigh bonding vinyl, and a sliding rear window ensures seamless communication with loadbox passengers when you’ve got the canopy fitted and on a road trip.

If you were a teenager in the 1990s, the detachable Blaupunkt CD front-loader will bring about a flood of memories.

SE models add electrically powered convenience to side-mirror adjustment and window operation, though familiarising yourself with the ergonomics underpinning these is not the work of a moment. Especially considering the mirror controls are in front of the handbrake on the floor and the power window buttons on the centre console instead of the armrest…

The lack of steering wheel adjustability (which afflicts Ford’s Bantam too) is till a bugbear though, especially for drivers taller than 1.8m - and the taller your are, the more likely you are to be feeding the steering wheel through your knees instead of your hands.

In view of safety, Nissan has added brake distribution modulated ABS to the SE spec models. Passive occupant protection is boosted by the presence of dual front airbags on the SE and a single, driver’s side, airbag on the S model.

Multivalve power

As a driving experience, NP200's most notable improvement is not due to the enhanced cabin comfort features, but the additional inlet and exhaust valve each cylinder is mixture fed and gas extracted by.

The K7M designation 1.6-litre engines in the base model are awfully willing, yet quite unrefined at higher engine speeds, their multivalve brethren simply had to be better - especially considering the quality of Bantam's 1.6l RoCam powerplant and Corsa's 1.8-litre petrol engine.

Boasting 16-valves, one would expect the NP200’s new K4M engines to be altogether smoother throughout the rev range, yet slightly tardier at low engine speeds. On paper, the multivalve 1.6 produces 20Nm more rotational force at a 750r/min higher engine speed (148Nm at 3 750r/min).

In practice the multivalve engine is a revelation.

Quieter all-round, with discernibly lower levels of harshness, it pulls cleanly from low engine speeds all the way to its 77kW power peak at 5 750r/min, exhibiting none of the low down toque issues at times apparent with small capacity multivalve engines.

Around our Cape peninsula test route (admittedly at sea level) the multivalve NP200 cantered up even the steepest climbs in fifth gear, displaying a benevolent tolerance for economy minded, short-shift driving.

NP200's ride and handling balance - which is distinctly car-like - impressed us yet again, although bakkie traditionalists will point out Bantam still has a leaf-sprung, solid rear axle suspension set-up, wheres NP200 uses coils.

Although it was not present at the product launch, a Micra sourced, long-stoke, turbodiesel will factor in class leading outputs when it goes on sale at the start of June.

Producing 63kW at 3 750r/min, and a peak rotational force of 200Nm at only 1 900r/min, NP200 diesel bests both Bantam (50kW/160Nm) and Corsa’s (55kW/165Nm) turbocharged, compression ignition, offerings.

Having proved its frugality in the more aerodynamic and negligibly lighter Micra range (with startlingly consistent sub 5l/100km consumption) the tweaked 1.5 dCi engine should have broad appeal in the NP200 application. It is worth noting the current dearth of quality turbodiesel power in the small bakkie market is reflected by a paltry 5% uptake of total volumes being oil burners.

All things considered NP200’s extended range is smarter looking, retains a class leading loadbox (which is rubberised straight from the factory and carries 800kg), and now features the necessary comfort, convenience and safety features.

Factor in the new engines, with their dynamic appeal, and NP200’s extended range should engage well with both small business owners and youthful, outdoorsy types.


NP200 petrol
- 1.6i            R99 800
- 1.6i S         R129 800
- 1.6i SE       R151 800

NP200 diesel

- 1.5 cDi       R139 800
- 1.5 cDi SE  R169 800


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