Today’s popular 4x4 dual-cabs make big claims when it comes to tow ratings and payloads, but are they really up to serious yakka?
We test the Nissan Navara to see how its GCM, GVM and Payload fare against other industry icons.
The Navara NP300, another new arrival in 2015, and commonly known as the D23, has replaced both the (two generations old) D22 and the more recent D40 in Nissan’s ute line-up.
Interestingly, the NP300 will also provide the basis for up-coming utes from Renault and Mercedes-Benz.
The Nissan stands out for a couple of reasons. Firstly, all NP300 dual-cab pick-ups come with coil springs at the rear, and it’s also the only ute on test to have two turbos rather than one. The sophisticated bi-turbo arrangement features smaller and larger turbos arranged sequentially on a 2.3-litre engine of Renault origins.
You can get a Navara dual-cab 4x4 with leaf springs at the rear but only in the base-spec RX cab-chassis, which comes with a single-turbo version (120kW) of the same 2.3-litre engine.
The Navara has adjustable tie-downs on the sides of the tub but the hook eyes need to be bigger to be truly useful. With the 800kg pallet in the back the Navara’s rear dropped by 100mm – more than any other ute tested bar the Triton.
Also like the Mitsubishi, the 800kg pallet caused problems for the Navara’s legal payload when the extra weight of the driver, observer and tow bar was taken into account. The lighter ST is okay, but with the heavier ST-X you’re technically 40kg over payload.
Underway with the 800kg on board and heading up the winding hill, chassis-wise the Navara didn’t feel great. Over the bumps it bottomed out frequently and the sway from the rear was far more of an issue than with the leaf-sprung vehicles. All in all it didn’t feel happy.
The better news is the engine, which dismissed the 800kg and goes on with the job in admirable fashion. It’s a bit noisier under load than you’d expect of a modern European diesel, which is a reminder that it was really destined for commercial-vehicle applications.
The Navara is also unusual in this company for its seven-speed automatic, which does most things well and enhances what the punchy engine has to offer. No auto downshifts, however, on the descent, which meant resorting to the selector’s tip-shift function during our test, given engine braking from this small diesel isn’t great.
The coil-sprung multi-link rear end was the subject of much speculation before we even got to the tow test, and our worst fears were confirmed: the Navara’s rear plummeted when we hooked up the 3500kg trailer.
Now for the good news: the bi-turbo 2.3-litre engine at the other end is a mill that does a lot with what it’s got. Sequential turbocharging kept the combustibles flowing at a decent rate, extracting plenty of power from the relatively small capacity and bestowing the Navara with the grunt to have a decent go. With seven speeds there was a lot of gear changing, but the auto still helped to get the most out of the engine.
As with most of the others, the gearbox needed to be manually shifted to stop running away on downhills, especially given the lack of engine braking from the smaller unit.
The chassis is another thing altogether. I don’t say this lightly, but this ute should not be rated to tow 3500kg. Under load the NP300 bump-steered like no other vehicle in this test. The nose pointed skywards and the rear end squirmed more than a politician during a travel-expense audit. I wouldn’t want to head to the local Bunnings like this.
The Navara’s hitch had a ball downforce rating of 300kg, less than the 10 per cent of load usually used as a yardstick for a towed 3500kg. Luckily, using a forklift and pallet as a counterweight meant we were able to move it around the get downforce and weight distribution to optimum levels. It would be hard to find a more balanced load to put behind a vehicle than the one we used!
Given the performance of the coils it would be interesting to test the leaf-sprung RX dual-cab cab-chassis, even if it does have a less powerful 2.3-litre single-turbo engine, to see if the leaves restore control. It’s also worth mentioning that the NP300 doesn’t feature trailer-sway control.
SPECS: NISSAN NAVARA NP300*
Engine 2.3-litre 4-cyl bi-turbo diesel
Max Power/Torque 140kW/450Nm
Gearbox seven-speed automatic
4X4 System dual-range part-time
Kerb Weight 1924kg to 1980kg
Payload 930kg to 986kg
Towing capacity 3500kg
Towball download 300kg
Fuel tank capacity 80L
ADR fuel claim 7.0L/100km
*4x4 bi-turbo dual-cab pick-up automatics only
NISSAN NAVARA NP300 PRICES*
* 4x4 bi-turbo dual-cab pick-up manuals only