Car reviews - Nissan - Navara - ST-X 4X4 Dual Cab Pick Up
Availability of car-like features, great ride and dynamics, solid off-road performance, fuel-efficiency
Room for improvement
Cramped rear quarters, difficult child seat installation, impractical tray tie-downs, frustrating cabin storage, low-speed manoeuvrability, interior noise
Nissan Navara has some unique car-like features, but it’s not a ute for families
10 Dec 2018
WHILE the Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger duke it out for the title of Australia’s top-selling ute – and most popular vehicle overall –Nissan’s NP300/D23 Navara is struggling to climb back into the light-commercial big league enjoyed by its D40 predecessor.
The current-gen Navara is already on its third iteration since launching in 2015 due largely to widespread criticism of the pioneering coil-sprung rear suspension setup on dual-cab variants, but judging by flatlining sales figures, it appears the damage has been done.
Australian Navara buyers are overwhelmingly opting for dual-cab automatics in higher-spec ST or ST-X trim and we spent a week with the latter, putting it through our usual test routine but also filling all the seats and load bed for a family long weekend away.
Our conclusion? The Navara’s pretty good, provided you only use the rear row on a temporary basis.
Price and equipment
If you are among the 30 per cent of Navara buyers who go straight for the top-spec ST-X, you’ll need to stump up a $4800 premium over the top-selling ST.
As tested here, in dual-cab automatic 4x4 form, the total price is $54,490 before on-road costs – a couple of grand more affordable than enduringly popular rivals such as the Toyota Hilux SR5 and Ford Ranger XLT.
Our vehicle was also kitted out with both available option packs. The $1500 ‘Pack A’ added heated leather-accented seats with electric adjustment for the driver’s side and the $1000 ‘Pack B’ provided us with a tilt-and-slide one-touch electric sunroof. With $550 worth of premium paint as well, the total price of the Navara we tested was $57,540 plus on-roads.
Standard equipment on the ST-X consist of dual-zone climate control, a surround-view camera system, reversing sensors, keyless start, hill-start assist and hill-descent control.
Also included are floor mats, roof rails, electric folding mirrors with integrated LED indicators and 18-inch wheels with a full-size alloy spare. Nissan also throws in a protective bed liner and a two-channel configurable ‘Utili-Track’ tie-down system.
Otherwise, you also get everything the ST had as standard – including a 7.0-inch media system with sat-nav, Bluetooth connectivity, keyless entry, cruise control, a trip computer, auto-dimming rear-view mirror with integrated compass and an electronic rear differential lock.
Standard colour choices are Burning Red and Cosmic Black, while premium finishes, including Brilliant Silver and the White Diamond of our test Navara cost extra.
Ditching the four-wheel-drive system and electronic rear differential lock saves $7000 and opting for the six-speed manual instead of the seven-speed auto costs $2500 less.
We loaded our Navara up with four adults and a toddler for a long weekend away. Front occupants were forced to sit further forward than usual or comfortable in order to accommodate those in the rear and even then, the driver could feel a pair of knees pushing through their backrest. The shape of the glovebox lid robs the front passenger of kneeroom, too.
Headroom for rear passengers was also limited and installing the toddler’s restraint satisfactorily within earshot of their impressionable ears would result in an undesirable increase in their vocabulary. Nissan needs to fix this if it has a hope in hell of attracting – and retaining – family buyers. The addition of Isofix for this Series III update is welcome, but does not go nearly far enough.
Although the Navara’s steering column has no reach adjustment, it was one of the few utes in which this didn’t feel like a problem and the driving position was pretty good. Shame, then, that the seat cushioning is bum-numbingly hard.
The touchscreen media system is a bit small, lacks any standout features and is just as mediocre in terms of its pixelated, cloudy image quality and dated interface as any other Nissan unit, although the sat-nav is easy to program.
But the screen dims far too much when the headlights are on during the daytime, such as heavy rain or fog, and the instrument panel lacks a digital speed readout.
Another typically Nissan trait is the seemingly random grouping and illogical placement of switchgear around the dashboard, although the most often-used functions are more intuitively laid out and easy to use. We tend to prefer rotary knobs for the climate control, but Nissan’s chunky push-button design was not too difficult to operate.
Storage areas around the Navara cabin are many and varied but not that useful, apart from the slide-out cupholders beneath the outer air-vents. They’re just as brilliant as those in the HiLux and D-Max.
The glove box is small, as is the bin beneath the front-central armrest (which is located too low for comfort). A tray beside the USB and auxiliary audio input ports is logically located for carrying a phone but is too shallow, slippery and dished to be useful for this purpose, which is probably why Nissan put a little slot on the side of the centre console.
Big door bins up front can hold bottles and there are two more cupholders in the centre console, there is a pair of map pockets in the front seatbacks and a sunglasses holder in the ceiling plus a big dash-top tray with 12V power outlet. But anything placed there gets cooked by the Australian sun.
Rear passengers have their own knee-level air-vents, there are no cupholders in the back, or even a fold-down centre armrest and the rear door bins are suited to bottles only, or small objects if not being used for carrying drinks.
The rear windscreen has a sliding centre section, which you only get on big North American trucks that are only available as right-hand-drive conversions in this market. We don’t doubt that this feature alone gets a number of prospective Navara buyers – particularly dog owners – over the line.
Unless carrying tall objects in the Navara’s tray, the nifty movable rail-mounted tie-downs are a bit useless and we’d rather have some lower down or in the bed of the tray itself.
On the move, we experienced more road noise in the Navara than most dual-cab utes and it seemed to let in a lot of noise from other vehicles. Wind noise is also prevalent and although the engine quietens right down at a cruise, we wonder if it is simply being drowned out by all the other sounds.
Engine and transmission
In base trim, the Navara comes with a turbocharged 2.3-litre engine that puts out 120kW of power and 403Nm of torque. The more expensive versions, such as the ST-X here, get a twin-turbocharged 2.3-litre diesel that punches out 140kW at 3750rpm and 450Nm from 1500-2500rpm. As tested, our ST-X also featured the $2500 seven-speed automatic transmission.
There is always engine noise at lower speeds which is nothing unusual in diesel light-commercial vehicles, but the Nissan unit is admirably free of vibration. Power delivery is smooth and linear, throttle response is impressive and the seven-speed auto is excellent. It doesn’t sound too thrashy or strained when revved, either.
On the other hand, it lacks the assertive gruntiness of the big five-cylinder in a Ranger or BT-50, nor is it as relaxed as the bigger but less brawny (on paper) unit of an Isuzu D-Max.
As a result, there’s little spirit to the Navara’s off-line acceleration and it has little vigour up hills or when overtaking but once up to speed, the engine’s broad torque spread does make it easy to maintain momentum, reducing the need for downshifts.
On this note, we found the automatic transmission was almost always in the right gear at the right time when left to its own devices, even during our challenging dynamic road test. It also quickly rectified matters on the odd occasion where it was caught napping, or simply leant on the engine’s aforementioned long-lasting torque peak.
As we’ll discuss in the ride and handling section, the Navara drivetrain package lent itself surprisingly well to off-road work and proved a bit of a highlight in this regard.
Combined-cycle fuel consumption is officially 7.0 litres per 100km, with a big 80-litre fuel tank providing a theoretical 1100km on a single tank. These numbers seem a bit far-fetched but we averaged 8.3L/100km during our test, which is remarkable efficiency for real-world use of a ute, while our 6.7L/100km on the motorway missed the official highway figure of 5.9L/100km.
Ride and handling
As is the case with all utes, the Navara certainly rides better when laden and there is an underlying jiggly firmness when driving solo or two-up.
The difference with Nissan’s coil-sprung setup over the conventional leaf springs of most rivals is that even a moderate amount of stuff in the tray, or a compliment of rear passengers, is enough to make a significant difference.
We tackled our dynamic test route in the Navara during a downpour, where we discovered another apparent advantage.
Unladen in rear-drive mode, the Navara gets its power down far more successfully than a number of leaf-sprung rivals that scrabble about until the electronics intervene.
The more linear and measured power delivery characteristics of the Nissan’s smaller, twin-turbo engine could also be at play here, but the overall sense of stability in these conditions was impressive and we found the Navara easy to control when pushed in adverse weather, with the Toyo tyres providing impressive grip, progressive breakaway and dependable bite under hard braking.
On loose surfaces, the Navara remained stable and faithful to our inputs, again with formidable traction and admirable comfort with a reassuring sense of solidity and predictability over rough ground or corrugations. In fact, we were amazed by how well it drove and how planted it felt on washboard tracks.
In fact, we were able travel a fair way along our off-road route in two-wheel-drive mode – and it was in shocking condition due to the rain. No doubt the Navara’s impressive ease of wheel articulation at the back helped us here.
Engaging and disengaging 4x4 mode is easy and possible on the fly via a dashboard knob. Putting the Navara into low range was also fairly seamless in our test example and its driving characteristics in this mode were usefully smooth. However, engine braking in low range was quite weak compared with rivals, so it is prudent to turn on the Navara’s hill descent control on steep inclines.
For the Series III update, Nissan also reduced the number of lock-to-lock steering wheel turns frim 4.1 to 3.4, but it still feels pretty ‘twirly’ during low-speed manoeuvres. There’s an unpleasant viscosity to its action, too, although it is incredibly faithful to the driver’s inputs and lacks the disconcerting disconnected feel of rivals such as the HiLux.
Once the tyres reach bitumen, the Navara’s steering starts to feel a lot more at home, so we are glad the switch to a quicker rack has not compromised this aspect of its character.
Safety and servicing
ANCAP tested the dual-cab version of the Nissan Navara in May 2015 and it earned the maximum five-star rating, scoring 35.01 points out of 37.
Standard safety features include front and side airbags for the driver and passenger, a knee airbag for the driver, front-to-rear curtain airbags and the Series III-introduced Isofix child seat mounts on the outer positions in the rear row.
There’s also the usual battery of safety systems, such as anti-lock brakes, traction control, stability control, hill start assist, hill descent control and automatic headlights.
Nissan provides a three-year/100,000km warranty as standard, as well as three years’ roadside assistance. Extended warranties are also available, offering up to an additional three years of cover peaking at 150,000km.
Servicing is required every year or 20,000 kilometres. Annual services cost in the region of $550 but, every third service, a more comprehensive service is required that costs around $720. Nissan also advises that the brake fluid will need changing every 24 months or 40,000km, depending on usage, which will cost an extra $32 (prices correct at time of writing).
The Navara ST-X has a number of features, either standard or optional, that will please the rapidly growing number of buyers who are ditching passenger cars and SUVs in favour of dual-cab utes – and ease the transition.
Dual-zone climate control, front and rear parking sensors, a surround-view camera system, heated seats, automatic headlights and wipers, and a sunroof all make the big Nissan a bit easier to live with if you are used to car-like creature comforts.
We also found the Navara to ride and handle admirably well, especially in the wet or when off the beaten track, and its efficient engine will also provide those stepping out of a car with less bill shock at the bowser.
But if you’re bringing your family with you, the Navara’s incredibly cramped cabin will have you looking forward to trade-in time from day one. Especially because you need a good psychiatrist on speed-dial after installing a child restraint or two.
We doubt Nissan can fix the Navara’s lack of family-friendliness during the D23/NP300 model lifecycle, and this is probably why it is struggling to get out of a sales rut as rivals find more and more buyers.
But if you only need to use the rear seats occasionally, or transport children at that stage between needing child restraints and becoming tall enough for legroom to become an issue, the latest Navara is well worth a look.
Mitsubishi Triton Exceed 4x4 Double Cab automatic ($48,000 plus on-road costs)
At almost ten grand less than our optioned-up Navara, it’s hard to not recommend you take a close look at Mitsubishi’s value-packed, spacious, safe, comfortable and pleasant-to-drive Triton. It is a lot of ute for the money, with one of the segment’s best warranties. The five-speed auto and 3100kg towing capacity is a little off-pace though, and a major update is imminent.
Toyota Hilux SR5 4x4 2.8TD Double Cab Pick-Up: $56,440 plus on-road costs
The now more rugged-looking Hilux is exceptional off-road but less impressive when it comes to tackling smooth bitumen or accommodating a full load of passengers. Consequently, the Toyota is perhaps best reserved for those who are really looking to make headway in the rough.
Ford Ranger XLT 4x4 ($58,290 plus on-road costs)
The XLT is a Ranger trim-level sweet spot, but Ford is not shy when it comes to charging top dollar for its incredibly successful dual-cab. Courtesy of the latest update, this model is now a serious tech-fest, but XLT buyers need to pay another $1700 to gain access to autonomous emergency braking, active park assist, traffic sign recognition, driver impairment monitor, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, lane departure warning and auto high beam.
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