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The iconic Grand Prix Circuit will present a new challenge to the GTC drivers as they tackle the country’s fastest racetrack on June 16.

Suzuki’s new Swift hatch and sedan in SA

Suzuki kicks off its new model assault with an all new Swift hatchback and standalone sedan called the Dzire.

Nissan's Corsa bakkie rival driven

2008-10-01 07:17

Lance Branquinho

This is the locally produces Nissan NP200 bakkie.

This is the locally produced Nissan NP200 bakkie. It replaces the revered 1400 Champ with Renault alliance technology and 800kg payload capacity.

Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Nissan
Model NP200
Engine 1.6-litre, K7 in-line four, 8v
Power 64kW @ 5 500r/min
Torque 128Nm @ 3 000r/min
Transmission Five-speed manual
Fuel Tank 50l
Steering Rack and pinion, power assisted
Tyres 185/65R15
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 years/100 000km
Price R88 900
After 37 years Nissan has a new small bakkie entering the local market. Is the NP200 a worthy 1400 successor?

You have to feel for Nissan’s marketing and product planning people. They’re in the ultimate Catch 22 situation regarding the 1400 Champ.

Boundlessly popular yet antiquated beyond compare; replacing something South Africans have such an affinity for will surely be met with resistance - no matter how illogically conceived cries for a rear-wheel drive small bakkie replacement are.

The day of reckoning arrived Monday this week, as the new small bakkie entrant, designated NP200, made its world debut at the Peaconwood golf estate.

Front-wheel drive, so what?

The front-wheel configuration and Renault parts bin badge engineering might be construed as a backhand to loyal Nissan bakkie fans, but leaving nostalgic 1400 Champ emotions out of the equation, the NP200 is a significant value proposition.

Model roll-out sees the entry level 1.6l available now, with the range fleshed out next year in April with turbodiesel power and enhanced safety and trim option packages.

In core bakkie terms the NP200 sports an 800kg payload capacity, slotting it between traditional half-tonners and full one ton bakkies; a significant improvement over the 1400 it replaces.

Nissan 1400 acolytes will lament the front-wheel drive configuration. In all honestly though, the competition doesn’t have any rear-diff models either, and who manufactures rear-wheel drive vehicles outside of their premium sedan/sportscar or heavy duty commercial bakkie/off-road ranges these days?

Simple mechanics…

Powering the NP200 is a simple, single-overhead cam 1.6l engine producing 64kW and 128Nm borrowed from the Renault Logan. Hardly cutting edge stuff  - it does boast multipoint fuel injection - but it should prove up to delivery driver abuse with its 3 000r/min torque peak and simple valve-gear arrangement..

Suspension set-up eschews the traditional leaf-spring rear bakkie characteristic, employing a coil-sprung supported H-shaped torsion bar. Up front it’s a standard MacPherson strut arrangement. Steering is a power assisted rack-and-pinion system.

And that’s about it. You get no radio, no air-conditioner, no ABS (only Proton’s Arena and Mitsubishi’s Colt range have standard ABS equipped entry level bakkies) and there are no airbags hiding underneath the steering wheel or cubby hold trim either. All these features will tally up in the expanded range next year April.

Loadability is particularly appealing. As mentioned the NP200 accommodates 800kg, but with a loadbox 1.8m long, 1.37m wide and featuring a sill height of 64cm, it’s awfully capacious. The 16 anchor points are perfect for securing odd-shaped cargo items too.

Add to this a tailgate which copes with 300kg when flipped down for loading - or for two Springbok props to sit on and chill whilst fishing – and the utility element of NP200 is beyond doubt.

Basic interior too

Ergonomically the steering wheel, with its fixed position, is too low. Sizeable South African artisans might find themselves a bit compromised regarding driver position, though leg and headroom is sufficient.

The interior will be familiar to second generation Clio owners, with much of the instrumentation and many fascia dials lifted from the French production line.

Behind the seats there’s 300l of claimed luggage space, and anti-intrusion bars across the rear window ensure load bay cargo doesn’t decapitate you during emergency braking.

Beyond the lack of steering wheel adjustment the only significant interior design foible are the interior door handles - which are not handles at all. Instead they’re just ovoid mouldings which you struggle to get you fingers around to open - and especially close - the doors.

On the road

We took the NP200s on a 130km circular route around the North West province and overall the 1.6l entry level model proved surprisingly capable.

Even at altitude it pulls cleanly, though engine acoustics are of the decidedly strident variety. Road noise is acceptably dampened, and the tall Renault sourced shifter is easy going, with a light clutch and throttle action to boot.

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

Ride quality is okay, though unladen at low speeds it can be harsh over surface imperfections and especially speed bumps. It’s no Ford Bantam in the ride and handling department, but in mitigation the NP200 does boast an 800kg payload capacity…

New Champ in the making?

Nissan are in an unenviable position. They’re replacing an institution, part of South Africa’s identity, with a European badge engineered vehicle.

Most customers in the market for an entry level bakkie are likely to be rational fleet buyers or small-business owners, who’ll find the 800kg load carrying ability and biggest in class load-box (with standard rubberisation) far outweighing emotional nostalgia.

Then there’s the price - R88 900 for a 1.6l utility vehicle which can lug around 800kg worth of goods is very fair value. At altitude the 1.6 engine at sub R100 000 retail should appeal strongly.

Yes, it’s not an authentic Nissan mechanically. With the Japanese company’s badge on it though, Nissan’s experienced bakkie service and logistics network will have to take responsibility for it – and that’s a good thing, for Nissan is pretty much a bakkie and SUV/MPV company locally.

And with the project’s manufacturing investment of R1 billion boosting the local economy and creating 300 new jobs to support the project, NP200 is off to a pretty patriotic start.    


NP200 R88 900




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