Many years ago, motorsport legend Buddy Fuller, who introduced oval track racing to South Africa, started running hot rod events on Sundays at his Wembley Raceway in the South of Johannesburg.
The idea was opposed by a church in the area, who denounced motorsport as “ungodly”. Buddy countered by pointing out church and hot rod tracks were pretty much the same.
In churches, people often say: “Stand up, for Jesus’ sake!” At hot rod tracks, people often say: “Sit down, for Chrissakes!” It is all about interpretation.
The same holds true for the new Changan commercial vehicle range. At R164 900, the Double Cab Lux model is without doubt this country’s cheapest vehicle to offer seating for four adults plus a loading bay.
But “cheap” can be construed as “nasty”, while “inexpensive” could be seen as “sensible”. Having enjoyed a Changan’s company for a week, we would go for “inexpensive”. The technical stuff first.
A Changan Double Cab comes powered by a four-cylinder, 1 243cc petrol engine that produces 72kW of power and 119Nm of torque.
It passes the power to the rear axle via a five-speed manual gearbox. It is 4,66 metres long, 1,63 metres wide and 1,89 metres high, with a wheelbase of 2,9 metres.
Its cargo box is 2,06 metres long and 1,52 metres wide.
The Changan sits 155mm from the ground on 14-inch steel wheels in 175/70R14LT rubberware, with a full-sized spare wheel housed under the loading bay.
The front suspension has an independent Macpherson strut system, with leaf springs at the rear. It has a Gross Vehicle Mass of 2 400kg, and a one-ton loading capacity.
Inside, the test vehicle boasted a surprising number of refinements for what is clearly intended as a workhorse.
It had air-conditioning, central locking, electrically-operated side windows, an AM/FM radio with an auxiliary port and two speakers, plus a digital clock.
The instrument cluster is basic, but conveys all the information you need to get about town, while the cloth covered seats were surprisingly comfortable.
We briefly tried the rear seats and concluded that they would not be very useful for anybody but children or height-challenged adults.
Maybe a double cab is one row of seats too far in this vehicle, but Changan does offer all of the same stuff in a single cab with a larger loading area. Driving the test vehicle was an agreeable surprise.
For one thing, you sit high up in the Changan, which allows you to see further ahead and allows you to balefully eye-ball taxi drivers.
For another, the gearbox was smooth, the pedals well placed, the steering light and precise, while the brakes – discs front and drums rear with a vacuum booster – were entirely up to their task.
The little engine certainly does not make the Changan a racer, but it accelerated briskly enough to keep up with Gauteng traffic, while its six-metre turning radius made it easy to manoeuvre everywhere.
It would not go much over 100km/h on the highway, but its projected owners would not find that a huge problem.
We were not brave enough to chuck the Changan with its high centre of gravity into corners with verve, but then, neither would its buyers.
We also will admit to not loading stuff in the test vehicle’s load bay.
But, we did notice that said area was covered with a tough rubber coating, with the rear flap wide and sturdy – stuff of importance to people who would wish to load heavy things.
The fuel tank will take 40 litres of unleaded, and we averaged a fuel consumption of 7,6 litres per 100km. In all, the Changan bakkie should be a natural choice for the owners of small businesses in town.
It also comes with a threeyear/100 000km warranty and 24- hour roadside assistance plan.