BUYING USED: Wallet-friendly minibus with 10+ seats

Volkswagen Microbus

We help choose the ideal car for your needs and your budget…

Age: 45
Budget: R125 000
Status: House father/mother
Vehicle type: Minibus with 10+ seats

Requirements

A carer for nine children needs a vehicle with enough seating, plus some luggage space, at an NGO-friendly cost. Mileage will therefore be somewhat high, but these vehicles are reliable. Note that ABS and airbags are absent.

The vehicle

New or used, minibuses generally aren’t cheap and are sought after as taxis and school transport. It’s also quite hard to find something under R125 000 that hasn’t been run into the ground. Most Toyota Hi-Aces fall into this category.

Our choice: Volkswagen Microbus 2,3i

0 to 100 km/h: 15,70 sec

Top speed: n/a
Power: 90 kW
Torque: 180 N.m
CO2: 313 g/km
CAR fuel index: 16,1 L/100 km


A South African project to extend the life of the Type 2 was a wise decision by VW, proving a smashing success with thousands sold each year. To unleash extra power for local conditions, mainly five-cylinder Audi engines and gearboxes were commissioned to perform service. On other vehicles, these were usually inline-oriented and front-wheel drive, but on the Microbus the engines were nestled in the rear over the wheels they powered.

Overall, a number of engine variants were employed throughout the Microbus’ lifetime, including a 1,8-litre Golf-derived engine, as well as the 2,3, 2,5 and 2,6 units courtesy of Audi. Many believe  the 2,3i to be the best one. Watch out for early “Volksie Bus” versions sold in 1995. They can be recognised by two headlamps instead of four and, unfortunately, the much-needed power steering was only an option. In 1996, the name was changed to Microbus 2,3i and power steering became standard.

Apart from ample seating, there is lots of space under the seats and the battery is mounted under the driver’s chair. Problems to watch out for? Well, be careful of engine-coolant issues; the pipes have to travel all the way from the engine at the back to the radiator in front and back. Inspect these for signs of damage or leaks. Likewise with gear shifting: the linkages are long.

Space: 10 seats, 968-2 320 litres
Safety and aids:  none
Cost of tyres: R5 820
Road test: Sept 1995 (2,6i)

Option 2: Kia Pregio 12-seater

0 to 100 km/h: 21,7 sec
Top speed: 137 km/h
Power: 62 kW
Torque: 175 N.m
CO2: 319 g/km
CAR fuel index: 16,40 L/100 km


It’s a pity there are not more of these vehicles available, because they offer loads of space and versatility. Added to that is a reasonably economical, naturally aspirated diesel engine. The fact that it is basically a Kia K2700/Hyundai H100 bakkie is an added positive, since there are tens of thousands of these on our roads, so spares and maintenance are worry-free aspects. The only drawback is that the engine delivers only 62 kW and 175 N.m, and this means acceleration is slow and overtaking has to be carefully planned.

The seating layout is clever; the second row can swivel through 180 degrees to face the third row. There’s one more row behind that one, as well as a centre storage area between the front seats that can be folded up and used as an extra seat (totalling 12). The engine is accessed by raising the front-passenger seat and the battery is fitted under the driver’s seat.

It also has a industrial-sized air cleaner, which is just the thing for dusty South African roads. The gearlever is mounted high and is much more user-friendly than the long Microbus lever. Pregios are now becoming scarce due to low-ish numbers sold when new; back then, the competition was too great and Korean vehicles were only just becoming popular thanks to good pricing and quality.

Space: 12 seats, n/a
Safety and aids:  none
Cost of tyres: R3 800
Road test: no

Option 3: Mazda Marathon 10-/16-seater

0 to 100 km/h: 21,6 sec
Top speed: 147 km/h
Power: 77 kW
Torque: 174 N.m
CO2: 283 g/km
CAR fuel index: 14,56 L/100 km


These capable minibuses are somewhat long in the tooth now and, like the Hi-Ace, almost all have seen extensive use as taxis. This vehicle enjoyed a long lifespan, from 1991 to 2002, but with competition like the Toyota, Mazda managed to sell only about 300 a year, so there aren’t many around today. Unlike the Microbus, the interior is sparse and the seats thin, purposely made so as to accommodate extra passengers. No seat belts are fitted to the rear, so you will have to have these added for safety.

Like the Hi-Ace, both 10- and 16-seater versions were sold. The powertrain layout was also rear-wheel drive, with a front-mid-mounted engine of 2,2 litres (codenamed F2) and a five-speed gearbox. The Marathon is a reliable people mover with a single overhead camshaft driving eight hydraulic-tappeted valves. Maintenance shouldn’t be a problem, although some parts may be tricky to source. Incidentally, the Ford Spectron was sold in South Africa and is almost identical to the Marathon. This was the time of Ford and Mazda collaboration, with most of the engines coming from the Mazda stable.

As an aside, other 10-seater options include the Ford Husky and the Mitsubishi Starwagon. These have the same specs and use a 2,0-litre Mitsubishi engine. There is also the Mitsubishi Space Gear that seats eight and the more sophisticated Toyota Previa.

Space: 10/16 seats, n/a
Safety and aids:  none
Cost of tyres: R3 790
Road test: no

Article written by

CAR magazine