Car reviews - Nissan - Navara
Strong styling, load-carrying capacity, new infotainment system, good equipment levels
Room for improvement
Hard-working engine, vague steering, bumpy unladen ride, higher entry point
Nissan makes minor but welcome changes to Navara pick-up in mid-life update
7 Mar 2021
SINCE it first arrived on Australian shores in 2015, Nissan’s current-generation D23 Navara has undergone a number of tweaks and minor updates, mainly around spec and its coil-sprung rear suspension.
However arguably the most heavily updated Navara yet arrives on local shores this month, marking the mid-life update for the Japanese pick-up.
With freshened styling, increased safety, a higher payload capacity and a revised line-up that removes the two entry-level variants and introduces a new flagship, Nissan is hoping to increase Navara sales post-update.
Does the refreshed Navara have what it takes to carve out a larger share in the popular pick-up segment?
First drive impressions
While previous Navara updates have centred around changes under the skin, this time around the brand has given the exterior a refresh across the range, most notably on the newly introduced Pro-4X variant.
The exterior changes have been for the better, with the new-look ‘Interlock’ grille replacing the old V-Motion grille, which stylistically brings the Navara into line with the larger, US-market Titan pick-up.
The new design gives the Navara a more impressive and imposing look from the front, which combines with the squared-off LED headlights to give it a more imposing on-road feel.
That impression is bolstered when paired with one of the new Nissan genuine accessory bullbars, which unlike other OEM bullbars, work with the contours of the car’s front end and integrates neatly around the grille.
Replacing the old Ranger Wildtrak-baiting N-Trek variant, the new Pro-4X grade goes a step further with its blacked-out elements, Pro-4X decals and contrast red accents, which makes the Navara one of the toughest-looking pick-ups on the market.
The only exterior element we dislike is the large, protruding wheelarches on higher-spec variants, which, unless the buyer chooses to install a two-inch lift and 33-inch tyres, makes the Navara look under-wheeled.
Moving inside the cabin, the design changes have been much less pronounced, with a largely unchanged interior save for the upgraded 8.0-inch infotainment system, which on the majority of variants is paired with a 7.0-inch instrument cluster display.
The new unit supports both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a feature that is fast becoming a must in all new-model releases.
Graphics and clarity are also more than good enough for a pick-up, with Nissan’s previously disappointing sat-nav system replaced with a far more aesthetically pleasing one.
Aside from the new infotainment system, the Navara’s interior is largely the same as before – with typical ute hallmarks like a spacious interior (particularly with headroom) and predominantly hard-wearing materials throughout the cabin.
We feel the Navara seats (most of our time was spent in the ST-X) could be more comfortable and tapered better, however expecting the utmost in seat comfort from a pick-up is ambitious.
Powertrain-wise, the updated Navara has remained unchanged, meaning the vast majority of variants are powered by the carry-over 2.3-litre twin-turbo-diesel four-cylinder engine, tuned to produce 140kW at 3750rpm and 450Nm from 1500-2500rpm, mated to either a six-speed manual or seven-speed automatic transmission.
Now a tried-and-true powertrain option, the twin-turbo unit works well under the bonnet of the Navara, providing ample power and a good dollop of torque in the mid-band.
At one stage our test vehicle was hooked up to a loaded trailer (1000kg+), something the force-fed 2.3-litre mill made relatively light work of that’s to that meaty low-end and mid-range.
While Nissan has made efforts to improve the noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) of the new Navara, the engine still proves to be a fairly loud diesel unit, being forced to rev hard when carrying an extra load.
While the Navara can be had with either a six-speed manual or seven-speed automatic transmission, we only sampled the seven-speed auto, which like the engine, has been carried over unchanged.
Overwhelmingly the more popular transmission choice, the seven-speed unit works well, shifting with a relatively smooth nature, holding gears when needed and keeping revs low during highway cruising.
Over our journey of mostly back-road and highway driving we averaged around nine litres of fuel per 100km, a consumption figure that was likely slightly flattered by the driving conditions.
One of the biggest changes to the new Navara was made with its strengthened rear axle, which has helped increase payload capacity for coil-sprung dual-cab variants to as much as 1200kg.
One of our test vehicles was fitted with around 380kg of weight in the tray, and we were pleased to see minimal sagging of the rear suspension with the new rear end able to handle loads well.
Out on the open road, the suspension tune is not immune to bouts of jittery bumpiness, but overall does a solid job of providing a stable and settled ride quality.
We would have liked to have seen a livelier steering tune, with greater feedback than the vague and indirect steering rack provided given its ever-increasing application as an everyday lifestyle vehicle.
Our drive route gave us few chances to test out the new Navara’s handling, made up predominantly of straight back road and highways.
However our past experience with the Nissan ute have its handling ability largely like most other pick-ups – middling at best, and more suited to low-speed manoeuvres.
Nissan hasn’t tried to reinvent the wheel with the new Navara, instead making small but meaningful improvements that help increase its appeal across a number of areas.
The new facelift creates a more tough and purposeful look, and its main functionality – as a workhorse – has been improved by increasing the load-carrying capacity.
A quieter engine and more direct steering feel would be welcome, however the update has done a fine job of positioning the brand for an increase in sales volume post-update.
Model release date: 1 March 2021
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