YOU wouldn’t know from looking at it, but the Navara has just been updated.
It’s lost the NP300 badge and it’s copped a suspension tweak. A work-focused SL variant has also been added to the line-up and sits below the ST model.
The SL shuns the bling of higher-spec variants and offers a basic dual-cab on 16-inch steel wheels, yet still uses the higher output 140kW/450Nm twin-turbo incarnation of the 2.3-litre diesel donk – other work-spec Navara 4x4 models use a leaf spring rear and the 120kW/403Nm single turbo engine.
Dual-cab 4x4 payloads range from 941kg for auto ST-X models to 1147kg for manual RX models. Braked towing remains at 3500kg.
We took the newly sprung Nav for a run through the Snowy Mountains at the launch to see if it has benefited from all the fiddling underneath – the good news is, yes it has.
The Navara ST was loaded with 300kg, and we drove it towing around a tonne, as well as with an empty tub. Of course, these weights are nowhere near the claimed limits of the Nissan, but they provided an indication of the improvement.
The biggest improvement by far is the way the ute steers on the road. Front and rear shocks have been stiffened and, importantly, rebound dampening has been revised, resulting in a hell of a lot less wiggle and jiggle on the open road – the rear-end lateral kick of the previous state of tune has been tamed.
We didn’t do a great deal of off-road driving, but indications are that the improved on-road manners has resulted in less wheel articulation, so it doesn’t feel quite as surefooted in the dirt as it used to.
And, as per earlier drives, the Navara’s swooped-up front guards and low seating position still hinder visibility in the bush.
As before, the bi-turbo engine does a good job of feeding usable torque to the wheels without too much fuss, and the seven-speed auto is a slick, relatively intuitive unit.
My pick of the range is the new SL model. It forgoes the bling and offers a practical package that would make a good starting point as an off-road project. It also means you’re not paying for shiny bits that will end up either scratched or in the bin.
The updated Navara may not have shot to the top of the class, but it is much improved on the open road and a more appealing off-road option than before.
WHY THE CHANGE?
There was a lot riding on the 2015 arrival of the Nissan Navara NP300. In a year that saw most of the major players launch a new dual-cab workhorse, the Nissan stood apart with its much-touted coil-sprung rear end. A well-loved name in 4x4 circles as well as the commercial back blocks, many were expecting much of this new iteration of the Navara badge.
It was also common knowledge this ute would be the basis of not only Renault’s ute-based ambitions, but also the platform for Mercedes-Benz’s first foray into the 4x4 ute market.
Unfortunately, as time has shown, the Nissan’s coiled rear end was compromised. The NP300 didn’t handle or ride well when the tray was empty, and when loaded the tailgate had a tendency to plummet to the pavement. It was also launched on a platform of towing ability, and in the real world it didn’t deliver.
The rise of the ‘bloke’s SUV’ has seen increasing demand for these utes to be civilised enough to achieve second-car status with families. Some may have been more forgiving if the Navara was car-like on the road when empty, but trouble was it didn’t do empty or loaded very well.