Price: $48,490 plus options and on-road costs
Engine/Trans: 140kW/450Nm 2.3-litre Turbo Diesel / 7-speed Automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 7.0 l/100km combined
Construction: Body on chassis
Suspension: Front – independent / Rear – Live axles with coil springs
Towing: 750kg unbraked / 3500kg braked
Remember the old saying that Australia is Kingswood country? Well, those days are over.
Australia is now dual-cab country.
After a little bit of prying, a sales manager at a local Ford dealership recently told us that without the Ranger, their business would be sunk. Toyota relies heavily on the HiLux for income and without the Colorado, Holden dealers would be carefully checking their figures.
Nissan’s launch of the new Navara couldn’t have come at a better time, then. Riding off the back of this paradigm shift in buying patterns, Nissan’s new dual-cab needs to be not just a whole lot better than its predecessor, but able to keep up with the current crop of utes.
So, how does it fit in with this highly competitive segment?
For the most part, pretty well. It certainly looks smart enough. The more angular, aggressive approach to the front end makes the previous generation D40 Navara look a bit dowdy, and with engine and interior changes to match, the car definitely has plenty of presence.
Thankfully, the interior is far removed from the old car, with a more angular approach which reflects the exterior styling. Gone is the curved bulkhead style of the dashboard, with a winged design that echoes the bonnet’s outer ridges.
Material quality has improved, though there’s still plenty of hard plastic around the place.
The steering wheel looks far more like that of a passenger car, while cupholders have been cleverly placed next to the air-con vents to keep your drink nice and cool.
The ST is well equipped with a five-inch centre display and a reasonable audio system, but you’ll need to stump up for the ST-X if you want the seven-inch display and sat nav.
Something that really frustrated me with the Navara was the extraordinarily strange way that Nissan has arranged the tether points used to fix a child seat in place. There are no Isofix connectors, and the anchor point behind where the child seat sits is offset.
The child seat’s straps have to pass through webbed loops next to the headrests and then down to the anchor point. Unlatching the seatback, flipping it forward and trying to tighten the strap sideways through the loop is incredibly frustrating. Once setup, most parents will be leaving the child seat in place permanently. It’s just too difficult to fit to consider swapping it in out of the Navara.
Thankfully their is plenty of space inside the Navara, with heaps of room up front and adequate legroom for rear passengers. The seatback is still fairly upright (as is the way with most dual cabs), but with enough width for three passengers, the Navara will take five people and their gear with no problems. Also nice is the sliding rear window, an idea pinched from the ML and MN Triton, which enables long items to be passed into the cabin.
The tray is practical and useable, with adjustable tie-down points but Nissan missed the opportunity to allow enough room for an Australian pallet to fit between the wheelarches.
You’d also think that Nissan would take the opportunity to catch up with its competition and ensure the engine is as smooth and punchy as possible. Unfortunately, it’s the least likable aspect of the Navara.
It’s not that the on-paper figures are bad; the 2.3-litre diesel uses two turbochargers to produce 140kW and 450Nm, which is enough to get it from 0-100kmh in a fraction over ten seconds. That makes it more powerful than the HiLux, Triton and Amarok, and not that far behind the five-pot Ranger and BT-50 twins. The towing capacity is now up to 3.5-tonnes as well.
The problem is the noise. Like the six-cylinder diesel in the ST-X 550, the particular four-cylinder is very rattly and becomes quite buzzy in the upper reaches of the rev range.
When driven leisurely, it’s not so bad, but it can’t hold a candle to the Amarok in terms of refinement, and even the Colorado is more pleasant experience.
The gearbox likes to hang onto the ratios for a bit longer than is necessary, exacerbating the noise from the engine. Some early shifting via manual control can help here, but it’s fair to say that the Navara doesn’t lead the class when it comes to engine refinement.
The heavy steering will also give you a work out, with plenty of lock required to get it to turn in. More annoying is how the wheels plastic centre flows down and overlaps the rim, meaning every time you turn and grab the bottom of the wheel you inadvertently beep other road users. It’s particularly embarrassing in carpark situations where plenty of wheeling is needed to get in and out of tight spaces.
On the positive side of the ledger, the Navara offers quite a reasonable ride. Thanks to it’s new rear multi-link coil spring arrangement (as opposed to leaf springs), the Navara offers a more car-like ride.
It settles into corners quite nicely and resists being bounced off-line by mid-corner bumps. It’s not a quantum leap over the leaf sprung competitors but it is an improvement of sorts.
On the road the Navara appears to be a mixed bag, so how does it perform off-road?
Well, the all-mode switch Nissan uses is at the base of the centre stack, so getting from rear-wheel-drive to all-wheel-drive is a two second process. Once engaged, the ST also offers an electronic diff lock, which helps in those situations where the traction control isn’t quite enough.
It acquits itself well in deep sand, as long as the tyres have been deflated and the ESC is off. Over rocks and deep ruts, its rear suspension needs to have a fraction more travel for it to best a HiLux, but there’s not much in it.
With the rear diff lock on, it doesn’t matter if one rear wheel hangs in the air, it still inches forward and when it lands it’s easy on the occupants.
The D23 Navara is certainly a very capable machine and with a two-inch lift and bigger tyres, would be a formidable weapon on boulder-strewn trails or through deep mud pans.
Though it doesn’t lead the pack in any one area, the Navara can sit comfortably amongst the current field of dual cabs. A buzzy engine and worries over reliability (a hangover from the D40) could prove a hurdle for some new 4X4 ute buyers, but its sharp looks, interior design off-road ability and space may be enough to win them over.