It's fair to say that economists all over the world are in awe of China's sustained economic growth. In the space of a few decades, this country has become a leader as far as manufacturing, exporting and purchasing goes, and with massive infrastructure developments taking place all over this vast region, there's clearly no sign of this growth spurt ending any time soon.
China's automotive sector in particular received a massive boost in the 1990s, when numerous technology sharing- and manufacturing agreements with major motor manufacturers took effect – giving China the necessary tools with which to drive their growth plans. To this day, JMC still reaps the benefits of one such agreement, by drawing heavily on Isuzu's expertise and technology, giving us such straightforward workhorses such as the JMC Carrying we'll be discussing here.
What is it?
To the untrained eye, it's easy to mistake a JMC Carrying for a previous-generation Isuzu N-series light-duty truck. The first giveaway is the front view, which features the same frowning headlight design as Isuzu used until very recently. And, while it's a little old-fashioned in today's era of streamlined trucks, its space-efficiency cannot be doubted: that upright windscreen and blocky design does liberate a surprising amount of space in a cabin which isn't really all that big.
There's an Isuzu heart beating underneath as well, albeit a somewhat modified one. Motive power is provided by the trusted 2.8-litre direct injection turbo-diesel engine South Africans got to know in legions of KB pick-ups. In this application, it's tuned to deliver 84 kW and 235 Nm, and drives the rear wheels through a cable-operated 5-speed manual gearbox.
Proven mechanical bits
Using an older-generation engine does refinement no favours, as it clatters and rattles in a way most South African bakkie drivers haven't heard in ages, especially from a cold start. But that's largely irrelevant in a workhorse such as the Carrying, because the main concern is still whether it gets the job done, and whether it can do so in an frugal fashion.
In that regard, the engine is an absolute peach. It starts with the first flick of the ignition key, before settling down into a slightly rough idle. Driving off, the engine's smooth torque curve makes its presence felt, with very little turbo lag and reasonably immediate response to the accelerator. It must be noted that the gearbox has closely-stacked ratios, leading to a rather short-legged top gear, but also boosting in-gear acceleration and load-lugging abilities. The gearshift isn't the most positive out there, but it's easy enough to adapt to the rather vague cable shift mechanism after a while.
This type of undergearing is great for moving heavy loads, but less so for freeway cruising, where the engine would approach the 4000 r/min mark just by keeping up with highway traffic. It follows that a JMC Carrying would be better-suited to intra-urban deliveries or low-speed work, rather than long-haul trips.
Another consequence of the short gearing is amazing noise levels: should a Carrying venture onto the freeway, the aural assault from the hard-working diesel engine under the seat, along with copious amounts of wind- and tyre roar, will quickly motivate anyone but a seriously hearing-impaired driver to find an alternative route with lower speed limits.
But it's really for carrying.
These points about compromised cruising ability matter little to this type of vehicle, though. It's meant to carry large loads, economically and reliably. Reliability should be a given, thanks to that proven engine, and the carrying capacity is also entirely up to standard. There's a wide loadbed with side panels which drop down to an almost-vertical level, giving really easy access to the loading platform.
Economy is also a strong suit. Because this isn't a highly-stressed powertrain, it will likely give many years of dependable service. And even more importantly, it will do so without using vast amounts of fuel: our test unit returned an easy 8 litres per 100 km over the course of a week's driving, in spite of being used mainly on short trips and carrying loads which filled up that capacious load bay. You won't get where you're going very quickly, but it will move your freight without breaking the bank, so your fleet manager will love it.
There's something to be said for a simple, honest load-carrier. Yes, the cabin trim quality isn't anywhere near the standard you'd see in the more-expensive alternatives, but the air-con blows cold air, the electric windows (as featured on the “Lux” variant) are quick to wind up or down, and the seats and ride quality aren't any less comfortable than you'd find in any other small cab-over-engine truck. In the end you get what you pay for, and at its price point (R276 990 as tested), there are very few alternatives with a similar blend of attributes. Most importantly, there's a sense of unburstable durability to the somewhat dated drivetrain, and that makes for a solid, high-value buying proposition.