WORKHORSE is a name often given to something solid and reliable that gets on with its job without stress.
Fiat has named its budget bakkie “Strada Working” and that’s what it is – the workhorse of the range, with steel wheels (carrying decent bolted-on plastic trims) no ABS, airbags, electric windows or power mirrors. No air-conditioning, either. But wait! You can specify an audio system as an option…
This lack of features accounts for the “workhorse” price of R107 400. Side mirrors have manual adjustment and could be larger for better rearwards visibility. (The more expensive “Life” model includes air-conditioning, alloy wheels and a sliding rear window.) Frontal styling is surprisingly sporty and aggressive for a simple pick-up.
The grille and headlamps are suitably macho while the moulded bumper looks quite “Jeepish” albeit with only five cooling slots. Circular cut-outs give the misleading impression that foglamps are fitted.
The rear bumper incorporates aluminium step plates and the wheelarches are emphasised with black spats including screw slots that add to the rugged SUVtype image. A sturdy plastic load bay liner looks both purposeful and sporty and offers tie-down eyes on top of the side panels as well as on the floor.
The tailgate is opened by rotating the Fiat badge in its housing, a neat trick also found on some VWs, thereby doing away with unattractive handles. A high level brake light is mounted above the fixed rear window.
Seating is finished in well-padded cloth with decent side support but vinyl is used on the sides and back for easier cleaning.
Fore and aft seat adjustment is by means of the Palio’s unusual system that has the seat moving in an arc – higher for closer to the steering wheel and lower for further away. It works reasonably well but the mechanism means the seat is heavy to move.
There is also a backrest adjustment but once again the levers on the inside of the seats are not easy to operate. The facia is rather old-fashioned, taken directly from Palio, but instrumentation is clear and neat with large numerals.
Analogue fuel and temperature gauges flank the speedometer and rev counter. The optional sound system is a rather outdated aftermarket Blaupunkt radio/ CD player with a removable face, but serves the purpose and can be used without the key in the ignition.
As far as storage space goes, there isn’t much – no drinkholders for example. The door pockets are horribly narrow, good only for documents, but there is a fair amount of space under the seats to stash odds and ends and some space behind the seats, limited on the passenger side due to the presence of the full-size spare wheel, and on the driver’s side by the wheel-changing tools. The engine is a s-o-h-c, 1,4-litre borrowed from the Grande Punto and Linea models.
It has eight valves and produces 60 kW at 5 500 r/min and 120 N.m at 2 250 r/min, yet it feels quite lively with a raspy note reminiscent of the 1,6-litre Palios. The best engine attribute (helped by the long-stroke design) is excellent low-down torque so that with or without a heavy load, the driving experience does not change much.
As low as 40 km/h can be achieved without strain in top gear. Sprint acceleration is less impressive with 100 km/h coming in at 13,46 seconds. Top speed is quoted as 169 km/h.
The CAR fuel index, at 7,8 litres/100 km, is slightly better than those of main rivals Nissan and Opel. Fuel capacity is 58 litres, giving an excellent range of 744 km.
Gearbox operation is fair with a predictable shift action and medium throw. Steering uses hydraulic assistance, giving a better feel with quick turn-in from its low 2,6 turns lock-to-lock, but there is some directional instability in strong winds.
The braking system does not include ABS, yet still manages to provide average results for a bakkie, with not much variance from best to worst stops. The tests average stopping time from 100km/h is 3,38 seconds. Noise levels are a bit high but no different to the rivals.
Payload capacity is 715 kg and we tried out the Strada’s leaf-sprung load-carrying capabilities by lowering two 250 kg concrete blocks into the load bay.
It took the load well with little affect on drivability, thanks to the decent low speed torque and responsive steering. The only anomaly was a scraping sound, quickly traced to a plastic cover plate over the fuel filler pipes inside the left wheelarch.
These were touching the tyre and a cursory glance gave the impression that removal of the covers would not adversely affect protection of the pipes, something that should have been sorted out at the factory. Unladen ground clearance measured in at 235 mm, which is excellent.
Choosing which bakkie for your small business or private use is mainly down to personal preference, as they all do their jobs pretty well.
The Corsa is the one that is often “blinged up”, the NP200 seems to offer the best payload for the bucks, but the Strada gives a off-the-block macho look and mid-range loadability that means it is still right there in the mix.
The engines are well tried and tested and fuel consumption promises to please. All round, not a bad bet.