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Test drive: The ZNA Rich

This pick-up has an entry price of just $11,000 – but is fully capable of getting the job done

PHOTO: “The ZNA Rich is, ironically, one of the least expensive light trucks on the market”. Credit:

To the casual observer, the Dongfeng name is more associated with global ocean racing than with a range of affordable, Nissan-derived, light commercial vehicles. The Chinese state-owned manufacturer was founded in 1969 and is now the second largest automaker in its home country, with an annual output of 3.5 million cars, 450,000 of them light commercial vehicles. But its success in the third leg of the Volvo Ocean Race, from Abu Dhabi to the team’s home port of Sanya, Hainan, in China, really helped put the brand on the international map, even if most people might have had to Google the company’s name to find out more.

Those more familiar with the brand know that the company has a long-standing agreement with Nissan to produce versions of its road cars and light commercial vehicles. The two joined forces in 2003 in a $2bn fifty-fifty partnership to form the Dongfeng Motor Company, which now produces a growing range of passenger cars, light commercial vehicles, parts, components and automotive equipment. Dongfeng also has arrangements with other manufacturers to produce cars, including Nissan’s luxury motor brand Infiniti.

If the ZNA Rich pick-up looks familiar, it’s probably because you’ve seen it in a different suit. Pluck the company badge from the grille and you have a reworked Nissan D22 double cab utility vehicle, which has been sold in markets across the globe under a range of different names. Depending on where you’re from, you’ll probably recognise the name Frontier, Navara, Terrano or Hardbody, and you’ll certainly recognise the truck’s silhouette, which has been around since the 1990s.

The ZNA Rich, ironically, is one of the least expensive light trucks on the market. Singlecab versions start at AED41,000 ($11,000), and a fully-specced double-cab version like the one we tested stretches the budget a little further to a surprisingly affordable AED44,000 ($11,900).

Fully-specced on a ZNA Rich means a double-cab all-wheel drive truck that boasts all the benefits of its Nissan sibling. All models ride on 15-inch alloy wheels and 215/75 profile tyres, and all are powered by the same 2.4 litre ZG24 inline four-cylinder engine that powers earlier Nissan versions.

The spec includes a rear step bumper, toughened bed liner, side hooks and tie-down bars surrounding the wellsides of the cargo tray. There are also LED running lights that surround the normal halogen headlamps up front, giving the truck a glitzy feminine touch.

Inside, the maroon upholstery seems robust enough to withstand the rigours of daily life as a site vehicle. The two front-seat passengers get plenty of legroom, though those in the back need to tuck in for a reasonably compressed ride. The bench seat is fairly firm too, and the thin, upright backrest means that the rear isn’t the most comfortable place to ride. More of a concern, however, is the lack of seat belts in the rear.

The backrest can be folded down against the seat base, and the tools to change a wheel are stored neatly against the rear bulkhead. The seat base doesn’t move, so tools or equipment have to go on the floor or in the cargo tray.

The chairs up front are slightly more comfortable and more than adequate for a working vehicle. A pair of pockets in each front door lets you store paperwork, thin manuals or clipboards, and there are bins and spaces to store cellphones, coins, pens and other daily detritus in the centre console.

Electrically adjusted mirrors are a bonus, as are the power windows in front and back, and the rest of the driver controls are arranged in a typical and familiar array. If you’re accustomed to modern SUV interior design, the ZNA Rich pick-up will seem basic, but the essentials are there, and they work well. Slider-type HVAC controls are familiar to any light truck driver.

Air conditioning is standard, and it channels a decent stream of cold air even from start-up. Top spec also includes a stereo that takes CDs and USB.

ZNA quotes an almost square load carrying space for the double-cab vehicle. It’s 1395mm long and 1390mm wide, with a depth of 430mm, offering a total payload of around 500kg, depending on which model you chose. The all-wheel drive versions carry more (550kg), and the two-door version is rated to 820kg.

We weren’t able to test the car with any degree of load on it, or even with enough people to fill the seats, but under the bonnet, the 102kW (136hp) petrol engine generates more than enough power to satisfy most working conditions it’ll encounter.

It doesn’t feel natural to have to rev the engine to well over 4500rpm to tap that potential, but it’s the kind of work the truck is required to do when the tarmac ends and the desert begins. The cast-iron block and alloy cylinder head combination has a proven track record under Nissan’s leadership, so you can be assured that the engine is up to the job.

Pulling power peaks at 217Nm at 2600-3200rpm, which is where you’ll find yourself naturally shifting gears. The manual-only ZNA Rich is equipped with five forward ratios, and while it may not be the most comfortable reach to make, particularly shifting from second to third or fourth to fifth – in terms of modern cars, at least – you have to keep reminding yourself that this is a working truck designed for a life of toil, load carrying and construction site abuse. Function is most important, and in this regard, the ZNA Rich performs well.

The standard brake set-up includes ventilated discs up front and drums on the rear. The double wishbone front suspension is complemented by semi-elliptical springs and telescopic dampers at the rear. It may be a traditional set-up, but it works extremely well off-road and under load. Without that load to help press down on the springs and dampers, the ride is reasonably firm and uncompromising over speed humps and rough bits of road. Again, it’s not a complaint, because we recognise that the ZNA Rich isn’t designed to handle like a sports car, but that punchy rear end and a fairly ambitious right foot can have the rear tyres skipping over rutted stretches of firm sandy tracks.

The front seats would benefit from a little extra lateral support. They’re quite broad, and the upholstery lacks a little purchase when you’re tackling roundabouts, so you find yourself swinging on the steering wheel to keep from sliding into the passenger seat.

Steering is light, but there is a little too much play either side of the dead centre position. Our test model seemed to have had a bit of abuse too, because the steering wheel didn’t seem to level correctly when driving in a straight line.

And there ends the criticism, because the ZNA Rich offers absolutely tremendous value for money, and that, for many, is all that matters. Fleet operators understand economies of scale, and you can (almost) buy two ZNA Rich pick- ups for the price of just one of its more coveted rivals. Doubling capability for the same money is just the kind of idea that makes those with control of budgets sit up and take note. Going up-market may help resale values, but you don’t necessarily gain extra functionality (and AW Rostamani offers guaranteed buy-back).

There are also features you don’t always get with top-tier models. The reversing sensors are standard on all models, which makes parking a lot safer and easier, and the functional interior is better than some of its more pricey rivals. The fundamental design is definitely ageing, but its simple design, robust construction and no-nonsense work approach works well. The technical requirements of the work the truck needs to do have not changed, so there is no real need to change the way you tackle the job.

The ZNA Rich is a fun little truck to drive. It’s nimble, capable and versatile. It’s easy to see why so many have been sold in the region over the past few years, and why it will continue to be a success for the company. If it’s as robust and as reliable as our brief road test with it suggests, then it’s a winner.

ZNA Rich specifications

? Engine: ZG24 petrol engine
? Power: 102kW (136hp)
? Torque: 217Nm
? Chassis: High rigidity trapezoidal frame structure
? Overall length: 4,980mm
? Overall width: 1,690mm, up to 1,820mm on 4WD double cab
? Wheel base: 2,950mm
? GVW: 2,280kg – 2,540kg
? Payload capacity: 820kg (on two-seat, 4WD model)
? Fuel tank capacity: 60L

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