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Tested: Nissan NP200 SE

2010-03-15 07:45
Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Nissan
Model NP200
Engine 1.6l
Power 77kW @ 5 750r/min
Torque 148Nm @ 3 750r/min
Transmission Five-speed manual
Zero To Hundred 12.5 sec
Top Speed 170km/h
Fuel Tank 50l
Fuel Consumption 8.3l/100km
Airbags Dual front
Tyres 185/65/15
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 00km
Price R154 900
Rivals Fiat Strada, Opel Corsa Ute, Ford Bantam

Lance Branquinho

Nissan’s NP200 did not have an easy introduction to the South African bakkie market. The burden of expectation on it was massive – after all, it was replacing the legendary 1400 Champ.

In terms of perception and Nissan has taken a gamble with the NP200.

Firstly, it remains for all intents and purposes a Dacia, built at Rosslyn outside Pretoria with Nissan badging.

Secondly, it’s the first time Nissan has marketed a front-wheel drive bakkie locally.



Let’s quickly address these two issues before delving into the NP200’s road test findings.

Firstly, the abhorrent experience South Africans had with Dacia in the late 1990s bears no relation to the company owned by the Renault-Nissan alliance today. Dacia’s products might key an awful many parts from Renaults of recent vintage, yet it’s a proper manufacturer and a regarded entry level brand in Europe.

Issue number two pertains to the NP200’s front-wheel drive configuration. Cries of discontent from local 1400 Champ fans for a replacement worthy of the legendary little bakkie’s rear-wheel drive configuration is plainly illogical. All small bakkies locally are front-wheel drive and the expense to manufacture a rear-wheel drive bakkie of sub 1t carrying capacity simply makes no sense.

With these issues settled, what about the NP200 then? Does it have a blend of utility and style to best Ford’s Bantam and Opel’s Corsa or not?

Strange lines

Do the typical buyer’s inspection walkabout of NP200 and you’ll quickly surmise it’s quite angular. The high loadbay sills and thin vertical rear light clusters make NP200 appear quite tall and more substantial than it really is.

Our test unit boasted SE trim, which adds a Livina X-Gearesque lower bumper (embedded with fog lamps), colour codes bumpers fore and aft whilst blackening out the B-pillar too.

If you pay even closer attention to the NP200’s SE styling package you’ll notice black wheelarch extensions and door mouldings, which contrast with the remainder of the bakkie’s styling elements in a rather ungainly fashion. The NP200 SE’s styling package is rounded off with 15-inch alloy wheels that are rather fussy in terms of design, too.


NP200 features plenty of behind-the-seats stowage space for those valuable items you wouldn't like rolling around in the loadbox.

Curious ergonomics

If you owned a late 1990s model Renault product you’ll notice a raft of subtle cabin styling carry-overs from the French manufacturer’s small car lines in NP200’s cabin, the most pronounced being that tall shifter.

NP200 cabin architecture is very much late 1990s time-warp stuff, especially some of the ergonomic foibles such as the fixed steering position. Be warned though, if you are a burly artisan or handyman you’ll need to get used to the idea of driving with the steering wheel rim rotating practically on top of your knees.

Beyond the frustratingly inflexible driving position, the NP200 SE’s cabin is fairly well equipped. Side mirrors and windows are both power adjusted, yet the positioning of these controls are ergonomically unfathomable. The side mirror toggles are on the floor ahead of the handbrake girdle and NP200’s power window controls reside in the centre console instead of the individual door armrests…

The NP200’s detachable Blaupunkt CD front-loader brings a curious blend of retro chic to the little bakkie’s cabin. I must admit it was quite a throwback (and hindrance) to my teenage years detaching the face and storing it in the glovebox each time I went shopping or visiting.

Overall, beyond the ergonomic annoyances, the NP200’s cabin is spacious and with a substantial 300l of stowage capacity behind the front seats you don’t always have to lug sensitive equipment and tools in the loadbay.


Blaupunkt CD front-loader is very old-school, even featuring a detachable face - which is quite hard to reattach when in a hurry.

Unconventional suspension

When it comes to bakkies, the anarchic leaf-sprung rear suspension set-up is best since it enables optimal loadability. On the debit side leaf-springs reduce ride quality markedly, especially when a bakkie is carrying a load.

To counter the reduced ride quality contingent to leaf-sprung suspensions, Nissan has equipped the NP200 with a coil-sprung supported H-shaped torsion bar at the back. The NP200’s rear suspension differs from live-axle leaf-sprung rivals such as Bantam and Fiat’s Strada.

Despite its passenger car origins, the coil-sprung aft axle suspension arrangement is configured to cope with a notable 800kg worth cargo – bested only by Corsa Utility in 1.8l trim, which carries 840kg.

The NP200’s loadbox is awfully capacious being 1.8m long, 1.37m wide and featuring a sill height of 64cm. It’s fully rubberised too.

Nissan claims the tailgate copes with 300kg when flipped down for loading - perfect for two Springbok props to sit and chill on whilst fishing. It’s not perfect though.

Unfortunately the rear dampers protrude into the loadbox via the wheelarch mouldings. Nissan’s mounted rubber protectors over them, which reduce the ability to pack a diffuse array of items flush into a single load within NP200’s cargo area. 


Rated to carry 800kg worth of 'whatever-you-need-to-move'. We doubt it would stand up well to sustained levels of such loadability, though...

Multi-valve power

Considering the quality of competitors such as Bantam's 1.6l RoCam powerplant and Corsa's 1.8-litre petrol engine the NP200’s K4M 1.6l 16-valve engine

Boasting 16-valves, one would expect the NP200 SE’s engine to be smooth throughout the engine speed range, yet slightly tardy at slower engine speeds. In practice it pulls cleanly from low engine speeds all the way to its 77kW power peak at 5 750r/min, exhibiting none of the low speed asthmatics which tend to afflict small capacity multi-valve engines.

Even with a reasonable load (nothing over 300kg) it manages to canter up long inclines without requiring downshifting to fourth gear. Around industrial parks and in urban traffic the NP200 SE’s drivetrain provides ample urge to keep up with suidical delivery drivers.

If you abuse the drivetrain 0-100km/h is accomplished in 12.5 seconds and in terms of economy I  managed to see average consumption around 8l/100km.

Road noise is acceptably dampened, and the tall Renault-sourced shifter is easygoing, with a light clutch and throttle action to boot, which soothes the driving burden in traffic. Unsurprisingly, considering its origins, NP200 SE is infinitely more car- than bakkie-like to drive.

From a ride and handling perspective it tracks reasonably, with the coil-sprung solid rear less prone to being upset by substandard road surfaces than a leaf-spring bakkie.

All things considered it cannot match the handling crispness or poise of Ford’s Bantam in terms of ride quality and vehicle dynamics – in mitigation NP200 does boast a 150kg more generous payload rating.



Design

Range-topping SE models adds the requisite trinkets to flesh out NP200’s styling properly. Black side mouldings detract notably. Loadbay damper intrusion points an issue, reducing flush full load capacity.

Interior

Generously spacious and decently equipped in SE trim. Some haphazard ergonomics (especially the fixed steering wheel position) debit the experience from behind the wheel.

Driving

Ride quality is good (even when unladen) and balanced by commensurate urge and braking performance courtesy of the 1.6l multi-valve engine and ABS boosted brakes.

Verdict

Let’s get one thing clear – NP200 is no Nissan Champ replacement. Marketed to compete with other hatchback based contemporaries (such as Corsa Utility and Ford Bantam) NP200 tallies a fairly comprehensive feature specification for the price in SE trim.

By how much NP200 SE’s longevity will be reduced if used to move 800kg worth of kit daily is debatable. If you regularly move such loads, Nissan’s NP300 range offers seamless 1t capability for cheaper.

As a small leisure bakkie with a generous half-ton working safety margin it’s convincing. Just make sure you can live with the cabin’s ergonomic foibles, though.

Pros

Looks neat
Plenty of cabin stowage space
Nice ride/handling balance

Cons

Fidgety ergonomics






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