THE “half-ton” pick-up segment is all but an institution in the South African motor market. Small businesses around the country have relied on little workhorses since the days when Mrs H S Ball first placed a label on a bottle of chutney and there were still 25 tomatoes in a bottle of All Gold. Until recently, three names have been synonymous with this segment – the Corsa Ute, the Bantam and the “champion of Africa” Nissan B140 (aka Nissan 1400). The replacement of the B140 last year with a decidedly more modern package, badged NP200, matching the size and practicality of the current generation Opel Corsa Ute and Ford Bantam, was big news. Now that the full range has been rolled out (along with an early facelift), one could say that the NP200 has taken over from the B140 as “the little bakkie that can”. And the arrival of a diesel option underlines that Nissan is really back in business in this segment. But can it knock the diesel-fuelled version of the class-leading Corsa off its perch, and can the Bantam still hold its own?
DESIGN & PACKAGING
With the area behind the B-pillar devoted to a loadbay, designers of this type of vehicles tend to concentrate on the section between the headlamps and the rear of the cab to achieve a measure of individuality and brand recognition. Two specification levels are available when ordering a new NP200 dCi and the higher of the two, the SE as featured here, gets a fair measure of design enhancements in an effort to add a touch of sophistication to what would otherwise be seen as a workhorse model. Colour coding on the bumpers is offset by ruggedlooking black protection strips along the sides of the SE model and standard 15-inch alloy wheels occupy the wheelarches. A chrome-look grille adds some presence on the road, as do standard foglamps.
The NP range not only offers the longest load body in this segment, but the increased height of the loadbox helps give it the biggest load volume in its class. The loadbox floor and sides are covered in a protective rubber coating as standard, though a tonneau cover is optional and will require the fitment of a less bulky roll hoop behind the cabin. The tailgate release handle feels well put together and durable, though the tailgate is the heaviest of the three models in this comparison.
Next to both the Opel and the new Nissan, the Bantam not only shows its age, but also how far the compact pick-up segment has progressed in terms of offering maximum usability, a trend that has brought smaller bakkies much closer to their one-ton siblings in terms of practicality. A recent facelift has given the Bantam a fresh new look up front, and on this XLT model colour coding, foglamps and 14-inch alloy wheels provide a “lift” – as with the SE-specced Nissan – above being simply a nondescript workhorse. A rubber mat is provided in the load bay and the Bantam retains the fashionable step ahead of the rear wheelarches for improved and safer access to the rear. The tailgate design is showing its age slightly and the mechanism, including the latch, feels a tad fl imsy next to the more modern designs from Opel and Nissan.
Unlike the other two models here, the similarly-priced Opel Corsa Ute has a slightly less glamorous look, but instead provides possibly more practicality as an everyday workhorse. Basic items include black bumpers and 14-inch steel wheels that are less likely to be stolen, and disfi gured by scuff marks. Scuff marks had also better be of less concern in the 1 690 mm long loadbox, as no rubber coating is provided. The Corsa’s tailgate is the only one of these three rivals that can be locked, though.
All three models feature a sliding rear window for air circulation and communication.
COMFORT & FEATURES
One of the biggest complaints levelled at the Nissan B140 towards the end of its production life was lack of cab space. Jokers suggested that South Africans had either grown a lot since the bakkie’s launch back in 1971, or they had only realised just how small the cab was once larger rivals arrived on the scene. Nissan’s NP200 range now offers a decidedly roomier cab with some space to spare for niceties. The height adjustable driver’s seat is instantly comfortable, although some felt that Nissan could have gone a step further and provided height adjustment on the steering column too. White backlit instrument dials add a touch of distinction, but things are let down badly by the fitment of a dated-looking frontloading radio/CD that requires the entire face to be removed for security. Various small storage pockets are provided, with decent, although not out-ofsight, space behind the seats for toolboxes or luggage. The deep, facia cubbyhole would have been more useful if it could be locked. Standard air-conditioning, as well as electric mirrors and windows, add convenience once the latter’s somewhat unconventional controls location has become familiar.
Included in the asking price of the NP200 1,5 dCi SE are airbags for driver and passenger, the latter offering a disconnection functionality. Ford offers this level of safety as an option on the XLT, with the Opel Corsa Ute Club providing an airbag for the driver only.
The Ford Bantam once again struggles to hide its age once the doors are opened to reveal the smallest cab of these three rivals. Although it all looks well put together and durable, the plastics now feel particularly hard to the touch and just a bit shiny by modern standards. A built-in audio system provides bit more security than that offered in the Nissan, but a decided lack of on-board information and limited storage space, including a narrow shelf behind the seats, will leave some frustrated. Airconditioning is provided, as are electric windows. Also electrically controlled are the desperately small side mirrors, which, together with small sun visors, do nothing to assist the cramped feel of the Bantam’s cab, especially with two relatively large occupants on board.
No such electric function for the windows and mirrors is included in the Corsa Ute Club models, though this does not detract much from what is otherwise still the neatest cab in this class. It is still the most car-like of these three and an altogether comfortable place to be. A centrally-mounted display affords the driver easy access to a range of information including ambient temperature as well as the settings on the standard air-conditioning and built-in radio/CD audio system. Height adjustment is offered on the driver’s seat, though not on the steering column. The cloth seats offer good support and comfort levels.
RIDE, HANDLING & BRAKING
Nissan offers a class-leading 800 kilogram payload on the NP200 and, in anticipation of burdens of this magnitude, it has been given a stiffi sh suspension set-up, which means the unladen ride can be a tad fi rm. Having said that, all who drove the new Nissan bakkie remarked on how compliant and comfortable the ride is. As expected, the ride becomes even more comfortable once load is added to the H-Shape axle and coil springs that suspend the rear. Electric power assistance for the steering provides light and easy maneouvrability, even if the wheel does suffer from some lifelessness once on the move. Handling is sure-footed and predictable, even under load.
All testers commented that the Bantam had the heaviest steering of the three rivals but that, once one became accustomed to the feel, it provided the best feedback and communication. In fact, if you never drive the other two in this comparison, the Ford’s steering will not seem heavy… The smaller dimensions of the Bantam lend it to being slightly more nippy and fleet-footed around town than its two larger rivals. As with the Nissan, all who drove the Bantam commented positively on the suspension suppleness and comfort levels offered by the Ford. A 650 kilogram payload is quoted.
As compliant as the other two are, the Opel Corsa Ute still reigns supreme in terms of boasting car-like driving dynamics and comfort levels, despite the obvious weight distribution challenges that a bakkie presents. Electric power assistance is provided for the steering and there is a respectable amount of feedback through the wheel. Opel rates the Corsa Ute’s payload at 714 kilograms.
Only Nissan offers ABS brakes as standard but, in the dry, the emergency braking times from 100 km/h to standstill of all three vehicles were similar. The Ford averaged 3,26 seconds, with the Nissan slightly better at 3,18 seconds in our 10-stop test. The Opel performed best at 3,08 seconds.
Few will be purchasing one of these workhorse pick-ups expecting to win any traffic-light duels, but it is interesting to compare the overtaking capabilities, particularly in and around town, as well as performance under load. The newest engine to the Nissan NP200 range is the 1,5 dCi, also found in the Micra. This common-rail turbodiesel delivers 63kW of power at 3750r/min with 200N.m of torque at a low 1 900 r/min. Mated with a five-speed manual transmission, it propels the NP200 from 0-100km/h in 13,58seconds and will accelerate it from 80 to 100km/h, in top gear, in 6,63seconds. We were slightly surprised that the Nissan’s engine never really found a smooth and refi ned rhythm, even at cruising speeds.
The Ford has the smallest capacity engine of these three, but this unit still manages to offer 50kW at 4000r/min and 160N.m of torque at 2000r/min. In the lighter Bantam, with its s-o-h-c 1399cm³ engine and five-speed manual transmission, we were able to sprint from 0-100km/h in 16,07 seconds. Acceleration from 80 to 100 km/h, in top gear, took 7,29 seconds. This engine sounds by far the most agricultural of the three at start-up, but it smooths out nicely once on the move.
The Opel Corsa Ute’s 1,7-litre diesel engine delivers 55 kW of power, with 165 N.m of torque at a low 1 800 r/min and is also mated with a fi ve-speed transmission. It completed our 0-100km/h test run in 15,09seconds and recorded an 80 to 100km/h acceleration time of 8,59 seconds.
The newer Nissan NP200, with its 1 461 cm³ diesel engine, just manages to pip the lighterbodied Bantam to the frugal finish line. We calculated an overall fuel consumption figure for the NP200 of 6,36litres/100 kilometres, fractionally better than the 6,6 of the Bantam. The larger capacity 1686cm³ Opel Corsa Ute delivers a not-far-off-the mark 7,1litres/100 kilometres.
The Nissan, Ford and Opel have fuel tank capacities of 50, 54 and 52 litres respectively, which should allow the Ford to travel a bit longer (818 km) between fuel stops than the Nissan (786 km) and the Opel (732 km).
VALUE FOR MONEY
As they compete for the same piece of the pie, it’s no surprise that all three of these contenders are similarly priced. The NP200 is the most expensive at R174 000, but it does offer the most in terms of standard specification. If nothing else, the peace of mind that ABS braking, especially in wet conditions, brings to the package makes up for a fairly large portion of the price. A 3 years/100 000 kilometres service plan adds further to peace of mind.
Despite its recent facelift, the Bantam is now a bit dated. It’s still an honest purchase, but we believe it is a little overpriced at R171 750, perhaps not so much on specification as in terms of usable space and practicality.
As a workhorse, the Opel Corsa Ute 1,7DTI Club offers nothing but honesty and usability without too many frills or fancy gizmos. Traditionally the Corsa Ute holds its value the best of these three, which should also be taken into account when considering the R172 220 asking price.
No other segment in this country is called upon to fulfill such a variety of tasks and roles in business. From security companies to flower shops and construction sites, the role of the compact “half-ton” bakkie in South Africa is as varied as the cultures that make up this nation. Each of the three diesel options featured here wear their makers’ badges with pride and promise to fight above their payloads. With the introduction of the new and improved Nissan NP200, the Ford Bantam has taken over the role occupied by the now discontinued “champion of Africa” Nissan B140 in being the smallest and most dated option, yet refusing to throw in the towel. The character and simple efficiency of the Ford will certainly still find favour with many.
The Opel Corsa Ute has traditionally been the pick of the bunch in terms of ownership experience and car-like drivability and that still remains true in this test, but Opel appears to have targeted a more workhorse/ less glamour market with its Club specification diesel Ute offering and has omitted some of the more luxury/glamorous items and specifi cation from the standard pricelist. Again, this will appeal to some buyers more than others.
In the Nissan NP200 range the same lifestyle options afforded to the petrol versions have been offered in the higher-spec diesel model. Combining a class-leading payload and loadbody with a relatively high standard specification level, including safety and convenience items, the Nissan is the best package out of these three and will possibly cater to the needs of a broader spectrum of owners.
Road test score