Daihatsu Gran Max

Daihatsu Gran MaxIt’s actually a funny story how I came to test this rather odd vehicle. I was sitting at work one day when I got a call from the Daihatsu press fleet lady, as happens from time to time. She said she had this Gran Max for me to test and, not really knowing the Daihatsu range too well, I accepted the offer and went on my way. Only to find later that I had just said yes to a week with a little one tonner.

Right. I haven’t the faintest idea what to write if I’m honest. So I’ll start on the inside and work my way out. To say the interior is barren would be an understatement. There are solitary confinement cells in Siberian prisons with more gadgetry than the Gran Max. It was well laid out however. The gear level protrudes from up on the centre consol (much like the new Toyota’s) which allows for a third person to sit in that middle seat more comfortably. Which is an especially nice feature for those blue collar blokes who no longer have a gear lever so perilously close to their groin.

From the outside it looks like any other one tonner. Was it not for the distinctive Daihatsu looking front headlights there’s no telling the Gran Max apart from any other. So not much to report on here.

How does it go? Well, much like an old bakkie to be honest. Like those back in the day before bakkie’s became “luxury” vehicles. The suspension is sprung to carry a one ton load, so with nothing on the back it feels like you’re a rookie at his first rodeo. And the seats are about as comfortable as riding bareback on a bucking bronco.

The little 1.5 litre petrol engine was completely baffling. Who in their right minds puts a petrol engine in a one tonner? To make up for the complete lack of torque, they mess with the gear ratios and in doing so they’ve made the Gran Max impossible to drive at highway speeds. The engine sounds like it’s doing seven million rpm when you get up to 100km/h. And noisy…my word it’s like sitting in the middle of a fully fledged construction zone. Guess the blue collar blokes don’t mind considering that what they do all day in any case.

It was however rather fun to drive around town. Obviously the little petrol engine is somewhat more sprightly off the line than a diesel equivalent. But it was a combination of sitting right over the front wheels and the simplistic handling that made this car a laugh to drive – I even forgot what a right spanner I must’ve looked.

And this is what Daihatsu have picked up on in their marketing blurb. This “optimises usefulness in the city”Daihatsu Gran Max apparently, which I agree with entirely. It’s great in and around town. But how many construction sites are next door to where the building materials are sourced? Not in South Africa I can assure you. So you’ll have to venture onto a highway, which as I’ve explained is a frightening and horrible experience.

Considering I’ve never done a solid day hard labour in my life, it was tough to decide how to test the load capacity. Anyway, it’s not like I have a never ending supply of sand or bricks to load up and carry around for the day. So in the end I headed to my folks place where my father was doing some small alterations to the house. A couple bags of sand and cement were all that was needed, and obviously the Gran Max had no trouble. Taken to the limit of the load capacity however and I think the little engine may struggle.

My last concern in this. Why do Daihatsu insist on preceding their cars names with “Gran”. Do they mean “Grand”? Surely not. Maybe it means something in Japanese. But in the English speaking world is seems a bit out of place.

The whole car is rather out of place in fact. In a market dominated by Hyundai and their diesel one-and-a-bit tonner, Daihatsu has brought a spoon to gun fight.

Unless you’re looking at the price tag that is – something I’d be most concerned about if I owned a small construction company, for example. At a smudge below R125,000 the Gran Max provides a saving of around R30,000 on its competition. That’s far too big to ignore. And who really cares if your driver is slightly uncomfortable, goes partially deaf or can’t reach the stipulated 120km/h on a highway? I sure wouldn’t.

Price: R 124,995
Engine: 1,495cc 4-Cylinder, 16-valve
Power: 71 kW
Torque: 134 Nm
Acceleration (0-100 km/h): Not stated
Top speed (km/h): Not stated
Fuel consumption (l/100km): 7.5 – unloaded

Miles Downard

PS – excuse the quality of the photographs; I had to take them over the weekend at a car show with my phone because Daihatsu haven’t supplied press photographs through the usual channels.

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