Every country has a car or three that becomes so popular that it keeps on selling regardless of its age or its lack of modern technology. Nissan’s 1400 bakkie is one such legend in the South African motoring landscape, but like VW’s Citi Golf, it reached a point where it simply couldn’t be produced anymore. This move had been rumoured for close to a decade, but year after year the 1400 bakkie, or B140 as it was called, remained on Nissan’s price lists.
The NP200 is the spiritual successor to the B140 and, as can be expected, had some very big shoes to fill. There were many who immediately dismissed it due to its origins in the Dacia stable (it’s the bakkie version of the Dacia Logan, which is sold as a Renault in South Africa), but Nissan was confident that the NP200 had what it takes.
Visually the NP200 is very handsome, especially in the SE specification of our test model (the lesser models look decidedly girly). The satin chrome finishing around the prominent radiator grille adds a touch of refinement, complemented by the neat, purposeful alloy wheels. The black plastic cladding around the wheel arches balances that used at the front and rear and gives the NP200 a purposeful yet recreational look that enhances the lifestyle appeal of this offering.
Unfortunately I wasn’t convinced with the NP200’s interior, for while everything was of good quality and appeared well put-together, there were a few things that bothered me. The controls for the radio/CD player, for example, are too small and awkwardly placed to make undistracted operation possible, and steering-mounted controls would’ve made a significant difference. I also didn’t like the centre console-mounted controls for the electric windows, but admit that this could very well be a personal preference.
Another thing that bothered me was the fact that I always felt as if I was sitting on top of the dashboard and the steering wheel because the height-adjustable seats do not go down low enough. I’m not particularly tall, but the seats (which also doesn’t offer much lateral support) felt too high and resulted in an awkward-feeling driving position. That said, I couldn’t find much fault with the tactile quality of the materials used. There is only so much you can do with a bakkie’s interior!
The NP200’s secret weapon is its engine, however. The 1.5-litre common-rail turbodiesel engine develops a healthy 63kW of power and a whopping 200Nm of torque, giving the NP200 that added performance some of its competitors lack. Accelleration to 100km/h takes 13.56 seconds before hitting a decent top speed of 153km/h. The NP200 sips diesel at an astonishingly slow pace (6.6-litres/100km, although Nissan claims a combined figure of 5.3-litres/100km), while its carbon emissions are only 168g/km.
Admittedly though, I am not a fan of half-ton bakkies because it’s small, cramped and can rarely hide its workhorse underpinnings. The rationale behind purchasing a half-ton bakkie is fairly simple to grasp, and especially for commercial users who don’t necessarily need a larger vehicle for deliveries or for private contractors who do not need such a large payload.
Unfortunately though, these buyers rarely purchase the higher-specced models such as this NP200 SE, which means there’s a need from private individuals for a boutique-type half-tonner, a vehicle with a load carrying capacity but also with a bit of style. This is exactly why the Corsa Utility’s almost boutique approach has become so popular.
In that sense, the NP200 fits the bill perfectly, but it faces stiff competition from Ford’s Bantam and Chevrolet’s Corsa Utility, especially because it’s such a small market and each manufacturer only features one diesel-powered option. Compared to the NP200 1.5 dCi SE’s R180 900 price tag, Ford’s Bantam 1.4 TDCi XLT retails for R171 500, with the Chevy Corsa Utility 1.7 DTI Club or Sport at R175 700 and R189 200 respectively.
Ford’s facelift of the Bantam was quite unsuccessful in my opinion, and it’s struggling to hide its age. The 1.4 TDCI engine develops 13kW less power and 40Nm less torque while not being significantly cheaper. The Chevy is similarly showing its age, develops only 8kW less power and 35Nm less torque. Depending on the trim level you choose, it’s not that much less or more from your pocket.
Visually I do like the NP200 more, as the satin chrome finishing on the grille, the alloy wheels and the black plastic cladding gives it a modern, utilitarian edge that both the Ford Bantam and Chevrolet Utility lacks. Add to that it’s larger payload (800kg) and it’s exceptional fuel consumption, and the NP200 makes much more sense than either the Ford or the Chevrolet.
- Text & photography: Christo Valentyn