Car reviews - Nissan - Navara - N-Trek
Tougher exterior styling, interesting interior trims, smartphone mirroring and digital speedo – at last, more-than-acceptable unladen ride on sealed roads
Room for improvement
The wait for autonomous emergency braking still isn’t over, frustrating engine-transmission combination, exaggerated body roll, slow and heavy steering
Nissan’s Navara steps up with new N-Trek flagship but still has lots of room to grow
7 Aug 2019
EVER since the D23 Navara entered the market in 2015, Nissan Australia has repeatedly been asked the same question: When will a Ford Ranger Wildtrak – and later Raptor – competitor be introduced?
After four long years, we finally have the answer to the first part of that question: The N-Trek. Much like the Wildtrak, it charges a small premium for equipment and accessories upgrades that up the visual ante.
So, a new question begs: Is the N-Trek another case of style over substance, or is it the perfect precursor to Navara’s true performance and/or off-road flagship? We took it to the Sunshine Coast for a weekend away to find out.
It doesn’t take a genius to work how important the Navara ute is for Nissan Australia. After all, it accounts for about 30 per cent of its sales. Only the X-Trail mid-size SUV finds more homes for the Japanese brand.
Needless to say, when a new full-time Navara grade is introduced, it’s a big deal. Particularly this time around, because it’s the range’s new flagship to boot. Say hello to the N-Trek.
The formula that the N-Trek follows is hardly new, with the Ford Ranger Wildtrak proving that private buyers have a strong appetite for visually enhanced dual-cab utes that can be used for both work and play.
The fact that Nissan Australia opted for a blacked-out visual package is hardly surprising given it has had a lot of success with similarly styled special-edition Navaras in recent times.
In this case, the N-Trek features tough black treatments for its LED headlight bezels, front foglight surrounds, grille, 18-inch alloy wheels, fender flares, side decals, doorhandles, roof rails and alloy sports bar.
The N-Trek’s lower front fascia, side steps and side-mirror covers also go dark but further add a contrasting orange accent line that introduces a welcome pop of colour.
And in case you forget why you paid the extra $3400 over Navara’s previous flagship grade, the ST-X, there’s an ‘N Trek’ badge on the tailgate. Simply put, this all makes for the best expression of the D23 Navara yet.
However, our favourite upgrades are found inside the N-Trek, where those subtle orange touches found externally are much more pronounced.
For example, leather-accented upholstery remains a $1500 option on the ST-X but is standard on the N-Trek, which also boasts fantastic orange fabric inserts for the seat coverings.
Alongside the orange stitching found on the front door armrests, steering wheel and centre armrest, this change really brightens up Navara’s otherwise dark cabin.
The N-Trek also ushers in heated front seats and eight-way power adjustment (including lumbar) for the driver’s pew, but strangely the ST-X’s optional sunroof ($1000) cannot be added into the mix. We don’t care for it, but some buyers out there certainly will.
Speaking of the cabin, the N-Trek serves as our first taste of the D23 Navara’s Series 4 update. While it wasn’t as comprehensive as the Series III upgrades, its changes are almost as significant…
The D23 Navara finally has a competitive infotainment system! Rejoice. Projected onto a new touchscreen that in most cases is an inch larger in diameter, at 8.0 inches, the new Alliance In-Vehicle Infotainment (AIVI) represents a massive improvement.
Is it a class-leading effort? We’re afraid not, but it’s chalk and cheese when you compare it to the old set-up that was disappointing in nearly all regards.
And if you’re not impressed by AIVI’s expanded functionality, contemporary graphics and excellent TomTom satellite navigation, you can plug in a USB-A cable and use Apple CarPlay or Android Auto instead. Yes, Navara finally supports smartphone mirroring!
Even though it was introduced a year ago, it would be remiss of us to not mention Navara’s new instrument cluster. The tachometer and speedometer have been cleaned up and the multi-function display now has a digital speed readout. Another example of overdue but welcome.
However, while all of these upgrades have created a much more attractive Navara, there remains a key area where it is starting to seriously lag behind its rivals: Advanced driver-assist systems.
A quick Google search will show that autonomous emergency braking and other active safety features are available in the Euro-spec D23 Navara, but the Thai-built version sold here continues to go without.
Nissan Australia says it plans to rectify this issue as soon as possible, so it’s likely that buyers won’t have to wait much longer, but some will shun Navara in the meantime, especially fleets that are increasingly prioritising such technologies.
In all other regards, it is business as usual for the D23 Navara, even in N-Trek form. And that’s not bad thing considering how much of an improvement the preceding Series III model was.
Unladen ride quality is more than acceptable on sealed roads, with the coil-sprung rear end resisting the temptation to bounce around when coming into contact with speed bumps and the like – a feat several key rivals cannot be pull off.
That said, attack corners at speed and Navara will protest when weight is suddenly transferred from side to side. While it does lean in hard into corners, it does so in a controlled if not comfortable manner.
A lot of this has to do with the inescapable fact that Navara is a large vehicle. It might not feel so on long highway runs, but when speed is reduced, its size is exposed, especially in tighter spaces like carparks.
This issue is exacerbated by its steering that is a touch too heavy and a tad too slow. It’s certainly not at the back of the pack, but it’s not making matters easy, either.
As such, Navara isn’t the most dynamic vehicle, but no-one really expects it to be. Even so, its chassis is rather communicative, although its steering can feel a bit numb.
Performance-wise, the N-Trek tested here is motivated by a familiar 2.3-litre twin-turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine that develops 140kW of power at 3750rpm and 450Nm of torque from 1500-2500rpm.
Mated to a part-time four-wheel-drive system and a six-speed manual or a seven-speed torque-converter automatic transmission, the N-Trek serves up leisurely acceleration. It gets the job done thanks to its strong pulling power above idle, but it sure as hell isn’t brisk.
Nonetheless, our biggest gripe with the engine is the disruptive clatter it produces when engine speeds exceed about 2500rpm. Unfortunately, it has the dubious honour of being one of the loudest and harshest-sounding diesel units in utes today.
This issue is made worse by the two-pedal set-up we tested, which is a little too responsive to moderate throttle inputs. While we would usually welcome confident downshifts, in this case they unnecessarily move the engine out of its peak torque band and bring the noise.
Either way, gear changes are pleasingly smooth… but that might just be because they are slow to begin with. Shifting across to manual and taking matters into your hands doesn’t really improve matters.
For reference, our fuel consumption after 450km of driving (heavily skewed towards highway driving over city commutes) was 7.9 litres per 100 kilometres, which is a decent result.
Make no mistake, the N-Trek is a worthy rival for the hot-selling Wildtrak, but it’s not the mechanically upgraded Raptor competitor a lot of us were waiting for.
Not to worry, though, as it’s hopefully only a matter of time until that Navara becomes a reality. Four years on from the D23’s launch, it’s one down, one to go.
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Model release date: 1 August 2019
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