THE NAMES, and even the brands, may have changed over time, but there have been Datsun or Nissan small trucks produced almost continuously since 1934.
That’s the same year Ford Australia released the world’s first coupe-utility, by the way, highlighting a breadth of experience that has moulded Nissan’s reputation for outstanding reliability and durability.
Opinion: The thrills of work in progress
Nothing has changed with Navara, Nissan’s 12th generation ute, and donor vehicle for the Mercedes X-Class and (imminent) Renault Alaskan. That said, today’s D23 (released in 2015) has failed to capitalise on the critical and commercial success that its chunkier D40 predecessor enjoyed, prompting a worried Nissan to fettle the steering and suspension (yet again) for the 2018 Series III.
With all this in mind, for anybody seeking peace of mind in a strong, sturdy, spacious and inviting on-road dual-cab that’s also a competent and capable off-roader, the STX 4x4 should soar.
From the showroom floor, things certainly do look up, beginning with the still-handsome design. The doors open wide for easy access, revealing a roomy and very car-like cabin with attractive instruments (and a digital speedo from June onwards), an intuitive central touchscreen bringing an excellent bird’s-eye-view camera, simple and effective climate controls, and a decent driving position; all could be out of an X-Trail.
Yet Nissan’s SUV know-how is also obvious in the sheer practicality of the thing, be it the plentiful storage, pull-out cupholders, rear-seat air vent fitment, hardy (yet not cheapo) upholstery and a powered sliding pane in the rear screen.
Plus, the continuing 140kW/450Nm 2.3-litre four-cylinder twin-turbo diesel is more than up to the job. Reasonably quiet, it steps off strongly (aided by the optional, slick, seven-speed torque-converter auto) and revs freely, proving surprisingly responsive on the fly – its 9.7sec 0-100km/h and 7.0sec from 80-120km/h results are top-three here, embarrassing the larger-donked Ranger and Hilux, while returning similar (though middling at best) fuel consumption figures. Additionally, the Nissan feels agreeably light around town, backed up by a comfy ride.
Spend more time in the Navara, however, and the initial gloss fades. Disappointingly, much of that has to do with the suspension, despite Nissan’s latest mods. While pleasingly soft (and hushed) at low speeds or on smooth roads, the ride quickly deteriorates on lumpy surfaces, transmitting bumps and thumps with depressing consistency.
This in turn promotes a tiresome lateral body movement and even occasional chassis shimmying, which, in concert with the vertical pitching, makes for one of the worst-riding utes of the group. If we didn’t know there were coils out back we’d have assumed the Navara was just another rudimentary leaf-sprung pick-up.
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Exacerbating this are flat and shapeless seats, providing less support than you need in a vehicle with excessive body movement, and steering that feels lifeless at speed. The rear-seat backrest, meanwhile, is fixed and there is no second-row centre armrest, USB/charge outlets or beverage holders.
Which leads to a vexing value equation. Against the Mercedes, the Navara ST-X may be $3300 cheaper, but it lacks the German’s AEB and rear disc brakes, as well as its far more settled ride and quieter cabin. The price gap is way too close for comfort. At $55K, the Nissan ain’t cheap.
Like all current-gen Navara iterations, the Series III fails to deliver on its promising spec, with much of the competition now forging ahead. After 85 years of ups and downs, Nissan’s venerable offering is currently treading water. A big rethink is in order.
Engine 2298cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, TTD
Power 140kW @ 3750rpm
Torque 450Nm @ 1500-2500rpm
Transmission 7-speed automatic
Dimensions (L/W/H/W-B) 5255/1850/1855/3150mm
Tray capacity 931kg
Braked towing capacity 3500kg
Unbraked towing capacity 750kg
Ground clearance 228mm
Tyres Toyo A25 Open Country 255/60R18 108H
Test fuel average 11.0L/100km