18 August 1995

A BRAVA ATTEMPT AT

A 4WD COMPROMISE

Twin-cab pickups are popular in other parts of the globe, and Vauxhall is bringing in the Isuzu-built Brava Doublecab (£13,450) to see if UK users also take to the idea. Does compromise mean less of everything? Andrew Pearce finds out

ANYONE with staff and stuff to move about ought to like the Doublecab concept. Take a 1t pickup, lop off part of its load bay and extend the cab into the space vacated. Do that to a Brava, and the result is a 4×4 hybrid able to seat five or carry up to 960kg (2116lb).

The new bodywork is mounted on the standard cars long wheelbase chassis and suspended by torsion bars at the front and leaf springs at the rear. All-wheel drive is part-time, automatic freewheeling hubs are standard, and under the bonnet is a 2.5-litre direct injection diesel plus low-pressure turbocharger.

Vauxhalls limited-boost approach aims to improve emissions and economy rather than turn the motor into a rip-snorter. We cant speak for air quality behind the Brava, but its certainly easy on fuel with average consumption well on the healthy side of 30mpg.

The motor wakes up with a pleasant direct-injection clatter that never fades, whether pulling through the gears or cruising. But although the unit sometimes feels moderately torquey, for most of the time its 76hp cant deal comfortably with the trucks 1615kg (3560lb) unladen weight.

As a result, keeping up with A-road traffic often calls for full throttle, and long hills or the wrong gear knock the stuffing out of it. So while the Doublecab cruises fairly quietly around the legal limit and will go well beyond it if thrashed, its generally shallow performance and rising engine noise levels make longer trips harder work than they should be.

Having said that, it deals adequately with the smaller roads on which most will spend their time, and loading up with bodies and gear doesnt seem to make much difference. Conventional turbo-charging might not be so kind to the environment or to your wallet, but would make for a more capable package.

An easy-shifting five speed gearbox and light clutch partly counter the engines lack of urgency. And the driver certainly has a pleasant spot from whence to conduct operations: The cab is a light, bright place into which wind and tyre noise have trouble penetrating.

Wide front doors give on to supportive bucket seats for the driver and front passenger. Narrower rear doors let up to three adults on to the low rear bench, where they will need to squeeze together and sit with knees high.

Grey, easy-wipe plastic shrouds everything except the seats. The dash offers a glovebox and basic three-dial cluster, with the latter flanked by two columns of Frontera-style vertical switches. These, while a worthy attempt to rid the steering column of stalks, are a pain to use.

Steering effort is light, and lock available from the plastic-rimmed wheel is excellent. The Doublecab turns quite cleanly into fast sweeping bends and holds its line despite the suspensions attempts to unsettle it. When the limit is reached on tighter turns the front slides out and the inside rear wheel spins, which is all safe and predictable.

Rear leaf springs and more compliant-feeling front torsion bars deliver an awkward ride. The front end tends to float and heave while the rear jiggles, at least without load on board. Its not hugely uncomfortable on short trips; just strange and at times, disconcerting. More unpleasant is the way the front wheels throw a shudder into the steering wheel on rippled surfaces. Dropping some weight in the back – 100kg or so is enough – steadies everything down.

Brakes – at least on the test car – were less than brilliant. They stop, but are snatchy at low speed and have trouble locking any wheel in the dry.

Back to the positive. Loading height is more manageable than most at 770mm (30.3in), and the centre-latch tailgate drops right down if needed. How much goes into in the 2.29m x 1.53m (90.3in x 54in) load space depends on the number of bodies on board. With just the driver, 960kg (2116lb) is the limit; with four passengers, capacity reduces to 660kg (1455lb). Either way this allows a useful volume of tools and bits to be taken to the field, while the rail-plus-hooks roping arrangement should make sure everything is still in the back when you get there.

All told, the Brava Doublecab is a brave shot which slightly misfires. Its main strength is flexible accommodation for men and gear, and that alone will secure buyers. But dynamically its a penny short of a shilling.