The Nissan NP200 1.5dCi makes plenty of sense as a workhorse, writes Ryan Bubear.
Use the scroll arrows to view the images
The South African consumer looking to buy a new bakkie in the half-ton segment isn't exactly spoilt for choice these days. In fact, with the departure of the Ford Bantam and the Fiat Strada, the market has effectively been cut in half.
So, what are the remaining options? Well, the two main players are the Chevrolet Utility (which we covered here), and the Nissan NP200. These two have been battling it out in the sub-one-ton segment for the last few months, taking turns to play second-fiddle to the Toyota Hilux in the overall monthly bakkie sales stakes (see the latest Naamsa figures here).
Having already sampled the Ute, we decided it was time to check out its opposition. Most readers will quite likely fondly remember the legendary Nissan 1400 bakkie — particularly the Champ — which sold some 275 000 units locally over nearly four decades. Impressive stuff. But will we be speaking about the NP200 with similar affection many years from now?
Romania or Pretoria?
Well, first things first. Let's talk about the elephant in the room. The NP200 is based on the Dacia Logan Pickup. But, never fear, it's not being cobbled together by a bunch of stony-faced men in Romania. Nope, it's being built at Nissan's Rosslyn plant in Pretoria. Which can only mean good things for local parts and pricing.
Nissan has slowly been growing the range, and there are now nine NP200 variants from which to choose, priced from R117 500 (the bare-bones 1.6-litre 8V petrol engine) all the way through to R189 900. The two other engines in the range are the more powerful 1.6-litre 16V lump and the torquey 1.5-litre turbodiesel. Each powerplant is available with a choice of three trim levels. We had the diesel on test, with the highest specification level available.
This 1.5dCi engine has that distinctly utilitarian diesel sound (as well as a cheery turbo whistle), and makes 63kW and a substantial 200Nm at just 1900rpm. What this translates into out on the road is just enough low-down grunt to prevent the need to pay constant attention to the gear-lever, and a rather impressive claimed fuel consumption of 5.3 litres per 100km. The engine is willing, and gets the vehicle up to speed swiftly.
The five-speed gearbox is precise for that of a small bakkie, although a sixth forward cog would not have gone amiss out on the long road. The steering has a certain weight to it, which is a welcome change from the light-as-a-feather feeling afflicting so many modern vehicles.
Space, space and more space
Nissan claims that its NP200 is a class-leader in terms of payload (rated at 800kg), loadbox volume (1.25m3, and rubberised as standard), and load-body length (1807mm). It also boasts the most interior space, with a very useful 300-litre storage area behind the front seats. Not quite enough space to swing a cat, but probably just enough for a feline pirouette.
In terms of design, the NP200 is a good few years old. From the outside, it's simple, typically utilitarian, and clearly not trying to be something it is not. But in the top trim levels, it gets a few external distinguishing factors that do add to its visual impact. Our range-topper in high spec 'SE' trim boasted 15-inch alloys, colour-coded front and rear bumpers, power side mirrors, black mouldings, side sill cover, colour-coded door mirrors, front foglamps, sliding rear window, and a chunky roll bar.
Inside, this specification level saw the addition of cloth seats (vinyl for lower spec models), silver door panels, height-adjustable driver's seat, vanity mirror on the passenger visor, radio and CD/MP3 player, height-adjustable seatbelts, and remote central locking. The audio system is essentially a basic aftermarket Blaupunkt system. It does the job, but feels a bit like an afterthought.
The rest of the interior comes across as hard-wearing, if a little rough — in a vehicle such as this, it's all about function, of course. The central locking and power window buttons are found on the centre console, which takes a bit of getting used to, and the instrument cluster design is simple and easy to read.
Strangely, the windscreen wipers sweep in the opposite direction to those of most vehicles on South African roads, which results in a small unswept section of glass that may bother very tall drivers — perhaps something that can be put down to the Dacia tooling catering for the left-hand-drive Romanian market.
In terms of safety, airbags and ABS with EDB are standard fare. And one of the NP200's biggest draw cards has to be its massive six-year or 150 000km warranty. Peace of mind motoring is important.
Chevrolet is expected to be bringing a diesel version of its Utility to our shores in the very near future, and we'll be keen to compare it to the little Nissan. In this segment, a fuel-frugal diesel just makes so much more sense, especially if the bakkie is to be used primarily as a workhorse.
For the record, we'd recommend going for the lower trim levels with the NP200, as there is plenty of cash to be saved, especially if you care little about aesthetic factors and envision it as a "working" bakkie rather than a leisure vehicle.
So, until the other big manufacturers make a move back into the half-ton segment (surely Ford, Toyota and VW must have some sort of plans afoot?), you have but two choices.
Not quite the Champ yet, but the Nissan NP200 is certainly making a good fist of it.
Follow @Ryan_Bubear on Twitter
Click through to page 2 for specs and pricing.