Nissan NP300 bakkie tested
Despite the headlight similarity with GWM, the updated Nissan NP300 is a proper bakkie, keen for hauling cement, sheep and definitely not personal watercraft. The bonnet scoop? Rest assured, it’s not for show…
2.5l, four-cylinder turbodiesel
98kW @ 3 800r/min
304Nm @ 2 000r/min
3 year/90 000km
Author: Lance Branquinho
With the local bakkie market drowning in a flood of cheap Chinese imports, Nissan has been particularly hard hit. It’s oddly named Hardbody range was pretty much the direct styling template for GWM’s single cab models.
Subsequently Nissan has abandoned the Hardbody name and juggled the powertrains to present an old/new NP300 range.
What’s it about
Traditional workhorse bakkie values. South Africa is probably the only market globally where bakkies do what their configuration was intended for: hauling goods and equipment as economically as possible.
Our sunny climate offsets moisture exposure, and though the American market loves its pick-ups too, they are vastly larger and have become decidedly leisure trimmed in the last two decades.
On test we took up option on the archetypical workhorse of the range, a 2.5TDi long-wheelbase. This is not a leisure vehicle. You’re not supposed to plonk a quad bike on the back or tow a jetski with it. It's a business partner.
You’ll hardly strain your eyes perusing the NP300’s specification sheet. Essentially it’s a tough ladder-frame chassis with 2.5l turbodiesel power, live-axle rear-wheel drive and a set of keys.
Infotainment is provided by virtue of the hum of those four 195mm commercial tyres rolling on their tiny 14-inch steel wheels. Air-conditioning is climate dependent – if you're hot you roll down the window.
It does have power steering though, and this is by far the most important feature on a workhorse bakkie. Measuring slightly less than 5.2m, you need plenty of steering wheel twirling assistance when you’re trying to manoeuvre out of a haphazardly appointed industrial parking lot, or around a heavily trafficked construction site with a full loadbox.
The absence of a rear differential lock will hardly register on the necessity checklist of urban operators, though rural buyers – especially farmers – would no doubt prefer secure, lockable traction for those winter months when dirt roads turn to slippery mud byways.
Loadability is the raison d'être of any authentic bakkie and NP300 boasts a loadbox of nightmarish parallel parking dimensions. Measuring 2.2m in length, with a depth of 428mm, it’s made to accommodate all manner of handyman toolkits, generators and building supplies to the tune of 1.2 tons.
On the inside
If your formative years were not spent around bakkies (if you're not from farming or construction company stock) the NP300 interior will prove a very unsettling experience.
The seats are PVC covered – providing sticky thigh joy in summer when you’re driving in shorts – and as previously mentioned; beyond power steering there’s not much in the line of features.
Dials are big and legible, and there’s even some digitisation to be found in the presence of both a digital clock and trip meter.
Without central locking and using good old keys to open up and close, you have to remind yourself time and again to actually lock it before setting off for the office elevator.
Safety is essentially dependent on your own judgement and the benevolence of other road-users, as the usual platoon of airbags (ready to deploy in your defence come accident time) are absent.
As a motoring journalist one is used to having more airbags than passengers along for the ride. The feeling of only a seatbelt restraining me from connecting the hard-plastic four-spoke steering wheel was an unsettling reminder of a carefree youth, when weekend dirt road sojourns were not tempered by "what-if" bakkie safety conjecture…
On the road
So it looks a bit ungainly – no doubt aided by the common impression made by its styling twin, GWM’s bakkie – and the interior is nearly military spec in its austerity for a modern vehicle, but it’s hardly the point though.
Compression ignite the 2.5l turbodiesel engine and you have 98kW and more importantly, 304Nm of torque peaking at only 2 000r/min. Those engine figures may not appear impressive in absolute terms, yet in a bakkie weighing only 1 408kg it equates to strong in-gear performance and huge hauling endurance.
Nissan’s front-wheel drive gearboxes are often the bane of my life, especially considering the quality of its rear-wheel drive units. NP300 is a case in point, this bakkie’s five-speed manual gearbox has a shift action so accurate and well weighted it could put quite a few German rear-wheel drive premium sedans to shame.
With a surfeit of torque available at low engine speeds and a wonderfully engaging transmission the NP300 is disarmingly fun to hustle around.
It runs out of breath quite quickly (165km/h top-knock) yet pulls with huge resolve in the torque band, and cruises strongly at highway speeds. Nissan claims a 0-100km/h time of 13.5s, yet in reality if feels quicker in the lower gears on the move.
The commercial specification tyres struggle to contain 304Nm of torque in the lower gears, and open-differential power-on oversteer is just a throttle stomp away around traffic circles.
With a ladder frame chassis and solid rear-axle handling is fair, though the long-wheelbase and vague steering tally up to a combination best suited to cruising in a straight line. Thanks to the absence of an air-conditioner, driven tidily, the 2.5TDi should return around 11.5l/100km.
The NP300 2.5TDi is a peculiarly niche vehicle, as unusual as it may sound. Due to the double-cab and SUV leisure onslaught on the local bakkie market since the middle 1990s, disconcertingly few real workhorses remain.
At R156 500 the NP300 undercuts all traditional competitors on price whilst trouncing them on power and torque outputs.
Considering naturally aspirated alternatives priced closer to the NP300’s market entry point, these hardly have the ability to cover ground at 120km/h fully-loaded, and still retain enough in power/torque to safely overtake heavy-commercial traffic.
If you tow a ski-boat to Yzerfontein and catch snoek for a living, or run a small business necessitating the haulage of goods efficiently, in the current credit climate a back-to-basics bakkie such as the NP300 2.5TDi should be the perfect foil for your utilitarian needs.
The dearth of safety and convenience items may seem an affront to some, yet the segment as a whole offer’s little better at the price which is not Chinese or Indian. My only real reservation is the absence of rear-window intrusion bars to keep loadbox items from joining one one on the front seat during emergency deceleration.
NP300’s blend of contemporary turbodiesel power and traditional (some may say anachronistic) bakkie values are sure to endear it to real bakkie users.
Effortless turbodiesel engine
Carries a ton and a bit properly
Lack of safety features
PVC seats in summer
Unintentional GWM styling heritage
Remembering to lock it