Trucks like the Nissan Cabstar used to be a common sight among the building fraternity some while ago, but with a proliferation of dropside trucks offered by panel van manufacturers, more and more people are opting for these.
It’s a pity really because the truck on test here, the Cabstar SWB, is a hugely capable vehicle that should sell better than it does.
Just about all panel vans are now available as dropsides and it’s true that their cabs are more modern and comfortable than this vehicle’s.
But the Cabstar has two advantages – for starters it is shorter than the average panel van dropside rival so can winkle nicely into little spaces in urban environments.
And secondly it is built like the proverbial brick privvy, which means that it will probably still be traversing Britain’s highways long after the others have been confined to that great builder’s yard in the sky.
You only have to look at how many ancient Cabstars there are still around to confirm this.
The Cabstar is available in three load lengths and this smallest version has a payload of 1,300kg.
The load area measures 3,150mm in length and 1,900mm in width. Under the cab is a 2.5-litre turbodiesel unit offering 130bhp and a meaty 199lb-ft of torque at just 1,800rpm, giving plenty of low-down grunt to lug heavy loads.
The cab features three seats, but the middle one is a “dicky” which folds down to reveal a handy desk. Standard features include a driver’s airbag, ABS brakes with EBD, keyless entry, electric windows and an alarm and immobiliser.
The cab tilts forward for access to the engine. Our test model added air-con at a rather hefty £700.
Price is £21,105 ex-VAT.
Behind the wheel
If looks are anything to go by, this little performer is a winner as Nissan has managed to come up with a design that is both stylish and practical.
Sadly, looks rarely come into the equation when trucks are being bought so the Cabstar has to rely on its other assets – namely its manoeuvrability and build quality.
At £21,105 this vehicle isn’t cheap and several rivals undercut it by a fair margin.
There is also a problem with payload – at 1,300kg, it is about bang on that of the rivals, so it doesn’t gain an advantage there either.
But maybe we are being unfair as the Cabstar is a great little truck to drive if you like lorries – it has a horizontal steering wheel like a lorry and gives off a pleasant kind of growl like its bigger brothers.
The gearchange is slicker than I was expecting and with a nice light clutch action the Cabstar has pleasing road manners.
It is also a lot nimbler than it looks and at just over 16ft in length and with a turning circle of under 10 metres, the Cabstar is very “chuckable” indeed.
There is certainly no shortage of power at 130bhp, although this engine is only Euro IV compliant and pumps out 244g/km of CO2.
We are also hugely impressed with the build quality of the rear end.
We like the Cabstar and would point out that while the panel van derivatives may be better in some ways, this truck was built exactly for its purpose and does its job very well.
This solidly-built performer should give good service for years to come.