First ride: 2014 Nagawa XFR in the UAE
When it comes to cars, how do you turn more heads than a Bugatti Veyron with only a Dhs 25,000 budget? The Nagawa XFR is the easy answer, and yes, that’s what it costs.
Now mind you, the Nagawa XFR isn’t a rival to the Hayabusa-powered 1200cc T-Rex that costs 10 times as much. Designed in Japan and built in China, this little 3-wheeler is motivated by a “Zongshen” 250cc 4-stroke motorcycle engine with 1 cylinder, making 16 hp at 7500 rpm and 17 Nm of torque. Yep, double-digit power figures.
That may seem severely underpowered for a “car”, but it weighs in at only 250 kg. There are some humans who weigh more than that.
The XFR also comes with a sequential 4-speed manual transmission, complete with 3 pedals, sending power to the single chain-driven rear wheel. That wide rear tyre is 270/30 in size, while the fronts are 185/30, all on 14-inch rims. Within those wheels are cross-drilled rotors for the brakes.
Calling it a car is also a stretch, as it could easily be called a motorcycle as well, depending on the rules of your country. Holding it all together is a rigid tubular steel chassis, with a built-in rollcage that isn’t really going to protect your head, but it does provide a place to attach the four-point safety harnesses.
The body seems to be made up of fragile fibreglass shells. Everything needed to be road-legal is there, including high/low beam headlights, tail lamps and indicators.
Slipping into the driver’s seat is a bit of a struggle, kind of like getting into a single-seater racecar, but once strapped in, you’re greeted by a simple racing steering wheel and no real semblance of a dashboard. Behind the wheel is a digital box showing speed/rev/trip readouts. Mounted where the dash should be is an aftermarket stereo deck with built-in speakers, and below that is a control panel of various buttons and warning lights. There’s even a horn there somewhere.
Start-up is loud and throaty, giving no indication that it’s actually running on a scooter-grade motor. If you’ve never driven a racecar or a motorcycle, you’ll never move beyond this stage. That’s because you cannot drive it like a regular car. If you try to balance the clutch at 1000 rpm and try to move off, all you’ll do is keep stalling. Rev it up till your ears hurt, and it’ll move off smoothly, without the sudden jump you might’ve been expecting since there’s no real torque to do that.
It is, to put it simply, nerve-wracking to drive it on public roads, where even a stupid Yaris can mow you down. You sit 100mm off the ground, and you’ll scrape your hands on the tarmac if you relax too much. Also, don’t expect to have much of a conversation with your passenger, who’s sitting practically an inch from you. All the wind, road and engine noise makes sure you don’t.
It’s like a go-kart for the road, only with the added tension of life-sized traffic. You’ll be thrilled, frightened and laughing your head off all at the same time.
It’s hard to judge how quickly we were actually accelerating, because it felt like we were doing the speed of sound the entire time. In reality, it tops out anywhere from 120 kph to 140 kph, depending on the number of passengers as well as their weight!
Most of our drive-time was actually ride-time for observation, since it takes a good bit of familiarisation to pilot this thing. Pulling out onto a single-lane two-way road was scary enough, and even our experienced chaperone, Alaa from the local distributor, said he won’t take it onto the major highways where big trucks roam.
The ride itself is a little bit on the jittery side, but with all your other senses being bombarded, you won’t care about comfort. It stays relatively flat though, even at speed, and even in the corners when driven sanely.
There’s obviously no power steering. The gearbox is finicky, using a simple pull-push motion to change gears sequentially, and it’s a bit tough to get it into reverse. Play them right and you’ll probably see amazing fuel economy, maybe even under 3 litres/100 km.
There’s a bit of a conundrum on whether the XFR can be registered as a car or as a motorcycle. The rules vary from city to city, let alone country to country. In Dubai, you can possibly register it as a car, depending on the discretion of the registration centre, but you might get pulled over by the police for driving it without a motorcycle licence and a helmet, again depending on the discretion of the officer. All this will be cleared up eventually as the distributor is in talks with the RTA.
Even we’re not sure exactly what it is. The Nagawa XFR is sold by an outfit called Custom Bikes in Dubai, and the “car” can apparently be easily maintained by any motorcycle specialist. All we know is, if you have enough hair on your chest, you can pick up one of these pretty cheap and have the time of your life, losing the hair on your head in the process. We thought our Honda S2000 was hardcore. The XFR is on a different plane entirely.
Photos by Mashfique Hussain Chowdhury, Marouf Hussain and Rahul Jones.