With the exception of a small community of doomsday preppers who have already sealed themselves in bunkers under the desert, it is impossible to ignore the rise in popularity of the dual-cab ute. And that’s a shame because, ironically, there’s a thriving segment at the pointy end of the one-tonne market that would really appeal to people who believe Armageddon is upon us.
The highly accomplished Ford Ranger Raptor took one-tonne toughness and off-the-shelf all-terrain ability to a new level and, despite a hefty asking price, people have been flocking to its combination of off-road athleticism gruff looks.
A handful of rivals have responded with toughened versions of more prosaic model lines including Toyota’s Hilux Rugged X and the HSV Sportscat but nothing has yet challenged Ford’s hulk and won.
And now it’s Nissan’s turn. It might look like another lamb to the slaughter, but the new range-topping Navara goes further than the hopefuls before it, which did little more than add a bit of show and not much go.
For a start, Nissan Australia recruited automotive engineering authority Premcar – the mob that created the Ford Falcon Holy Grail – to craft a Navara specifically for Australian tastes. The result is a ute that you can’t buy anywhere else in the world, but that might change now Nissan global has sampled the results.
Oh and then there’s the name. Make no mistake on this Aussie-fettled off-roader’s intent because it’s called the Warrior. Based on the Navara N-Trek, the Warrior sits at the top of the pack as the new halo of the range and an ultra-sharp price of $62,990 driveaway (or $65,490 for an auto) is just the start of a compelling package. We sampled the new Navara N-Trek Warrior in Victoria’s spectacular high country to see how it establishes its position in the emerging premium dual-cab ute arena.
POWERTRAIN AND PERFORMANCE
What hasn’t changed is probably the best place to start with the Warrior and that includes its engine. It’s business as usual for the 2.3-litre twin-turbocharged four-cylinder diesel that drives the rest of the dual-cab Navara range (with the exception of the entry SL). That means 140kW and a respectable 450Nm sent to the dirt via a seven-speed automatic transmission or six-speed manual – also unchanged.
There’s good urgency off the mark and the four-pot is responsive in gears thanks to its sophisticated double-turbo plumbing, but it can feel lacking in outright power for road duties. Happily though, the engine and gearbox combine beautifully for off-road yakka with the linear-revving characteristics and solid torque throughout making so much more sense when the trail turns tricky.
It’s also frugal and seems happiest working hard. There are those who argue unnecessary complication of twin-turbos could potentially jeopardise reliability when you need it most, but you could counter-argue running out of fuel is more likely to leave you stuck outback.
ON-ROAD RIDE AND HANDLING
Much fanfare was made of the Navara’s coil-sprung rear axle when the NP300 (D23) launched in 2015, but the relatively unusual suspension set up has never quite delivered on its promise of unrivalled dual-cab comfort. Even with a couple of revisions since.
However, Premcar’s intervention has brought a dramatic improvement. Larger dampers, softer springs and revised bump stops, in conjunction with a lift, have transformed the Navara’s on-road nature. We only had a few kilometres of sealed roads to appreciate it but, such is the improvement, that’s all it took.
The Warrior feels more stable at speed, turns in with more obedience and the tail is now not jarringly stiff. Unlike the Raptor, which underwent complete suspension component substitution over the rest of the range and sacrificed towing capacity, the Navara retains its 3500kg rating and only forfeits about 190kg in payload with the addition of its extra equipment.
32-inch Cooper Discoverer all-terrain tyres are also included as part of the Warrior transformation which promise good times off-road but are notably quiet and smooth on-road too. Perhaps the only disadvantage to the silent rubber is that it allows you to better hear the wind noise from the standard sports bar.
It’s not hard to see why Japanese engineers are closely examining the changes made on Australian soil by Australian developers, and the Warrior may subsequently conquer other markets outside its country of origin.
And the deft suspension tuning continues to deliver when the road comes to an end too. In standard trim, the Navara wasn’t exactly hobbled off-road, but the Warrior's set of modifications have made a huge difference here too. A 40mm total lift (the result of suspension mods combined with 32-inch Cooper rubber) has boosted ground clearance to 268mm with significant improvements to approach and departure angles - now 35-degrees and 29-degrees respectively.
The combination is a seriously well-rounded performer in the rough. Washed out drains that might have grazed the nose of some others are now a breeze and we only touched earth with the towbar once. Speaking of which, the towbar is part of the Warrior package and has been significantly reengineered to allow a fifth 17-inch wheel wearing the same Cooper tyre to come along for the ride in the standard position under the tub. That’s a big plus for those wishing to hit the high-country hard.
The bespoke alloy wheels are an inch smaller than the standard N-Trek rims, but that allows more tyre to be fitted for all the advantages associated with taller side-walls.
In previous tests we praised the Navara’s locking diff which maintains front axle traction control, and the feature works even better with the modified set up. Rather than pointing the Warrior at nasty moguls and pulling the trigger, a slower, careful approach is possible allowing more precise negotiation of the most challenging terrain. The overall sense of control and capability is notable and brings a renewed sense of confidence to push harder and go further.
The rear axle revisions have also imparted a ride that has boosted cabin comfort for occupants. The onset of fatigue from long days away from sealed surfaces is delayed and our driver and one passenger arrived at camp feeling fresher than expected. We still needed a beer though.
Just as commendable as the Warrior’s tangible changes is the warranty that comes with it. Despite the significant mods, Nissan’s recently introduced five-year promise is honoured by the Warrior. Premcar’s engineering director explained that’s one reason the lift kit was capped at 40mm. If you see aftermarket options to boost your Navara to 50mm, expect the ball joints to over articulate and fail early, says Bernie Quinn. Everything that’s bolted to the Warrior however, is covered.
Taking out a roo isn’t. But at least the fully-integrated hoopless bull bar provides some protection from wayward marsupials. The feature is a standout adding a great purposeful front end aesthetic along with its extra light bar. The Warrior couldn’t be further from looking like a sticker pack or accessory program, it’s handsome with a solid stance and looks like a well-considered package – because it is.
CABIN AND EQUIPMENT
Aside from some orange highlights and embroidered headrests, there’s not a lot inside the Warrior to remind you that it’s quite special. In some other dual-cabs that might not be such a criticism but here was an opportunity for some of the less-inspiring Navara design to be redeemed - but was ignored.
Rear seat room is certainly adequate if your intention is as a family wagon, and comfort in all five spots is good - although a steering wheel that doesn’t adjust for arm reach is a reminder that the NP300 Navara is feeling its age. Inoffensive is probably the fairest way to describe its interior.
Without the significant advantage of a fully-engineered suspension set up including Fox dampers and a tailored chassis to accommodate it, it’s unlikely anything is going to match the unstoppable manners of the Ranger Raptor. And nor does the Navara N-Trek Warrior.
But neither does it have the eye-watering price that comes with a similarly extensive development program. And that’s where the Warrior really excels – in value. Costing just $6500 over the previous N-Trek flagship, the value of a locally developed machine that looks handsome without being ostentatious and genuinely delivers is simply undeniable.
While it doesn’t look like anything is going to defeat the mighty Raptor just yet, the N-Trek Warrior is a worthy adversary to its sibling the Wildtrak, as well as the equivalent Toyota Hilux Rugged X and HSV Sportscat. The Raptor might secure its reign through brute force, but the Warrior’s most potent weapon is the ability to fight fearlessly on the value front line.