Geared for work: 2019 Changan Star lll double-cab Base

2019-09-25 06:00
The 2019 Changan Star lll double-cab Base has the soul of a swan.PHOTOS: GORDON HALL

The 2019 Changan Star lll double-cab Base has the soul of a swan.PHOTOS: GORDON HALL

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A READER mentioned recently that she does not want a vehicle that tells her what to do. Her phone already does. Although her viewpoint differs from the popular narrative, she has a point and is not alone.

Changan (pronounced Shangaan), still called Chana in many overseas markets, is part of a collective that includes JMC and is owned by the Chinese government. Star-branded vehicles are a range of mini-trucks, vans and a seven-seat SUV that share a 1243 cc, naturally aspirated, petrol engine and almost complete disdain for modern frippery.

Standard kit on Base versions includes steel wheels with plastic centre caps, fully sized spare, rubber floor covering, manual windows and exterior mirrors, a steering lock but no height or reach adjustment, a heater, a basic radio with auxiliary but no RDS, a 12-volt socket and an ashtray.

If you’re prepared to pay R10 000 more you can have air conditioning, powered windows, fog lamps, a slightly fancier sound system and remote central locking but not much else. There’s no ABS for example, no airbags or ESP and definitely no touch-screen connectivity. Perspective: Similarly priced single-cab one-tonners from Mahindra and GWM don’t offer those things either.

Our test unit, a Star 3 double-cab with dropside body, is what the Japanese call Keitora or mini-truck. Alongside their single-cab sisters they are widely used throughout Asia in agriculture, fisheries, construction and fire-fighting.

It’s built on a sturdy ladder frame chassis with many nuts and bolts left visible. You might think it’s unsightly but your mechanic will love it for easy accessibility. Front suspension is by means of McPherson struts while the solid rear axle hangs from six-leaf springs. Brakes are disc in front and drum at the rear. Its face won’t win beauty pageants – some might call it an ugly truckling – but deep within lies the soul of a swan.

Although its engine is small it’s geared for hard work. That explains why its rated (read practical) top speed is only 120 km/h. It takes a little longer than some to get there, but it will be “today”. Just kidding. Because of its low gearing it accelerates quickly enough to keep pace with city traffic and should you venture onto a freeway, you can easily overtake any heavies that abide by their mandated speed limits. Just leave a little more time and space, is all we’re asking.

Less pretty than a conventional pickup perhaps, its dropside bin is nevertheless more practical. Dropping the tailgate enables quick lowering of side panels and it loads at an accessible 79 cm. That means that you and your crew could pack from three sides at once if pressed for time and, by using foresight, stack appropriately for different delivery points.

We see it being used on farms to carry food and crews to feeding points or tank and pumps to firebreaks. Or simply lugging a ton of crops to the prep shed. Possibilities are limited only by your own imagination. Single-cab versions are 100 mm shorter overall with bins extended by 90 mm. They also weigh 90 kg less. Wheelbases and load capacities are the same.

Practicalities: While there’s ample rear seat headspace for tall passengers, knee room is limited and foot space doesn’t exist. That’s because the front chairs are mounted on a hump over the engine. Speaking of which, there’s no tunnel to get in the way of any middle passenger’s feet in the back. Two-and-a-half belts keep them all buckled in.

Its parking brake is mounted centrally and boasts a firm and positive action. The gearstick is within comfortable reach and smooth to operate. That’s good because you’ll use it a lot. Star’s turning circle is fairly large, at 12 metres, but it remains quite easy to park.

Changan’s little truckling may be plain but it’s solidly practical and very usable.

THE NUMBERS

Price: R156 880

Engine: 1243 cc, DOHC, transverse four-cylinder, naturally aspirated

Power: 72 kW at 6000 rpm

Torque: 119 Nm at 4800 rpm

Zero to 100 km/h: Not available.

Top speed: 120 km/h

Manufacturer’s claimed average fuel consumption: 7.2 l/100 km

Tank: 40 litres

Minimum ground clearance: 155 mm

Warranty: 3 years / 100 000 km with roadside assistance

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