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Car reviews - Nissan - Navara - NP300 range

Our Opinion

We like
Resolved and attractive design, pliable and comfortable ride
Room for improvement
On-road steering feel average at best, engine lacks punch up high, no reach adjustable steering

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Nissan logo29 May 2015

OUT of all of the 4x4 ute players, Nissan has taken the biggest step with its new contender – and in some ways, it’s also taking the biggest risk.

The company was roundly criticised by press and punters alike for changing the focus of its previous generation 4x4-slanted Pathfinder SUV towards the front-wheel-drive American-sourced version it sells today. Now, with the Navara, it’s asking its buying group the same question again.

The Navara, though, isn’t as far removed as the Pathy from the two models it replaces. A ladder chassis underpins a classic three-box design, while a diesel engine drives a 4x4 set-up that comes equipped with switchable low-range capability. What is new, though is the rear suspension layout.

Traditionally, the dual-cab utes that populate the category – including Toyota HiLux, Ford Ranger, Holden Colorado, Mazda BT-50, Isuzu D-Max and even the European-aligned Volkswagen Amarok – have been equipped with a leaf-sprung rear end. The system is cheap to make, has excellent load carrying ability and provides a stable towing platform. Its downside is a stiff ride and an unbalanced front-to-rear ride character that’s tough to tune out.

Nissan has gone down the path of a multiple-link rear suspension layout for its premium dual-cab 4x4 utes because it reasons that a coil-sprung rear end can provide a better ride than a leaf arrangement, while not compromising the payload capacity.

It adds to the platform’s complexity – particularly given that lower-end 4x2 Navaras will still run leaf springs – and ultimately adds to cost, but Nissan believes the advantages outweigh the negatives.

Also new for the Navara is a four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine, which is sourced from Renault’s commercial division. Codenamed YS23, it comes in two states of tune a single-turbo version for mid-range models, and a twin-turbo line-up that’s used in the top-spec ST-X GoAuto tested at the recent Australian launch.

It’s backed by a six-speed manual gearbox, or by an optional $2500 seven-speed auto that’s poached from the Nissan Patrol.

Out in the suburbs with the new Navara, the five-link rear end makes its presence felt instantly, imparting a noticeably softer, more balanced and more pliant ride than that of similar products in the category.

Some may find the ride a bit too soft with insufficient roll control, while others may remark on the relative lack of rebound control making for an unsettled ride over some surfaces.

What’s also instantly noticeable is a lack of feel from the steering. Not only is it disappointingly numb and unresponsive underhand, it also takes a surprisingly large amount of lock to affect a direction change, even taking into account its agricultural origins.

Matters improved a little when we sampled RX grade machines fitted with smaller rims and narrower tyres, but the ST-X leaves a bit to be desired.

Big steps have been made in the areas of NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) intrusion, with the Navara exhibiting almost car-like levels of noise in the cabin. The new 2.3-litre diesel is quiet, as well, which helps enormously.

At $51,990 plus on-road costs, the ST-X is suitably well equipped, with a large colour touchscreen incoporating satellite navigation, heated leather seats, sunroof and more. The sunroof did lower the roofline somewhat, and the lack of a reach-adjustable steering wheel has us scratching our heads a little.

The ST-X also comes standard with a plastic tub liner and a clever modular tie-down system.

The dash is nicely shaped, but the hard plastics will mark easily with regular use and abuse.

Rear seat passengers are well catered for, with rear airvents a welcome addition. The seat backs are quite vertical, but still comfortable, but the rear door aperture is quite small. The curious sliding aperture in the rear glass is an unusual inclusion it’s tiny, and it does little to draw air into the cabin.

We also spent a full day traversing basic 4WD trails in the middle of South Australia, and the Navara performed admirably over the varied terrain on offer.

The engine, though strong and tractable when required, felt on occasion like it needed more mid- to high-range torque, but the 450Nm figure is on par with the rest of the category.

Medium-speed gravel and dirt roads showed the Navara’s new suspension tune in the best light, with its supple suspension smoothing out corrugations and washouts with ease.

Indicated economy numbers that snuck under 9.0 litres per 100 kilometres, even over tough, sandy terrain, bode well for real-world fuel savings, too.

At first glance, the Navara is a very handsome ute with a good value proposition and a wide choice of options. It’s line ball with its major rivals in terms of power and torque, as well as towing capacity (3500kg) and payload (up to 930kg including passengers and accessories).

A single identity will also help the Navara’s cause. It’s in for a fight, though.

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