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Car reviews - Nissan - Navara - ST-R TDi dual-cab utility

Our Opinion

We like
Power and torque from diesel engine, exterior styling
Room for improvement
Poor ride/handling, excessive engine noise, interior

29 Jul 2003

NISSAN has borrowed more than just a few styling cues from its Patrol to give the Navara 4x4 a new lease on life, and the result is a mixed bag.

Patrol arguably held the high ground alongside LandCruiser when it came to off-roaders in Australia during the '70s and early '80s. But it wasn’t so much the high ground back then - more a patch of dirt.

In 1986 Nissan introduced its first Navara models to Australia in both 4x2 and 4x4 format to replace its 720 and 1200 pick-ups.

Back then, a choice of 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol and 2.5-litre four-cylinder diesel engines were used to power the new model, with larger diesel and V6 engines coming several years later.

Now days engine choice in the Navara tops out with the 3.0-litre turbo-assisted inline direct injection four-cylinder diesel – straight from the patrol wagon, minus the intercooler - which produces 110kW of power at 3400rpm and 314Nm of torque at 2000rpm.

Toyota had a seven-year headstart on Nissan with its HiLux and Holden a five-year headstart with its Rodeo, and both models still compete aggressively against Navara today.

Even so, with years of experience you would think that Nissan would be at the top in this market segment. Not so. Nissan Navara sells well enough today but is not the vehicle of choice it once was.

This is due in part to the additional competition that has hit the Australian market namely Ford, Mazda and Mitsubishi, which all draw attention away from Navara.

By introducing the ZD30 across its 4x4 range, Nissan has now joined Toyota and Holden in the race to upsize its mid-size off-roaders with 3.0-litre diesel engines.

Nissan has satisfied plenty of buyers of the ZD30 in the larger Patrol wagon since its release in the GUII in April 2000 and we suspect those that have heavy work in mind for the Navara will find it suitable.

For those that remember the Navara of years past, little has changed. Nissan has stuck close to certain Navara styling cues such as roof line and window and door shapes.

Nissan take the base model DX Navara and dress it up to ST-R level by adding a colour-coded grille, two-tone paint, colour-coded front bumper, flared wheel arches, wide-wheel pack with four-spoke alloy rims, alloy sports bar in the tray at the rear of the cabin and a host of interior features such as air-conditioning, power windows, central locking and a CD stereo.

The real styling changes on this model come from the headlights and front grille and bumper. The bonnet line and plastic front grille has been moving closer to Patrol as Nissan leverages its heritage.

With 314Nm of torque and a dry weight of 1895kg, the ST-R has plenty of punch.

But as much as torque is a valuable asset when you have a load on it can make driving unloaded a jerky experience if that torque comes form a turbo-boosted engine such as the ZD30.

The lag that is present in all turbo engines to some degree is heavily punctuated by boost when the ZD30 reaches the right revs.

Navara’s interior for the ST-R is a bit of a bolt-on job with a more than obvious extensions to the front door armrest housing for the electric windows and door locks.

There is also the noticeably odd provision of two adjacent ashtrays in the dash (but only one cigarette lighter to fight over), and close to a dozen blank sockets in the dash and centre console area to remind you of just what you don’t get in an Australian ST-R.

And to complete the set, the passenger side dash has a mysterious panel of mismatched plastic in the familiar shape of an airbag panel, which the Australian released Navara is missing from both the driver and passenger sides, and the rear door speakers are in fact empty shells.

The opening to the rear cabin area on the Navara is ridiculously small, with even the shortest member of our staff unable to access the rear seat without colliding with the B-pillar and back of the driver's seat.

Headroom in the rear is also less than acceptable, making the rear bench seat truly a kids-only zone.

No matter how much you like or dislike the interior of this vehicle you can’t ignore the poor ride and handling, which brings the whole package down dramatically.

From the soft front torsion bars that produce an uneasy sinking during cornering to the uncontrollable bouncing from the rear after a modest bump is taken, this is a vehicle that would make a great before and after exercise for most aftermarket spring kits.

On paper the Navara has specs to place it competitively close to its rivals but on closer inspection and after a test drive longer than the usual dealer accompanied lap around the block, you may start to question why this vehicle still sells well against the competition.

Nissan seems to have extracted the most that is possible from this platform and though its many changes and variants have helped it shine as a sales performer for Nissan in years past, it appears Nissan has now run out of ways to grow the current Navara.

We look forward to the next generation.

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