Cape Town - We are a proud nation, us South Africans. And you don’t mess with the things we believe in. These including biltong, droë wors, a braai with a cold one, the Green and Gold (rugby), and our bakkies.
Especially bakkies. It needs to be a certain way, drive a certain way, do tasks a certain way and be everything and more you want from it. It’s a tough job being a bakkie manufacturer in sunny SA, because the demand for a good bakkie has really become an important aspect for many car buyers.
And in SA, the Toyota Hilux and Ford Ranger are leading the sales charts by some margin. Which only underlines the fact that our people want bakkies. But then Nissan came along with its second-generation Navara and it completely and utterly changed how we view bakkies.
Many will frown and scoff and scream bloody murder for what Nissan did, but the automaker really came and turned the entire market on its head. Literally.
Leaf vs. coils
The Hilux, Ranger, Mitsubishi Triton, Isuzu KB, and the likes all feature leaf suspension with a ladder frame chassis. The purpose of this design is for the bakkies to be formidable workhorses. Bakkies that can carry a load and make light work of the task at hand.
That is the advantage of leaf suspension. The downside is that when there isn’t a load to straighten the leafs, the ride can be a bit choppy. Very choppy! Passengers in the rear seats will especially feel the effects and those in the loading bay even more so.
Though manufacturers like Mitsubishi and Volkswagen with its Amarok have made considerable attempts to minimise the jolts produced by this suspension setup, it remains a problem; especially for those who purchased their bakkies for leisure purposes.
Because really: if you’re not into hard labour and only want a bakkie for your daily commute and the occasional family holiday, why suffer?! And that’s where Nissan said it draws the line. The new Navara, launched in SA in March 2017, does not feature leaf suspension like the other bakkies. Instead, it has a five-link coil suspension on the rear suspension.
What are coils, you ask? To put it simply, it’s the same type of suspension you’d find on a fancy SUV. It gifts the vehicle carrying this suspension setup with a ride quality that can almost rival a sedan’s. In other words, it smooths out the ride quite a bit.
The Navara could perhaps be the bakkie with the best ride quality currently on offer in SA today. The coil suspension absorbs bumps and undulations in better fashion than its leaf counterparts. It provides a ride that is both smooth and involving. Sure, the coil suspension will give the Navara a jittery ride when asked to do hard labour, but seeing that the Navara is intended for the leisure market, it couldn’t be bothered. Not in the slightest.
Does it make sense?
Not everyone will agree with what Nissan did, but every month there are about 120 buyers who seem to think otherwise. Some may need more convincing before they play for the other team, but two manufacturers have approached Nissan to make use of the Navara’s suspension for their own bakkies. Yip, that’s right. Mercedes-Benz and Renault will build their respective bakkies, the X-Class and Alaskan, on the Navara’s architecture. Obviously a few tweaks will be made here and there to fit their own criteria, but the Nissan Navara is pioneering something that will not be stopped.
Though guys like Toyota and Ford cater to the labour market, they also supply bakkies specified to the needs of those acquiring a bakkie as a family vehicle. So the demand for a leisure bakkie is there. We nowadays have bakkies with fancy trimmings and the latest gadgets and tricks, and it is for those not wanting to do hard labour. But they are leisure bakkies with leaf suspension. Nissan realised this, and so too did Mercedes-Benz and Renault.
These three bakkies with the five-link coil suspension will herald a new take on how we perceive bakkies and already people are queuing to place orders for the X-Class. Bakkies have become a fashion statement and status symbol more than anything else. It’s not just your everyday workhorse anymore and it is what the Navara, X-Class and Alaskan will be looking to exploit.
Sure, they may not sell in the high numbers like the Hilux and Ranger, but Toyota and Ford might just decide to produce two different versions of their bakkies to cater more directly to the two spheres of the bakkie market in future. And to think it all started with the new Nissan Navara.