Car reviews - Nissan - Navara - ST Dual Cab 4x4
Supple ride comfort, strong looks, relatively easy to drive around town, 3500kg towing capacity
Room for improvement
Coarse engine noise even by pick-up standards, hard interior plastics, transmission can be sluggish, could use more equipment
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20 Jul 2017
IN MARCH this year Nissan updated its Navara pick-up, dropping petrol-powered variants and tweaking its suspension set-up following feedback from customers and the media.
Punters weren’t happy with the way the rear of the vehicle sagged as well as some of its on-road manners, so the boffins at Nissan went about rectifying the double-wishbone front and five-link rear coil suspension featured on the majority of the Navara line-up.
The amendments have resulted in a supple and comfortable ride that puts the Navara at the top of the pack for ride comfort in a segment that is largely dominated by leaf-sprung rear suspension set-ups, such as the ones in the Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger.
However the suspension configuration is only one of many factors when choosing a pick-up, and sales would suggest the Navara has more improvements to make before catching the likes of the Ranger and HiLux.
In the first half of 2017, the Navara has claimed an 8.9 per cent share in the 4x4 pick-up market, trailing the Ranger (22.3 per cent) and HiLux (20.6), but still enough for fifth behind the Mitsubishi Triton (12.4) and Holden Colorado (11.6).
With a more impressive package and a rich pedigree of tough off-roading in Australia, what more can Nissan do to help the Navara make up ground on its more popular rivals?
Price and equipment
Gone are the days where a ute was built exclusively as a no-nonsense, bare-bones load hauler, with pick-up manufacturers nowadays expected to offer all the comforts and conveniences found in other passenger vehicles, especially when the asking price of said pick-up is nudging $50,000.
The ST remains the second-highest level of specification in the Navara range behind the top-spec ST-X, and when teamed to a seven-speed automatic transmission with four-wheel drive, retails for $49,490 plus on-roads.
Its price puts it around the same mark as other similarly-specced rival offerings such as the Toyota HiLux SR ($48,490), Isuzu D-Max LS-U ($50,400), Mazda BT-50 XTR ($51,700) and the Holden Colorado LTZ ($52,690).
The equivalent offering from Mitsubishi, the Triton GLS, comes in at a more affordable at $44,000, while Ford asks customers to fork out $57,690 for its Ranger XLT.
Being almost the flagship Navara model, the ST scores most of the features expected on a high-end pick-up, such as touchscreen infotainment system with sat-nav and reversing camera, LED headlights and daytime running lights, 16-inch alloy wheels and trimmings of chrome for the exterior.
Disappointingly, despite the existence of a reversing camera, neither front nor rear parking sensors are equipped on the ST, making navigating tight spaces that little bit more difficult.
Inside, the ST gains cloth-trimmed seats with six-way manual adjustment, leather-like accents on the gear knob, steering wheel and handbrake, six-speaker stereo with all the usual media compatibility options, heated power door mirrors and multi-function steering wheel.
Exterior styling has remained unchanged over the NP300 Navara, which is a good thing given its strong looks.
It manages to blend tough, boxy styling (which is a must for vehicles of its ilk) with a front fascia that is immediately recognisable as a Nissan.
One of the biggest points of difference for the Navara (excluding the RX 4x4 cab chassis) is the coil-sprung rear suspension configuration, which aside from providing more comfort-oriented handling, can set the Navara apart for four-wheel driving enthusiasts.
Coil-sprung set-ups usually allow for greater wheel articulation, particularly when modified, and in a market flooded with leaf-sprung pick-ups, the Navara may catch the eye of those who spend their weekends wheel-deep in ruts and bog holes.
Aiding its off-road ability, the Navara ST also comes with a low-range transfer case and rear diff lock.
Tradies will also benefit from the Navara’s 985kg payload and 3500kg braked towing capacity, with the latter more than the HiLux or Triton and equal to its other rivals, all of which use larger displacement engines.
While its price and equipment levels make it hard to separate the Navara from its competitors, its comfortable and capable suspension set-up and keen styling give it a point of difference over other 4x4 pick-ups.
Stepping into the Navara’s cabin for the first time, it is immediately apparent it is a roomy vehicle that offers ample spaciousness and commendable drive comfort, even for occupants over six feet tall.
The dashboard is immediately recognisable as a Nissan, with a simple, yet easy-to-manage infotainment and air-conditioning system.
Its symmetrical, uncluttered look makes for easy operation, and trimmings of silver and gloss black help the dashboard look spiffy, although it can’t hide the extensive use of hard plastics throughout the cabin.
Nissan’s 7.0-inch colour touchscreen interface is starting to feel a bit dated, with a tired looking home screen, slight lag when pressing buttons, and a sat-nav system that looks more archaic than some competitors.
When compared to more modern systems such as Ford’s Sync3, the differences in user interface and speed of operation are more apparent. The difference in pixel quality is obvious when reversing, with the Navara using a much lower resolution camera.
The air-conditioning cluster offers simple and easy use, although annoyingly the system never quite stops emitting air when it is switched off.
Two cupholders, a modest storage bin, the handbrake, switches, the gear lever and a storage nook comprise the centre console, while fold-out cupholders embedded in the dash are available for both front occupants.
There is a smaller storage nook nestled below the A/C unit, as well as a larger one on top of the dash complete with 12-volt auxiliary input. There exist three such inputs throughout the cabin, useful for those who enjoy touring or run multiple accessories such as aftermarket sat-nav systems and phone chargers.
Also fitted are five different blank switches for aftermarket modifications such as driving lights, air compressors or a second diff lock.
Other storage nooks include a glovebox – which only just managed to fit the Navara’s service booklet and user manual – door bins with cupholders and an overhead sunglasses compartment.
The instrument cluster is no different from any other rival, with a speedometer and tachometer separated by a digital info display, which you can use to scroll through a number of different readings and information. Strangely, having your speed projected in bold numbers is not an option.
On the leather-like steering wheel are a number of controls for audio, cruise control, and hands-free Bluetooth use, all of which are easy to figure out and operate. Unfortunately, in the update Nissan failed to fix a minor but glaring issue – the button for the horn extends right to the outer edge of the wheel, and can lead to the horn being honked when turning the wheel through your hands.
The wheel could be a bit thicker and suppler, but again those are minor grumbles.
Cloth upholstery is used on the manually adjustable seats, which proves to be comfortable on long journeys and rough terrain, and offers good vision and driving position.
Rear passengers get two A/C vents and a central roof light, although no cupholders, and legroom could be better for a car its size.
The Navara’s tray measures 1503mm long and 1560mm wide, which is shorter than most competitors. Fitting a six-foot, six-inch surfboard diagonally across the tray still leaves it hanging out the back by some margin, but is easy enough to secure using the four available tie-down points.
Having a 12V port available in the tray is also a bonus for tradies or adventurers who want to use a portable fridge.
The Navara’s interior ticks just about all the boxes for an upper-spec ute, however tweaking some small details such as the hard cabin plastics and clunky infotainment display would go a long way to making it feel like a more luxurious experience.
Engine and transmission
Powering the Navara is a 2.3-litre twin-turbo common rail diesel four-cylinder engine that develops a hearty 140kW of power at 3750rpm and 450Nm of torque between 1500 and 2500rpm.
It is mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission that sends power to all four wheels using a part-time, electronically selectable four-wheel-drive set-up with a low-range transfer case.
Despite having the smallest displacement of any of its top-spec rivals, the Navara’s donk is able to outmuscle the HiLux, Triton and D-Max in terms of output.
In our time with the Navara we recorded a fuel consumption figure of 8.7 litres per 100km with a mix of suburban and highway driving, well up on the claimed combined figure of 7.0L/100km.
Power comes on steadily throughout the rev band and offers linear power delivery, however the throttle response can be a tad jerky.
The engine proves to be a capable and willing worker, however it is not without its faults.
It is immediately apparent from the moment you push the accelerator that the 2.3-litre unit is particularly noisy, even by utilitarian pick-up standards.
While some diesel engines have a meaty, imposing thrum when pushed, the Navara sounds more tinny and stressed. The transmission has a tendency to hold gears longer than it should, but even accelerating to 50km/h at a leisurely pace causes a noisy ruckus.
Once the vehicle is at cruising speeds and the engine revs drop, it is no noisier than any other diesel pick-up, and the seven-speed auto is responsive and co-operative when driven gently.
Driving off-road in low range, the transmission becomes a bit more sluggish and confused, especially when selecting manual mode.
The low-range transfer case works well for first gear crawling, but when changing gears, power comes on in clunky surges.
Power output and delivery from the 2.3-litre unit is more than adequate, however the noise it produces by regularly revving to 3000rpm or more is one of the Navara’s biggest downpoints.
Ride and handling
Arguably our favourite element of the Navara is its silky-smooth ride, thanks to its double-wishbone front and five-link rear coil suspension set-up, the focus of revision in the Series II NP300 update.
Against its leaf-sprung competitors, the Navara proves to have the most passenger car-like ride and most supple suspension, especially with an empty tray.
Leaf-sprung set-ups often require extra weight in the back of the vehicle before becoming settled, however there is no such problem for the Navara.
On unsealed, corrugated roads it mitigates bumps and rattles particularly well, soaking up road imperfections with ease and keeping in-cabin comfort high.
Around town the Navara handles corners well, with low amounts of body roll for a vehicle of its stature and height.
Its light steering and gentle feedback makes it a relative breeze to navigate around town, and, so long as you drive it gently, it will return the favour.
On highways the Navara drives confidently and comfortably, offering a quiet and settled ride.
In limited off-road driving, the coil suspension holds up well, with a settled ride and the ability to drive comfortably at higher speeds than would be possible with leaf springs.
Overall the handling and re-jigged suspension gets a big tick for its ability to make the Navara feel more like a passenger car and less like the nearly two-tonne pick-up that it is.
Safety and servicing
When it was tested in 2015, the Navara achieved a five-star safety rating with an excellent overall score of 35.01 out of 37, recording particularly good results in the side impact and pole tests.
Standard safety equipment includes dual front, side and curtain airbags as well as driver’s knee airbag, electronic brake distribution, electronic stability control and emergency brake assist.
Nissan offers a three-year/100,000km warranty for the Navara, while scheduled servicing occurs every 12 months or 20,000km, whichever occurs first.
Its capped-price service program is offered for the first six scheduled services, with cost varying between $547 for the first and fifth service, and up to $738 for the sixth. Average costs over the first six services comes to $615.
The standout feature of the Navara is clearly its comfortable and car-like coil suspension, which gives passengers the most forgiving experience of any of the many available pick-ups on the market.
Nissan’s decision to opt for coils when all others decided on leaf-spring suspension was a gamble, but it has paid out and should be the biggest factor in attracting customers to the model.
The biggest letdown is the coarse noise produced by the 2.3-litre diesel, which is deafening even by common-rail diesel standards.
In this day and age the sound coming from the engine shouldn’t interrupt conversation between occupants (unless that noise is coming from a high-powered, high-revving performance engine) but that is unfortunately the case for the Navara.
Aside from those obvious positives and negatives, the Navara is about par for the course for a pick-up. It has strong looks, a good price, great towing capacity and decent performance, with room for improvement in infotainment quality and cabin plastics and finish.
Toyota HiLux SR dual cab 4x4 diesel from $48,490 plus on-road costs
The best-selling vehicle in Australia comes with a 2.8-litre turbo-diesel engine, well-sorted interior and the bulletproof reputation that comes with a Toyota badge. Power output and towing capacity is down on the Navara, however.
Isuzu D-Max LS-U dual cab from $50,400 plus on-road costs
The Isuzu gets ticks for its tried-and-tested 3.0-litre donk which has received a boost in torque from 380Nm to 430Nm, as well as a customer service program that owners swear by. Off-road enthusiasts may baulk at the deletion of a rear diff lock in the updated model, however Isuzu claims its traction control system can match the ability that a locker provides.
Ford Ranger XLT dual-cab 4x4 from $57,690 plus on-road costs
The Ranger is the most expensive offering of the lot, but it is for a reason – public opinion is arguably starting to consider Ford’s offering as the best-pick-up on the market, as reflected by its ever-climbing sales numbers. Its 3.2-litre five-cylinder engine offers a meaty punch, and the excellent Sync3 infotainment system is a cut above most competitors.
Note: Some images are of the Nissan Navara ST-X Dual Cab 4x4
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