With their affordable price tags and ever-increasing load-carrying abilities, the so-called half-tonne segment remains an important one in South Africa. Unfortunately for most local car firms (including Toyota) the fact that it really is only South Africa and one or two others that show interest in this type of vehicle means that the development of such a product is not a high priority for their parent companies. As such, any new model that comes along is met with significant interest. The Nissan NP200, of course, carries the weight of significant expectation on its shoulders, as it replaces the “champion of Africa”, the venerable but now archaic B140.
Romanian underpinnings for Nissan NP200If you thought the NP200’s front-end bears a striking resemblance to the cut-price Renault Logan sedan, you’d be right. You see, as part of the global Renault/Nissan alliance (which also includes Dacia), both these products started life in Romania as part of the same project. But don’t worry, Renault has shaken that firm into shape, and there are no traces of the truly awful build quality and design that South Africans experienced (briefly) in the ‘90s.
As such, the Nissan NP200 is a neat product. In upmarket SE trim it looks decidedly sporty, with a chrome surround to its grille, macho black wheelarch extensions and striking 15-inch alloy wheels. It clearly is pitched not so much as a workhorse vehicle in this guise, but at the leisure market. Still, the loadbay can accommodate 800 kg-worth of goods, features standard rubberizing and numerous tie-down points. A tonneau cover is also fitted as standard. That impressive 800 kg payload figure is, of course, class-leading, and is now closer to a tonne, than a half-tonne, and surely a big part of the reason for this vehicle’s instant popularity.
Car-like interiorTo save costs, the Nissan NP200 uses exactly the same facia as the Renault Logan. While this means the interior is “car-like” in the truest meaning of the term, there are a few issues. Fit is good, but the plastics used are definitely of the hard and shiny variety, so care will have to be taken to avoid it looking all scratched and scuffed within weeks of delivery. The same goes for that shiny metallic centre piece. As is the case with the Logan, the switches for the electric windows are not placed on the doors, but on the centre console, which takes some getting used to.
The driving position is similarly awkward at first. The seat features height-adjustment, but the steering wheel doesn’t, and somehow it takes a while to find a comfortable position. This has much to do, strangely, with the view out of the vehicle. You see, with the high sides of the loadbox as well as a thick B-pillar to contend with, visibility out of the Nissan NP200 is not that great.
There’s good space though, with good shoulder- and headroom on offer – certainly an ex-B140 owner will feel spoilt. There’s even enough space behind the seats for the stowage of valuables.
Pulling powerUnlike the base-model Nissan NP200, this SE version features a 16-valve 1,6-litre engine that develops 77 kW and 148 Nm of torque – class-leading figures both. It needs it, because at nearly 1,3 tonnes, the NP200 is no lightweight. Consequently, performance is not terribly athletic. There’s good low-down torque, so the initial pull-away promises much, but then it appears to run out of steam somewhat at higher speeds, where it also becomes rather noisy. The gearbox, a five-speed manual, provides pleasant-enough shifts.
Nissan claims a consumption figure of 8,1 litres/100 km which is among the best in this class. The figure rises quite steeply once a load is added or you’re in a hurry. Generally you can expect closer to 9 litres/100 km.
Firm but stableOf course, to make it possible to carry such a heavy load, the NP200’s suspension has been set quite firmly. The low-speed ride, especially, can be quite bouncy but improves dramatically with a load. The steering (hydraulically assisted) is surprisingly heavy when there’s no load, but lightens up with some weight on the rear. Ground clearance is very good, with Nissan claiming a figure of 177 mm.
Nissan NP200 - VerdictThe Nissan NP200 is a very strong new entrant in this segment, and will give the Corsa Utility a big fright. It beats it in terms of being a worker (load carrying and design of the loadbay), and though the interior may not have the Opel’s polish and more “upmarket” look, it is spacious and practical. It is also better equipped – featuring dual front airbags, ABS with EBD, a radio/CD player and electric windows. Perhaps the engine doesn’t quite live up to expectations, but knowing Nissan, it should last just about forever. There’s precious little to fault here.
- 800 kg payload
- Spacious cabin
- Standard safety features
- Standard rubberizing
- Somewhat lethargic, given the engine power
- Iffy facia plastics
- Rear visibility
Engine: 1,6-litre, four-cylinder, petrol
Power: 77 kW @ 5 750 rpm
Torque: 148 N.m @ 3 750 rpm
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Wheels: 15-inch alloy
Top speed: n/a km/h
0-100 km/h: n/a seconds
Fuel economy: 8,1 litres/100 km
- Opel Corsa Utility 1,4i Sport: Massively successful due to its significant leisure/workhorse appeal. Lacks the Nissan’s more modern features (especially in terms of safety) and is also down on power and load-carrying ability. More impressive in the cabin, though.
- Ford Bantam 1,6i XLE: A faithful oldie, but can’t match its newer rivals in terms of cabin comfort and loadability. The engine is a rorty 1,6-litre which, combined with the Bantam’s light weight, makes this quite a lively (if thirsty) performer.
- Fiat Strada 1,6 ELX: Hasn’t really taken off in South Africa, and there’s no obvious reason except for Fiat’s poor reputation at present. The Strada is neat-looking, boasts a good balance of power and economy, has a well-equipped cabin, is affordable and can carry a bit more than the Ford and Opel. Worth a look.