One by one the icons of South African motoring are driving into the sunset. This also holds true for the pick-up market, where the legendary Nissan 1400 pick-up (more recently dubbed the Champ or B140) was recently replaced by the Dacia-based Nissan NP200. And while there’s still some life left in the Ford Bantam following another facelift, one senses that time is running out for this locally developed hard worker too. Is a fresh face enough for the Ford Bantam to delay the inevitable for much longer?
Ford Bantam is old fashioned but not uglyThe latest upgrade has given the Ford Bantam a revised front-end with new headlamps and a different grille treatment. It’s still quite a good looking little bakkie, but its age is given away by its size – the Ford Bantam visually looks much smaller than the newer competitors from Nissan and Opel. It comes from an era when the term “half-tonner” still loosely referred to the vehicle’s load-carrying ability. As such, the Ford Bantam can accommodate 630 kg in its load bay, which is significantly less than its rivals which are both rated to carry around the 800 kg mark.
Thankfully, in XLT trim, the Ford Bantam manages to hide its utilitarian roots quite well – there’s plenty of colour coding, integrated front fog lamps, and the diminutive 14-inch alloy wheels are attractive. Compared with the new Nissan NP200, to mention one rival, the Ford Bantam’s cabin is rather cramped. It is a narrower vehicle than its competitors and the cabin is shorter, too, which means there’s not that much range in the seats’ fore/aft adjustment and also not much space behind the seatbacks to store valuables. The seats are comfortable, though and the general layout of the curvy facia remains pleasant (it comes from the old Fiesta).
In some respects the Ford Bantam is impressively modern (the integrated audio system, as an example), but in other areas it lags newer vehicles (very little storage space for odds and ends). It also doesn’t offer an adjustable steering wheel, so especially taller drivers may struggle to find a comfortable position behind the steering wheel. The standard specification is reasonably good, and includes air-conditioning, electric windows, the aforementioned radio/CD sound system, an immobiliser and power steering. Unfortunately there are no safety features – no ABS and no airbags.
Willing and EconomicalThe little diesel engine underneath the bonnet is turbocharged and develops 50 kW and 160 Nm of torque (from 2 000 rpm). These outputs are lower than what is offered by Ford Bantam rivals, but then you must keep in mind that the Ford is smaller and significantly lighter than them… Fire it up and it initially sounds rather agricultural, and while it doesn’t come across as an unrefined engine at higher revolutions, it is always quite vocal. The five-speed ‘box is generally pleasant to use and the ratios well-matched to the engine’s power characteristics, but even so, the Ford Bantam is not made for relatively high-speed travel. It’s far more comfortable around town, where the engine’s relatively good torque and the bakkie’s small size and low weight combine to make it feel quite nippy. It’s a characteristic it doesn’t loose, even with a heavy load on the back. The engine is economical, with a consumption figure of around 6,5 L/100 km being quite achievable. So, as a light, economical delivery vehicle for use in town (or on the farm), the Bantam continues to make sense.
An area in which the little Ford Bantam has always performed well is in the ride department – the suspension is very supple even when it isn’t carrying a load – and it’s a talent that makes the Ford particularly pleasant to drive on gravel roads. No wonder so many of them do light duty on farms around South Africa. Ford’s knack of delivering excellent dynamic set-ups across its model range is also evident in the Bantam, because it is, in most instances, a lovely little bakkie to drive. The steering is on the heavy side for a power-assisted item, but then it does also deliver great accuracy and feel. You can still feel the Fiesta genes…
Ford Bantam - VerdictThe Ford Bantam is out-punched by its newer rivals, that much is clear from a casual inspection of the specification sheets. It neither matches them in terms of load-carrying ability, nor with regards to cabin space and comfort. And let’s not forget it’s a non-starter in the safety stakes, too. Consequently it is easy to write off the Ford Bantam as a has-been, and certainly in flagship XLT specification, as tested here, it struggles to put a convincing argument on the table, but in its cheaper forms it could still be a good bet for especially inner-city couriers and the like. The fuel economy is good, the ride excellent and the Ford Bantam is a nippy and highly manoeuvrable little bakkie that is unlikely to let you down.
• Nippy around town • Economy • Toughness
We don’t like:
• Small cabin • Worst-in-class loadability • No safety equipment
Engine: 1,4-litre, four-cylinder, turbodiesel Power: 50 kW @ 4 000 rpm Torque: 160 N.m @ 2 000 rpm Transmission: Five-speed manual Wheels: 14-inch alloy Top speed: n/a km/h 0-100 km/h: n/a seconds (16,0 sec est.) Fuel economy: n/a litres/100 km (6,5 L/100 km)
• Nissan NP200 1,5 DCI SE: More expensive than the Ford Bantam, but it does offer better refinement, increased load carrying ability and a more spacious, comfortable cabin. A better choice by far.
• Opel Corsa Utility 1,7 CDTI Club: Remains a very strong competitor with superior load carrying ability (to the Ford Bantam), and a cabin that is arguably still the best in this class. But it lacks some features.