Family favourites branch out

Family favourites branch out

Solid family values from generations gone by back these two heavyweights of the half-tonne bakkie world. Or is that what they want us to think? GAVIN MYERS climbs the family trees of Nissan and Chevrolet to see who got it right.

Now this was one we had to do. The Nissan NP200 has been flying out of local showrooms for a while now and, as you would have read in FOCUS June, Chevrolet recently introduced its new Utility. Each continues a family line of distinction: the NP200 picking up where the venerable 1400 bakkie left off in 2008, and the Utility carrying the baton passed on by two previous generations of Corsa Utility.

Nissan sold more than 275 000 1400s from its launch in 1971, while the Chevrolet Utility, since its first generation introduced in 1997 as a derivative of the Opel Corsa range, has already racked up over 170 000 local sales. Like the next-generation child born into an illustrious bloodline, each has a lot resting on its shoulders.

However, some DNA testing needs to be done beforehand because, with the latest generations, there is a bit of DNA mixing going on. You see, Nissan holds a 15 percent stake in Renault, which owns 43 percent of Nissan. This easily allows modern practices of platform and model sharing, exactly as has happened with the NP200. Renault, meanwhile, owns Romanian manufacturer Dacia, which produces the Logan Pick-Up – the very vehicle Nissan sells as the NP200 (which also moves it away from the 1400’s rear-wheel drive configuration).

The Utility, too, has a slightly mixed background. Where its predecessors were based on General Motors’ Opel Corsa range, the new model is based on an all-new Chevrolet platform. Both vehicles are built in South Africa – the NP200 at Nissan’s Rosslyn plant and the Utility at GM’s Port Elizabeth plant.

So, two entirely new approaches to keeping it in the family, but which gets it right? Well, we first need to mention that while it was fortunate that the two vehicles arrived at our offices at roughly the same time, the actual models delivered differed greatly. Chevrolet delivered a top-of-the-range Utility 1,8 Sport, and Nissan sent an entry-level NP200 1,6 8V Base (with air-con and safety pack). So – two vehicles of varying spec that are not directly comparable.

However, here’s what they offer. For your R133 000, you don’t get too many features in the Base-spec Nissan. The safety pack includes driver and passenger airbags as well as ABS and electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD). You do also get air-conditioning, a tonneau cover and rubberised load bay. The Base-spec NP200 doesn’t have electric windows, mirrors, central locking or radio which are obviously all available on higher spec models.

Obviously, the Utility came better spec’d. It too includes ABS and EBD braking as well as driver and passenger airbags and air-conditioning, but your R173 500 also gets you electric windows and central locking, as well as an onboard computer, six-speaker MP3 sound system with Bluetooth and auxiliary/USB input, and an opening rear window.

Both cabins should stand up well to fleet abuse, with the Utility (top) offering slightly more comfort and space.Both are equipped with hard-wearing, durable plastic interior finishes, the more modern Utility offering slightly more storage and stowage space behind the seats. With everything within easy reach, the Utility’s cabin is also far more ergonomic than the NP200’s (the ventilation and, when fitted, electric window switches on the dashboard of the NP200 are an awkward stretch; as are the gearlever’s first, third and fifth positions).

What really counts with these two, though, is what they can do in their intended load-carrying role. The NP200 loadbox measures 1 807 mm (length) x 1 374 (width) x 535 mm (height), and has a load-carrying capacity of 800 kg, with a gross vehicle mass (GVM) of 1 890 kg. By comparison, the Utility’s load space measures 1 680 x 1 340 x 525 mm, offering a carrying capacity of 703 kg and a GVM of 1 850 kg. The mass ratings remain similar across corresponding models in both ranges.

Whereas Nissan offers the same 1,6-litre petrol engine with either eight or 16 valves, Chevrolet only offers its petrol engines in eight-valve configuration. Maximum power is 77 kW at 5 400 r/min, with peak torque of 161 Nm at 3 000 r/min – this engine is a real sprightly unit, giving the impression that it’s more powerful than it actually is.

By comparison, Nissan’s 1,6 eight-valve powertrain as fitted to the test vehicle produces 64 kW at 5 500 r/min and 128 Nm at 3 000 r/min. As an aside, these figures are right in line with the Utility 1,4 we reviewed in June (68 kW and 120 Nm) while, with figures of 77 kW and 148 Nm, the NP200 with a 16-valve motor lines up with this Utility 1,8.

Both vehicles drive through five-speed manual gearboxes with short gearing – expected in the Nissan with its lower torque figures, but the stronger engine in the Utility was running at nearly 4 000 r/min at 120 km/h! Nissan claims fuel consumption of 8,1 l/100 km for all its petrol-engined NP200s, while Chevrolet claims the same figure for the 1,8-litre Utility (and 7,2 l/100 km for the 1,4).

The NP200 has a bigger load bay, which is rubberised as standard.Behind the wheel, the Utility has a more “wholesome” feel, with all controls feeling nicely integrated and equally weighted. The NP200 surprised with its heavier steering and stiff, wooden gearbox yet surprisingly feather-light clutch. The Utility’s seats have a broader range of adjustment and you tend to sit “in” them as opposed to “on” those in the NP200. This results in the Chevrolet offering better passenger comfort. Its cabin is also far quieter than the NP200 in terms of road, wind and engine noise. Visibility in both is top-notch though, and the Nissan impressed with its more compliant ride and bump-absorption.

Our verdict? Well, it would be unfair to pick a winner as these two specific models appeal to different buyers. For the man on the street it’ll probably be the Utility. For your fleet, the NP200. So which then has stuck to its family values? Well, both actually. The NP200 offers that same hard-working charm and simple practicality the 1400 did for all those years, and the Utility has that same fun, play-while-you-work attitude of its predecessors. It must be reiterated that these two specific models are not directly comparable, but side-by-side spec lists of each range reveals corresponding models to be competitively priced, offering similar spec for the money – Chevrolet perhaps offering a little more than Nissan. The NP200 has an impressive six-year/150 000 km warranty, bettering Chevrolet’s five-year/120 000 km warranty.

Either way, it’s clear why each present practically identical sales figures month after month. It seems there’s nothing wrong with a little mixed DNA after all. The old 1400 and Corsa would be proud.

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