It’s not for nothing that the Nissan 1400 bakkie which came to the end of its production life in 2008 was known as the “Champion of Africa”.
Brian Joss – The champ was a familiar sight on our roads for almost 37 years. You could see them happily lugging building material, furniture or plumbing supplies, and at the beach piled with surfboards. There are still a few in Cape Town, some the worse for wear on the outside, or well cared for. The Nissan 1400 made its appearance in South Africa in 1971: it started life as the Datsun 1200, grew in to the Datsun 1400 in 1980 and by 1990 it was known as the Nissan 1400. It was real workhorse, that sadly was consigned to the scrap heap of history. But it still holds a special place in the hearts of those who knew its true worth. The Nissan 1400 made its debut in South Africa in 1971. The original Datsun 1200 evolved into the Datsun 1400 in 1980 and became known as the Nissan 1400 in 1990.
When I arrived in Cape Town about 25 years ago I was given one to use in the gas business we bought. By the time I got it, it was third-hand, still in excellent condition, perhaps a bit battered, and when fully loaded with gas bottles from 48kg down to 9kg it plied the Peninsula’s roads with no hassle.
It sailed up Kloof Nek and took the twisty streets of the leafy suburbs in its stride. It was nimble even in heavy traffic, it was also easy to park in the smallest of spaces.
Over the years there have been various reincarnations of the champ. The latest is the Nissan NP200 Ice 1.5 dCi fitted with a turbodiesel engine, which delivers 63 kW and 200 Nm. Back in the champ’s day a turbo charged engine was probably just a twinkle in an engineer’s eye.
According to Nissan, the NP200 uses only 5.3 litre/100km in a combined cycle. The needle on the fuel gauge hardly moved at all so my figures were not too far off on a route that included town and country. And with a light foot you could probably get a bit more than 900 kilometres out of the 50 litre tank. The Ice is a half-ton bakkie and the test car was a Bright Silver with Ice decals dotted here and there. I counted seven, I think, and the NP200 did attract a few interested looks.
Inside is where some major changes have taken place. The special edition Ice features eco combination leather upholstery and rubber carpets; good quality interior trim; and an entertainment system, read a standard JVC frontloader.
Still it does the job and the sound isn’t too bad. There is also hands-free Bluetooth connectivity, audio streaming and a USB connection. One thing though, that I thought was an anachronism were the manual window winders.
Remember them? My muscles were getting muscles on muscles. You also have to adjust the side mirrors manually. The seating position for the driver is a “one size fits all”. You can’t adjust the seat for height and the steering wheel is fixed too. If you’re bigger than average it will be a tight squeeze as I noted when the press fleet manager came to collect the Ice. The aircon proved to be quite efficient too, which was a boon when the temp hit 32 one day. It kept us cool. The slick five-speed manual transmission is a pleasure to use. You don’t need to change gears all the time to keep up with the traffic flow and it’s happy at about 2 000rpm and really happy at the 4 000rpm mark. And the NP 200 pulls well, unladen, with one passenger. It should do as well with a full payload, just like its cousin, the Champion of Africa. Surprisingly for a bakkie the ride is comfortable and not unduly jarring, I thought.
The rubberised load bay, which has a tonneau cover, is 1.8 m long with an
800 kg payload. There is also an extra 300 litres of storage space behind the seats and you can stuff in a few shopping bags. One thing, though, the tailgate is really heavy as I found when I opened it. There is also a full-size spare wheel. Other neat touches custom-designed 15″ alloy wheels; the special aluminium nudge bar; an aluminium sports bar, useful if you want to fit a mountain bike stand or clip on a few surfboards. There are also rear steps fitted below the back bumper. The Ice also features dark tinted safety film and there are factory-fitted daytime running lights. Two airbags and ABS brakes are part of the safety package.
I’ve always thought a bakkie is a bakkie, no matter how you dress it up. The Nissan NP200 Ice 1.5 dCi is no exception. And although, to use Nissan’s words, the Ice is cool, it is really more suitable as a workhorse than a lifestyle vehicle, even though with the right fittings you can load up a mountain bike or a few surfboards. At a quick glance the Ice appears to be low maintenance. So if you’re looking for a bakkie with a bit of coolth for your small to medium-size business the Ice fits the bill. It carries a price tag of R236 900 which is verging on the expensive side for a few cosmetic upgrades.
Service and maintenance plans are optional.