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Off-road test: BRV S89-M3 Sport

23 July 2019

So you need a workhorse bakkie, one that can take some punches, carry a heavy load and make your buddies go green with small bakkie-envy.

That new single cab 4×4 at the local bakkie dealership with the skinny tyres and plenty of Tupperware just won’t do. You need a BRV S89-M3 Sport… a bakkie born and bred in Bloemfontein.

It’s made in a glorified shed. In Bloemfontein. In the Free State. And it looks as if it could very well belong on a Hollywood film set, with a guy called Arnold Schwarzenegger behind the wheel. Or Sylvester Stallone. Or Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. But no Ed Sheeran. Or Danny DeVito. And definitely no Woody Allen.

The company is called Brandt Radical Vehicle, or BRV. And the bakkie is the shed made BRV S89-M3 Sport, featuring a 2.8-litre Cummins turbodiesel engine, Dana axles, 35-inch wheels and body panels made from 1.6mm steel. Want airbags and ABS? Shame. You can get those in that Tupperware bakkie at the local dealership.

The Brandt family are following in the footsteps of their father, Antonie, who previously built more than 400 DTV roadrunner offroaders, so they certainly have the experience when it comes to building something in a large shed. Son, Stian, who designed the BRV from the ground up, has set up the current operation and leads a large staff complement in the manufacturing of these unique vehicles.

BRV also reckoned all the big manufacturers were going softer and softer with their bakkies, and saw the need for a durable, no-nonsense workhorse. For a hard-working workhorse, it is hip to be square, literally. They don’t require fancy, swooping lines; they need to be practical, robust and hardy.

BRV decided that square doesn’t have to be boring, and literally took a set of 35-inch wheels, and designed this macho-looking vehicle (in proportion) from there up. Make no mistake: the BRV will make anyone look twice when it appears in your rearview mirror. Even the taxi drivers. The angular styling and aggressive front face are gloriously menacing. “Our aim is to build a vehicle that offers ruggedness, reliability and low-maintenance costs,” said Gerrit Brandt.

The top of the range model is badged the BRV S89-M3 Sport and is available in 4×4 and 4×2 versions (the 4×2 version is pictured here). The BRV comprises a monocoque body and chassis with the body manufactured from 1.6mm steel panels that include an integrated roll cage. A benefit of this roll cage – apart from the fact that it will keep the occupants safe should the vehicle end up on its roof – is that the roof rack is actually built into the vehicle. The roof has been rubberised in the same way as the load bin so that goods can be loaded straight onto the roof and secured via the adjacent rails. So 1.6mm steel body panels and roll cages… this bakkie must be super heavy, right? Not so much.

It apparently tips the scale at 2.2-tons – which is just 100kg more than a Toyota Hilux or Isuzu D-Max double cab 4×4. The generous ground clearance and large volume tyres mean the BRV handles dirt roads better than any other standard workhorse on the market. On the tar, the level of refinement is on par with any other workhorse. Yes, there is some road noise from those 35×12.5 R17 Kumho Road Venture mud terrains but that’s expected from mud terrains.

The suspension utilises a bespoke design: a leading arm set-up of BRV’s own design keeps things under control upfront. Damping is via coilover shocks, eliminating the need for torsion bars or stabilisers. At the rear, a fixed axle with A-frame trailing arms is utilised. The suspension uses no bushes, instead it is installed using sealed taper bearings for smooth operation. Under the bonnet is a Cummins 2.8-litre turbodiesel engine capable of 120kW at 3 600r/min and 360Nm at 1 800r/min.

At the moment, the engine is an off-the-shelf unit but BRV is talking to the Cummins engineers about the development of the same engine to its specific needs and intended application.

A slick-shifting five-speed ISF gearbox transfers power to the rear wheels via a Gearmax differential, known commonly as a Dana diff. The cabin has been designed with South Africans in mind and is extremely roomy, both in the leg- and headroom areas. Behind the seats of the extended cab is a large space, perfect for the safe transportation of luggage and tools. Creature comforts include air-conditioning, a heater, 12V power socket and an infotainment system that incorporates navigation, rear PDC and a four-speaker sound system.

The load box measures 2 000mm x 1 370mm x 580mm and has a one-ton carrying capacity. Building your own vehicle is one thing, getting it homologated is a whole other story. The current state of the South African Bureau of Standards does not help either (it’s a bit of a shambles, we’ve heard from several industry insiders – Ed). The family has been busy with the homologation process for almost four years now and has enlisted the services of independent testers who put the vehicle through its paces at the Gerotek testing facility, checking aspects like noise levels, braking and the mounting of safety belts before submitting the stacks of paperwork to the relevant authorities.

Fortunately, single cab and extended cab vehicles fall into a category that does not require crash-testing, making the process slightly easier. There is light at the end of the tunnel: the testing is in its final phases, with retail sales expected to commence from the end of July. Building and homologating a vehicle locally is no small feat and something very few, if anyone have got right in recent times.

The factory in Bloemfontein currently has the capacity to build five vehicles a month and can expand to manufacture 100 a month as demand increases. BRV sees itself as an original equipment manufacturer (OEM). This is not a parts bin special; this vehicle is designed and built from scratch in the factory in Bloemfontein.

Even though the model we tested was the 4×2, it handled the 4×4 course at ADA with ease. The 35-inch Kumho muds provided plenty of grip while the rear differential lock came to the party in the more tricky bits. What about services then? They can be done at any Cummins dealer. Alternatively, BRV will send a technician to the owner to take care of any maintenance. BRV strives to provide customers with a vehicle that is perfect for their needs and in a bespoke way; there are approximately 40 variations of this model available. If you’re looking for a vehicle that is one up from that white Japanese single cab workhorse that litters the parking lots outside the co-op, but that can still do the work and be maintained with basic tools and parts, the BRV is certainly worth a second look. After a quick spin with Gerrit in the bakkie built in a shed in Bloemfontein, we could hardly find fault. There’s enough power.

The gearbox works perfectly. The ride is good. The cabin has more than enough space, luxury and refinement. There’s even leather seats. Sure, there are no airbags and ABS, but hey, every sport has its injuries. The best part for us is the way it looks. Because it really looks damn good, like the lovechild of a Land Rover Defender and a Mercedes Gelandewagen, that’s gone to the gym some.

It’s not perfect, no. The snorkel could possibly double up as a drainpipe. And there are some minor styling details that could be improved. But if all goes according to plan, we reckon BRV will soon have to upgrade its glorified shed to a large manufacturing plant. Roll on July. Arnold, Sylvester and The Rock are already in line for a new BRV. And we’re not far behind.

Engine: Four-cylinder turbodiesel

Displacement: 2 800cc Power: 120kW @ 3 600r/min Torque: 360Nm @ 1 800r/min

Transmission: Five-speed manual

Driven wheels: Rear-wheel drive

Driving aids: Differential lock for rear axle

Ground clearance (claimed): 325mm

Fuel tank capacity: 80 litres

Price: R431 250

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