A NISSAN Navara that rides more like a car than a trade ute promises class-leading fuel economy and features.
WHAT IS IT
The NP300 Nissan Navara is the latest offering in more than 80 years of ute manufacturing from Nissan and Datsun. It brings more to the table for family and recreational users as well as tradies.
WHY WE’RE TESTING IT
The NP300 Navara is the first vehicle in this class to offer a coil-sprung rear suspension set-up. In a workhorse segment where old school leaf springs are the usual fare, the Navara’s rear suspension is an indication of the changing face of the ute buyer offering more passenger car-like ride and handling characteristics.
Combine this with a new twin-turbocharged diesel engine that offers 450Nm or torque and class leading 6.5L/100km (manual) fuel use and it’s a convincing package.
The new Navara isn’t a game changer in the ever-competitive ute segment however. It is a better vehicle all round than the two Navara models it replaces but it hasn’t made the great leap forward in terms of size and road manners that competitors like the Volkswagen Amarok and the Ford Ranger/Mazda BT-50 cousins have in recent years.
With updates to the Ranger/BT-50 coming soon, a new Mitsubishi Triton just delivered and a new model of the sales-leading Toyota Hilux due in October, the Navara will have its work cut out for it to maintain its popularity.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
A better ute from Nissan but no game changer.
Plus: Strong, torquey engine; rear suspension stability on rough roads; fuel economy
Minus: Lacks latest safety tech: spongy steering feel of 4x4; limited range for now
THE WHEELS REVIEW
THE D23 series NP300 Nissan Navara replaces both the current D40 and well-aged D22 utes from Nissan, and when the full range arrives in September there will be some 27 different variants available. For now, buyers will have to be content with just 14 models – four 4x2 and three 4x4; all dual-cab utes with pick-up style rear tubs – with six-speed manual or seven-speed automatic transmissions. Models to come will include single- and king-cab variants, as well as a cab-chassis to take a tray on the back.
All dual-cab Navaras feature the new coil-sprung live rear axle as these are the vehicles that are becoming increasingly popular, not just among tradies and farmers, but families and recreational 4x4 enthusiasts as well. The single and king-cab models will retain leaf springs which are standard fare for load haulers.
The list of specifications and features are also indicative of the changing use of utes. Power adjustable, heated leather seats, dual-zone climate control, satellite navigation, and USB ports are all included in the top-spec ST-X grade 4x4 we are driving here. Five-star safety ratings are also de-rigueur in this class and Nissan Australia is hoping for the full rating when the Navara is tested by ANCAP, although the omission of a head rest in the centre rear seat could count against it.
Standard safety kit includes seven airbags, a reversing camera (ST and ST-X only) anti-lock brakes, electronic stability and traction control and brake assist. Missing are some of the latest safety technologies that, while yet to appear in the ute class, are expected on other new models before year’s end. Features such as autonomous emergency braking, emergency stop warning and lane departure warning are not offered at all on Navara.
Comfort and convenience features make the cabin of this new Navara a much nicer place to be than inside the utes of yore. The seating position is comfortable even though the steering column is not adjustable for reach, and thanks largely to the rear coils, the general ride and refinement are more passenger car-like than in the past.
There’s nothing lacking in the performance, either, with the twin-turbocharged diesel engine delivering its torque in droves from low in the rev range up to redline, where it is a bit noisy and harsh in the upper reaches. The seven-speed auto transmission is smooth and effortless in general driving but it became fussed when pushed on hilly, twisting roads where the manual shifting function gives more control.
The 120kW/403Nm, single turbocharger version of the same 2.3-litre diesel engine proved up to the job as well when sampled in the six-speed manual base-spec RX Navara. If anything, it felt as punchy as its twin-turbo counterpart, although that could have more to do with the manual gearbox. Both the clutch action and shift quality of the manual car are comfortable but certainly not inspired or sporting.
Composure of the coil sprung rear suspension became evident driving on corrugated outback gravel roads, where conventional leaf springs would be prone to axle hop and skip. The Navara remained controlled and relatively smooth here. A further positive of this configuration is that is doesn’t affect the load and towing capacities which, on this ST-X model, are 930kg and 3500kg.
With those load-lugging abilities, the Navara will remain a good choice for both work and play and it’s certainly a step up from the previous models from Nissan. It might not be the biggest or most powerful ute in the class but it’s a price competitive segment and Nissan has positioned the NP300 well to keep it as one of the better sellers in the booming class.
Model: Nissan Navara ST-X 4x4
Engine: 2298cc 4cyl, dohc, turbo diesel
Max power: 140kW @ 3750rpm
Max torque: 450Nm @ 1500-2500rpm
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 7.0L/100km ADR combined
Price: $54,490 (MSRP of ST-X automatic)
On sale: Now
Click here to read the full range review of the Nissan Navara