The best car for a small-scale farmer

The Nissan NP 300. PHOTO/Joseph Kiggundu

What you need to know:

A small-scale farmer wants a car that he can use to transport his produce from the garden to the market. JM Baraza discusses the choices.

Recently, a farmer asked for my advice on the best car for his kind of business. I will give my opinion depending on his choices below:

Pickups: Isuzu TFR (third generation), Mitsubishi L200 (second generation), Ford Ranger (first and second generation), NP 300 and Mahindra Scorpio. Vans: Toyota Town Ace 4WD Diesel (1996-2007), Toyota Hiace 5L 4WD. Wagons: Isuzu Trooper Diesel 4WD (second generation), Mitsubishi Pajero Diesel 4WD (first and second generation), Hilux Surf (second and third generation), Prado Box, Suzuki Vitara (second generation).


The Scorpio is the newest vehicle here, and is the cheapest brand new, while the NP300 has been in production the longest. This is important because when shopping around, these two will most likely be the most contemporary vehicles you will find. Newness in a commercial vehicle is vital because it is indicative of how much productive life is left in it. TFR/TFS? Could be too far gone. L200 second generation? Serviceable examples are getting fewer and far between. Ford Ranger 1? Yeah, I am not sure when I last saw one in operation. They came, they saw and they quietly died to pave way for more appealing Ford Rangers years down the line.

The Mahindra and the Nissan were both available with turbo engines way back then, which is a crucial plus as far as diesel power is concerned, but you will have to specify that for the NP300 since it was also available with a pair of naturally aspirated diesels shared with the E24 Caravan matatu that were notoriously prone to overheating.

The NP300 sports looks and comfort over the Mahindra, while the Mahindra is simply cheap, so utilise your preferences here to make a decision. If you are not scared of financing, you can go for a brand new Scorpio which has warranties attached to it. The performance belies the price and the latest one comes with a host of creature comforts to make it less of a prison experience, and it sports an extra-long bed which increases the carrying capacity.


Go for the bigger one, the Hiace. The 5L engine has been tried, tested and found to be true, no contest here.


People think the Landcruiser Prado is unstable. These people have never driven the second generation Isuzu Trooper. This vehicle was a disaster as far as stability was concerned, it got so bad that recalls became their lot and the vehicle was eventually banned from certain markets. I have never heard of a Prado being banned from sale anywhere.

The Trooper came with 3.0-litre and 3.1-litre diesel engines, so I do not know which swap you want to perform, but my advice here would be to buy this only if you run out of options and you really, really need a mid-size seven-seat SUV.

The first generation Pajero is a slouch, and this comparison is being unfair to slouches. Acceleration is a word you cannot use when describing it. They also tend to smoke a lot and the engines do not last that long under uncommitted care. They are cramped inside and the ergonomics are very poor. Buy one only if you really need an off-road vehicle and do not have enough money to afford an old Suzuki, which means you barely have any money at all.

Since you want to carry fruits and nuts on the roof, well, you have a decision to make if you go for one of these. There is the flat roof version, many of which I have seen with carriers, but the cherry of this model is the high-roof which comes with plenty of headroom and reduced claustrophobia, but you would be making a big mistake if you installed a roof rack on the high-roof.

The second generation Pajero was much better (I should know since I had a petrol one for a while). More comfortable, better to look at, higher performance, superior handling, cossetting ergonomics... this is the definitive Pajero and was proof that the Japanese could follow the Range Rover formula of comfort and handling plus off-road ability all in one presentable package, the only difference is you were not required to sell your ancestral land to get a Pajero. Some say this is the vehicle that revolutionalised SUVs, and not the old-money-generational-wealth Range Rover. I cannot say that I disagree.

And you can get one cheaply... as cheap as the boxy first generation Pajero, so, of the two, which one would you rather have? The petrol versions are more reliable than the diesel ones (if you avoid the GDI technology for the second generation), but they’re thirsty as hell. The diesel versions may or may not require frequent repairs and engine rebuilds depending on how badly maintained they were by previous owners.

Can it carry stuff on its roof? Depends on which one you buy. Go for the entry level vehicle with a flat roof, since some came with half a high roof. If you buy one of the higher trim models, it will be tasteless to carry nuts on the roof. Just enjoy it as it was meant to be enjoyed; a comfortable family off roader that creeps to shopping centres every now and then.


The second and third generation Hilux Surf were more or less the same vehicle. It loses out on the seven-seat configuration that the Pajero and Trooper (and Prado Box) boast of, plus the second generation vehicle was prone to a sagging rear suspension, but you do get bulletproof reliability from a Toyota long roof derived from the indestructible Hilux truck, and there is that nifty rear windscreen that drops into the tailgate on command.

Handling and comfort are not at Pajero II’s level, but they are passable enough. The engine choices are wide enough to suit most tastes and dare I say; the previous two vehicles immediately occupy the runner up positions when pitted against the Hilux Surf.

...until we get to the Prado Box. No sagging suspensions here and the architecture is that of the mighty 70 Series. Good start, but that is about it. The tall, boxy design means aerodynamics are poor and the handling is terrible, but it surely has the looks, no? No one can look at a Prado Box and call it undesirable.

And now the Vitara. It is the smallest vehicle here and diesel examples are rare, but this is one talented goat of a car. It will go anywhere the rest will go and also go some places the rest either cannot or will not.

It is comfortable, but thirsty, and as a load lugger, the rest beat it hands down. The vehicle itself is robust, but the body... not so much. It is plasticky and the bumpers are prone to cracks and tears when exposed to hard use. Good car, but I think it is trying (and failing) to punch above its weight here.


So, our            winners are:

1. Pickups: Nissan NP300. It is older, which leaves slightly more room for negotiation, plus as a legacy automaker, Nissan trumps Mahindra, and you can tell simply by comparing the build quality of those two vehicles.

2. Vans: The Hiace with a 5L engine. It is bigger, so it is obviously better, and that 5L engine is what made people refer to subsequent Hiaces using the «L» designation, which is both nonsensical and living proof of the power of legend.

3. SUVs: This is an odd one because it is a tie, but it comes with a disclaimer; do not buy an SUV to carry avocados on its roof. Stick with the pick-ups and the vans for that work. That out of the way, the tie is between the second generation Pajero and the Hilux Surf.