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[Datsun 1200 encyclopedia]

Datsun 1200 Road Test

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Category: Magazine Articles

Magazine article

5 Imported Subcompact Sedans

Road Tests of Fiat 124B - Toyota Corolla 1200 - Datsun 1200 - Volkswagen Beetle - Plymouth Cricket [British Hillman Avenger]

by Consumer Reports 1971 September



Consumer Reports is the monthly magazine for the non-profit organization Consumers Union of United States, Inc.

3716.jpgAlbum click to view


Not too many years ago, drivers of most subcompact cars accepted a hard ride, noisiness and sluggardly engine performance for the sake of low price and excellent fuel economy. The best of today's subcompacts ride better than those of old, are quieter and quite peppy, and are still relatively inexpensive to buy and sparing of fuel. CU has reported on 11 subcompacts this year and last. For this issue, we've added five more to the list: the Fiat 124B, the Toyota Corolla 1200, the Datsun 1200, the Volkswagen 111 (the basic Beetle) and the Plymouth Cricket.

Any prospective buyer of a subcompact must first consider the safety implications of very small cars. The cars in this month's test group range in weight from about 1600 pounds to a little over 2000 pounds. That's less than half the weight of a full-sized car. According to accident studies conducted by New York State and the University of North Carolina, among others, the smaller and lighter the car, the more likely its occupants are to be injured of killed in a crash. Also, because most small cars are about as high as large cars but not nearly as wide, they have a greater tendency to turn over. Although small-car fanciers often cite their car's maneuverability and small size as factors that help keep them out of accidents in the first place, the available statistics don't show any significant difference in the accident rates for small and large vehicles.

Statistically, a compact such as a Dodge Dart or a Chevrolet Nova would offer more protection in a crash than a subcompact. But again statistically, an intermediate would be even safer, and a full-sized car safer still. Followed to its logical conclusion, that sort of reasoning would put everyone behind the wheel of the biggest, heaviest vehicles Detroit produces. That's neither economically feasible nor ecologically desirable. We believe every buyer must draw up his own balance sheet, weighing the advantages of smallness (low price, low fuel costs, maneuverability, ease of parking) against the disadvantages, which include sacrifices in carrying capacity and comfort as well as greater risk of injury in a collision.

Datsun 1200

[Editor's note: shown here is the 1200 report. Not including text of the other four road test reports]

3047.jpgAlbum click to view
picture of Datsun 1200 2-dr sedan

The Japanese-made Datsun 1200 comes as a two-door sedan (which we tested for this report) and a two-door fastback coupe. The 1200 provided spritely acceleration from low speeds, nimble handling and excellent fuel economy. We rated it below the Corolla mainly because of its higher noise level.

The 72-cubic-inch Four performed far better than its small displacement would indicate. It started and ran exceptionally well in cold weather. And it knocked only slightly on its recommended 91-octane fuel. Teamed with its four-speed manual transmission, the engine allowed speeds higher than 70 mph in third gear -- handy for passing. But the gear change moved to easily into the reverse gate during quick shifts from second to third gear. According to a Datsun spokesman, an automatic transmission will be available in 1972 models; CU feels the engine should be able to handle it.

We judged the performance of the nonpower disc-front/drum-rear brakes good. Some CU engineers thought the brake pedal felt high and hard; under test, pedal efforts proved moderate-to-high. Stopping distances from 60 mpg were commendably short -- 160 feet with no wheel-locking and 140 feet with wheel-locking allowed. Fade resistance was fair-to-good, and recovery from fade was very quick.

The nonpower steering required moderate effort in parking, low-to-moderate effort once underway. During normal driving, the Datsun responded quickly and faily predictably to its steering. We noticed, though, that the car's front end felt feathery light and nervous on all but the smoothest roads. Crosswinds also pushed the Datsun off course. We judged the car's normal handling fair-to-good, overall.

At our relatively smooth test track, CU's engineers's were impressed by the Datsun's easy, crisp handling, good engine response and quick, predictable steering response. We judged the Datsun's emergency handling very good.

Whether lightly or fully loaded, the Datsun rode poorly. On secondary roads, with two adults aboard, the car jerked and snapped up and down and sometimes shifted quickly from side to side; its light-load ride was more punishing than the Corolla's. Stuffed with 650 pounds of people and ballast, the Datsun snapped less viciously. But large, sharp bumps caused the rear suspensions to reach the end of its travel with a slam. The Datsun's nylon-cord tires, like the Corolla's, flat-spotted overnight. Engine, drive-line and other assorted noises added up to a judgment of very noisy for the Datsun.

We judged the comfort of the Datsun's individual front bucket seats fair. Those seats were wide enough, and they gave good side support. But they felt too firm. Leg room to the accelerator was tight for tall drivers, and the brake and accelerator pedals were so close to the transmission tunnel that drivers with large feet sometimes got tangled. Long-legged drivers had to assume and arms-out driving position to reach the rather distant steering wheel.

We judged rear-seat comfort poor. Knee room was as skimpy as in the Corolla, and the wheel housings encroached on hip room. The seats were skimpily padded and gave weak support. Entry and exit to the rear seat were difficult.

The Datsun's plastic upholstery exuded a vile odor and an oily vapor that clouded the inside of the windows when the car sat in the sun with its windows closed. No optional upholstery is available.

Two pairs of identical knobs inhabit the instrument panel. The wiper/washer and the choke knobs are to the left of the steering column, the headlight and cigarette lighter knobs to the right. The unorthodox position of the headlight knob was especially hard to get used to. The heater couldn't hold the cold New England winter at bay, and the defroster wouldn't de-ice the right side of the windshield fully. A vent under the instrument panel and swing-out rear windows gave good fresh-air ventilation.

The three-point seat belts in the Datsun were similar to the Corolla's -- except that those in the Datsun were easy to adjust snugly across the hips. The Datsun's lap belt lacked a retractor such as the Corolla's; the belts usually landed in a heap on the car floor or hung out the door after they were unbuckled. And the shoulder belts were hard to adjust for lenght. A properly belted driver could reach all controls.

The outside of the Datsun is smooth and nonhostile, in CU's judgment. But the inside vent-window and rear side-window latches could gouge skulls in a crash. The fuel tank and lots of plumbing are in the trunk, unseparated from the passenger compartment by a firewall.

Routine service intervals for the Datsun, every 3000 miles or three months, include a minor tuneup. A major tuneup is required every 6000 miles. The warranty lasts 12 months or 12,000 miles.

Our Datsun arrived in rather sloppy condition; we counted 30 defects. The rear seat was not fully bolted in. The interior was poorly prepared. Wires and switches were loose. The engine oil drain plug was loose and leadking. The clutch had no free play and began to skip. A plastic line in the fuel system broke, spilling gas into the trunk. And a rear axle seal failed and soaked the right rear brake linings with oil.

No Frequency-of-Repair record has been established yet for the Datsun 1200.

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The Datsun's accelerator and brake pedals were close to the transmission tunnel; a wide foot could get hung up

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The trunk in the Datsun was average in size for a subcompact. It houses a lot of vulnerable fuel plumbing


Summing up the Subcompacts

This year and last, CU has tested well over half the subcompact cars -- imported and domestic -- available in this country. In January we reported on the Datsun 510, the Chevrolet Vega, the Toyota Corona, the Ford Pinto, the Volkswagen Super Beetle Model 113, and the American Motors Gremlin. And in July we reported on the Opel 1900 and the Peugeot 304.

Which of the subcompacts is best overall? Our vote goes to one reported on in June 1970: the Toyota Corona Mark II. The Mark II remains essentially unchanged this year. We suggest that anyone scouting the subcompact market look up that report and the January report on the Datsun 510. We would rank that Datsun a notch below the Mark II.

The Fiat 124B in our current test group comes in a close third. The Fiat rode about as well as the Datsun 510, and its noise level was lower. Good handling and braking were other important pluses. But the Fiat's treacherous headlight control is a serious drawback, CU believes.

Essentially tied for fourth place are the Chevrolet Vega (with three- or four-speed manual transmission), the Opel 1900 and the Toyota Corona. Of the six cars mentioned so far, all but the Vega have desirable three-speed automatic transmissions as options, and all have sufficient power to handle an automatic, in our opinion. The Vega has an inefficient two-speed automatic, which we consider less desirable. The Toyota Corolla 1200 ranks a touch lower, but it's priced lower too. The Corolla 1200 is certainly worth considering as cheap, in-town transportation, but it's probably too uncomfortable for much touring. The Plymouth Cricket just isn't worth considering without useful safety belts, in CU's view. If you can find one with belts you can live with, and if you've duly considered Chrysler's failure to support its past imports, the Cricket isn't a bad car.

We would rate the other cars tested these past two years lower in overall quality. They include the Ford Pinto, the Peugeot 304, the Datsun 1200, the two VW Beetles, the 111 and 113) and the AMC Gremlin. Of these, only the Pinto and the Gremlin would be desirable with an automatic transmission; the others either don't offer one or (because of their low-powered engines) shouldn't.

For next year, CU plans to test some subcompacts with automatic transmissions as well as more manual transmission versions. In the meantime, we expect few changes in next year's subcompacts except for recalibration of their engines to conform to stricter emission regulations. Cars go on sale with those changes -- especially the imports -- probably won't go on sale until next spring, so our present Ratings should remain applicable well into the 1972 model year.

Facts and Figures

MFR'S SUGGESTED RETAIL PRICEFiat 124BToyota Corolla 1200Datsun 1200Volkswagen Model 111Plymouth Cricket
except as noted, for 2-door sedan equipped with standard transmission and AM radio$2205 [A]$1183$1801$1979$2056 [B]
WHEELBASE (inches)9692919598
OVERALL LENGTH (inches)161158153160163
OVERALL WIDTH (inches)6459596163
ROAD CLEARANCE: no load (inches)6.26.9765.5
with maxium rated load (inches)
FRONT-SEAT SHOULDER ROOM (inches)52.549.5494752
MAXIMUM FRONT-SEAT LEG ROOM (inches)38.539394039.5
LUGGAGE CAPACITY (2-suiter + weekend cases)4+12+23+11+24+2
ADVERTISED FUEL-TANK CAPACITY (gallons)12.511.910.610.610.7
STEERING FACTOR: manual0.680.720.590.660.75
WEIGHT AND TIRESFiatCorollaDatsunVWCricket
CURB WEIGHT (pounds)20651773161318341955
PER CENT WEIGHT, front/rear53/4755/4554/4640/6055/45
TIRE SIZE155SR136.00-126.00-125.60-15155SR13
front tires+321+181+248-41 [C]+337
rear tires+314+41+114+242+68
DISPLACEMENT (cubic inches)8871729791
ON LEVEL ROAD 0-60 mph (seconds)14.519181920.5
1/4 mile from rest (seconds) and speed at end of 1/4 mile (mph)20/6922/6421.5/6622/6422/62
Passing: 45 to 65 mph (seconds)9.513.511.51513.5
RANGE OF AS MILEAGE TO BE EXPECTED IN NORMAL USE (mpg)19-3522-3623-4118-3218-29
LEVEL BRAKING FROM 60 MPH Minimum-distance controlled stop with no wheels locked (feet)160160160140160
Minimum-distance controlled stop with some or all wheels locked (feet) [D]160150140140130
FADE TEST: Pedal effort for intial 1/2-g stop (pounds)2055606020
Effort for 10th repeated stop (pounds)3080857535
[A] 4-door model; includes $3 for antifreeze.
[B] 4-door model; includes $80 for decor package that includes dual horns, glovebox light and lock, cigar lighter, gauges, rear armrests, carpeting, wheel covers, console and deluxe trim.
[C] At full-load inflation pressures the tire reserve capacity would be +169 front (normal inflation and full-load inflation pressures are the same for rear tires).
[D] Wheel-locking may provoke directional instability.

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