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Tested: Daihatsu Gran Max

2010-06-10 11:58

Lance Branquinho

Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Daihatsu
Engine 1.5
Power 71kW @ 6 000r/min
Torque 134Nm @ 4 400r/min
Transmission Five-speed manual
Steering Power-assisted
Airbags No
Tyres 175 R13 C
Front Suspension McPherson struts with coil springs
Rear Suspension Five-blade leaf
South Africans have quite an affinity for miniaturised commercial vehicles. This is clearly evident when tallying the sales within the traditional half-ton bakkie segment each month when GM’s Corsa Utility, Ford’s Bantam and Nissan’s NP200 shift a fair amount of stock between them.

When the loadability requirement swells to over a ton and dimensions start ballooning delivery drivers, small business owners and artisans find themselves in a bit of a quandary. You can buy a one-ton bakkie, yet the cheaper Chinese ones are still adjudged (one would have to say not without merit) to be a risky venture and they all run rather old-school engines that are durable yet heavy on fuel.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could buy a smallish flatbed commercial vehicle powered by a modern engine boasting small car efficiency? Well, this is exactly what Daihatsu claims its Gran Max offers.

In South Eastern Asia miniaturised commercial vehicles have been vastly popular for years due to the taxation and traffic navigation benefits they possess. Seeing as Daihatsu is a specialist small car manufacturer, it would only seem fit to benchmark its offering.

I had a Gran Max on test for a week during which I moved house. This proved the perfect foil against which to judge the logic of considering a Gran Max over a traditional entry-level one-ton bakkie.

Robust fundamentals

In terms of configuration, the Gran Max is a simple cab-forward design on a ladder frame chassis. Dimensionally it’s a shade under 4.2m from bumper-to-tailgate and only 1.67m across, making is easier to manoeuvre into claustrophobic industrial park delivery bays than the larger loadbed alternatives from Hyundai or Kia.

The bluff nose and large plastic bumper (sans colour coding) obviously render the Gran Max about as curiously cute as a Pug. Utility supplants aesthetics as the primary consideration, though.

Trace the Gran Max’s flat loadbed and you’ll find it measuring a generous 2.3m in length and 1.58m across, tallying to total load volume of 3.2m2. In terms of carrying capacity Daihatsu claims its little trokkie will dutifully slog a shade over 1ton.  

Powering the rear-wheel drive Gran Max is a Terios-sourced engine, which Daihatsu claims has been deftly reconfigured for the workhorse application. Simply put it makes less power and should last longer under workhorse conditions. Drive is channelled via a fascia-mounted five-speed manual transmission.

In the new bakkie the 1.5l double-overhead camshaft (DOHC) unit produces 6kW less than in Terios, the Gran Max peaking with 71kW at 6 000r/min. Available rotational force down by a similar number, cresting at 134Nm on the output graph.

If you're concerned about the inherent peakiness of a small capacity DOHC valve-gear engine doing duty in your one-ton delivery truck, it’s worth noting the 120Nm of torque (90% of the peak number) on-line from 2 000r/min thanks to the Gran Max's variable-vale timing system.

Basic, honest transport.

My Gran Max testing experience was essentially evaluated around a weekend in which I moved house, which is a traumatic experience at the best of times.

Clambering aboard early on a Saturday morning I was so taken aback at the utilitarian nature of the cabin I actually burst out laughing. Trim is of the durable synthetic variety which means shorts are not recommended in summer unless you like peeling your hamstrings off the vinyl seats.

The plastics are hard and shiny, yet it’s all fairly robust. Instrumentation is starkly basic with only a road-speed dial flanked by temperature and fuel gauges housed inside the binnacle.

Infotainment is relayed via a rather old-school radio and without air-conditioning temperature control is very much dependent on climatic conditions outside the cabin.

Once I recovered from the minimalist nature of the cabin appointments, I started going about loading up my furniture and carting it 30km away to my new place.

The loadbed is very easily accessible. With all three sides dropped access height is only 720mm, which means unless you’re Ricky January its hardly requires effort to load bulky items onto the Gran Max.

Despite the effortlessness loadability there were two issues I had with the Gran Max. Firstly, it has no intrusion bars covering the cabin’s rear window, which means emergency braking could send a package crashing into the cabin. Secondly, there needs to be a thin roll bar or better anchoring points to run securing straps through for taller items, which is something I missed when moving my fridge and one wall unit.

On the road

Once out on the road, with a loadbed full of household effects, the Gran Max proved quite a neat little truck to operate.

Controls are lights and the small dual-spoke steering wheel, despite being devoid of tactile feedback, enables a very tidy 9.4m turning circle.

Considering you’re sitting atop of it, engine noise levels are unsurprisingly intrusive, yet even with a full load the Terios-sourced 1.5l engine is only a downshift away from keeping up momentum – even with a load aboard. The transmission is not great though, especially for a rear-wheel propshaft driven set-up – with the shifter flopping about instead of rolling into gear through the gate.

In terms of handling the modest 13-inch rubber easily overwhelms if you apply hooligan driving instincts, whilst the ride is quite lively when unladen.

Operating at delivery speeds the Gran Max is commendably stable and the presence of all-wheel ABS brake assistance gives substantial peace of mind when travelling at the legal speed limit with a load on the back.


Not supposed to be pretty – and it isn’t. Robust construction, with a five-blade live rear axle, ensures it lives up to its utility billing. Truncated range due to tiny 43l fuel tank though.


If you’ve never worked on a construction site or farm before the stark nature of the Gran Max cabin will be unsettling. Absence of airbags an issue, despite the presence of ABS.


Doubters will scoff at the 1.5l capacity but Daihatsu makes excellent little engines and the Gran Max is both responsive and dismissive of punishment.


Daihatsu is chasing a very narrow niche with the Gran Max. The margin between it and established entry level one-ton bakkies is very narrow. You can buy a Nissan 2.0 NP300 for R137 800, the Gran Max costs R122 995.

It’s a wholly capable little trokkie, able to haul a ton with honest intent and the Daihatsu mechanicals should yield low running costs and reassuring reliability.

If you run a business which is strictly confined to urban service and deliveries, the Gran Max should appeal. If you need a one-ton utility vehicle for longer-haul work, the Korean cab forward alternatives are probably more suitable.


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