Car reviews - Nissan - Navara - ST-X
Likes: Supple ride, high feature list, plenty of cabin room, strong drivetrain performance
Room for improvement
Dislikes: Hard cabin plastics, no telescopic steering adjustment, awkward driving position
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10 Aug 2015
By NEIL DOWLING
Price and equipment
IT IS so yesterday to think a ute is designed merely as an austere machine to haul cargo. Now the focus is to match SUV comfort, safety and equipment.
That focus makes it clearer to see the relationship between dual-cab utes and their new siblings, the full-frame wagons. Think Ford Ranger and Everest, Isuzu D-Max and MU-X, Holden Colorado and Colorado 7.
Nissan takes it one step further with new Navara ute coming straight out of the box sporting an SUV-like coil-sprung rear suspension that differs markedly in design and comfort from the traditional leaf springs.
Onto this four-coil base, Nissan has built a clever compromise of ride quality demanded by families and high levels of durability and load capacity demanded by tradesmen.
Standard equipment is rich by comparison to the market segment a decade ago and now stacks up well against many SUVs.
The ST-X is the flagship of the Navara line-up and pulls everything out of the Nissan parts bin including leather-mix upholstery and carpeting.
The driver’s seat has electric adjustment and both front seats have two-stage heaters. But the steering wheel adjusts only in tilt and, for some drivers, may not be the most comfortable vehicle to operate.
It has satellite navigation delivered by a seven-inch touchscreen that is also the pathway for the audio and communications software and vehicle function data.
This screen is also the viewer for the reversing camera, making the Navara one of only a few 4x4 utes with the rearview capability.
There is an electrically operated glass panel in the rear window. Designed for improving ventilation within the cabin or to allow stowage from the bed of long, thin items, it has merit but is hardly a feature to be used daily.
The svelte body of the Navara, highlighted by the raised fender tops that produce a distinctive concave bonnet, is also fitted with a sports bar, bodykit including side and rear steps and a flat-top edge to the tailgate that resembles a spoiler, and roof rails.
The ST-X adds folding and heated mirrors – the fold-up feature is perfect for traversing narrow tracks when off the road – and a sunroof.
For a ute, it’s currently one of the best around and equates to the Mazda BT-50 in following passenger-car interior design.
At $54,490 plus on-road costs for the ST-X, it’s $7000 more expensive than the similarly equipped Mitsubishi Triton Exceed.
Looking at its competitors and at the variants that buyers will shop against the ST-X, the Triton and Colorado are cheaper but the Holden doesn’t get satellite navigation or leather, has a smaller 825kg payload (the Nissan has 930kg) but it has a more powerful engine.
Buyers will find a balance in the way the utes compare on the road, how they handle and importantly for city-bound ute aficionados, how they fit into urban life.
At 3150mm, the new Navara dual-cab has one of the longest wheelbases in its segment – shading the stretched Ranger by a 270mm jump but longer than the Triton by 150mm – and puts that to good use with a spacious and well-equipped cabin.
It also has a bigger cabin than its D22 and D40 predecessors with more rear passenger room, a less vertical seat cushion and an accent on acknowledging that some passengers need a few extra features to make their journey more enjoyable.
The new Navara gets, for example, rear vents. There are cupholders everywhere – including two pop-out examples in the dash - and door pockets with bottle-holders, a low waistline for better visibility and, in the ST-X tested, even an electrically opening pane in the rear window.
It will invite five adults inside and has the ability to hook up three child restraints. If there is one complaint with the occupant space, it would be levelled at the sunroof (ST-X only) that can crimp the headroom of tall passengers in the front seats.
Rear passengers will be fine as the sunroof doesn’t extend that far back and the headliner is scalloped.
The rear passenger compartment also has a flat floor to benefit foot comfort for the centre occupant and, compared with the previous Navara, the rear doors are wider to make entry and egress easier.
The rear seat’s squab is hinged at the rear and can be clipped vertically to reveal an open storage space and two cubby holes for the toolkit and jack.
Hard plastic is used in the dashboard fascia and though an SUV owner may expect the current trend to soft-touch plastics, Nissan has successfully disguised the less-expensive material by adopting an attractive dash design.
The switchgear is clean and neat, the use of alloy-look trim lifts the ambience and the simplicity of the layout, which makes the debut driver easy to navigate, is deserving of praise.
Out the back the tray comes standard with a factory bedliner and longitudinal tracks for the four adjustable tie-down hooks – a clever feature carried over from the D40.
The tray is shorter than the outgoing D40 and is one of the smallest on the market. At 1503mm long and 1560mm wide, it beats the Holden Colorado (1484mm by 1535mm) but is shy of the Ranger (1549mm by 1560mm) and Volkswagen’s Amarok (1555mm by 1620mm).
For buyers needing space – for the farmer wanting to carry a quad bike as well as kids, for example – it’s an important issue. It is shorter than the Triton and even the outgoing HiLux, but slightly wider than both.
Payload is 930kg which is a reasonable result here. By comparison, the bigger Ranger has a 1023kg rating the Triton is 935kg, the Amarok is 1000kg and the Colorado is 825kg.
Engine and transmission
In the age of engine downsizing, it comes as no surprise that the Navara gets a smaller yet more powerful replacement to the previous 2.4-litre single-turbo diesel.
The 2.3-litre diesel has two turbochargers in the top-spec line up, boasting 140kW at 3750rpm and a strong torque output of 450Nm peaking between 1500rpm and 2500rpm.
Nissan leaned heavily on alliance partner Renault for the powerplant, using a tweaked version of the same French-made diesel now fitted to the Renault Master and Nissan NV400 vans.
The ST-X gets the bi-turbocharged version, coded YS23DDTT, for the ST and ST-X models while lesser-specced Navaras use the single-turbo version with 120kW/403Nm.
Components are then shared with other Nissan models, including the seven-speed automatic transmission from the Y62 Patrol V8 and the transfer case carried over from the previous Navara.
Keeping with its intended off-road market, the dual-range gearing has a deep 2.717:1 ratio that is responsible for the ute’s excellent off-road performance, especially in damp, friable beach sand conditions that really stretch a vehicle’s ability to maintain momentum.
Nissan claims a fuel average of 7.0 litres per 100 kilometres for the ST-X, a figure not seen during testing. The average on test was 8.9L/100km including majority suburban and off-road running, with freeway transits. It draws from an 80-litre fuel tank which is par for the course in the 4x4 ute segment.
The engine is strong and though Ranger looks meatier, there’s not a lot of difference in the power and torque outputs. In fact, the Navara puts its 450Nm torque peak down at 1500rpm while Ranger delivers its maximum of 470Nm at a much higher 2750rpm.
The Navara has an almost lethargic attitude to waking up on a cold morning and it’s not until the engine is at least warm that is starts to show its potential.
It will change up through the gears quickly but acceleration surge is more noticeable in third and fourth gear. Perhaps Nissan has restricted the torque delivery in the lower gears as a means of limiting wheelspin.
Introducing the second turbocharger is automatic and is tuned by engine revs and torque demand, so it’s a seamless transition.
When warm, it’s a very flexible unit with very good response and locomotive torque willingly available from 1500rpm to 3500rpm.
Even running it hard to the 4500rpm redline, the engine is still happily – if not noisily - delivering.
On the road it cruises at the 100km/h limit at under 1800rpm and is barely audible. Yet it responds immediately to a kickdown for overtaking.
Off-road performance is excellent, though the damp and soft sand really tested its 4WD system and the low-speed delivery of the engine.
Owners will find that deflating the standard high-profile tyres to 18psi and leaving the engine in the sub-2500rpm band is more than sufficient for successful beach trips – and that’s not even using 4WD Low range.
Ride and handling
On the bitumen the Navara immediately impresses with a smooth and confident ride. Ride comfort is right up there with the segment’s best, the Amarok, and on bitumen at least, alongside the Ranger.
Handling is very good – certainly in this segment – and it feels a lot like a decent SUV. That will give it a lot of kudos from families.
If there is one downside it would be the steering. It turns into corners with some initial hesitation as the electric-over-hydraulic power steering appears to pick up some unwanted lag.
It’s a bit disconcerting but familiarity makes the driver anticipate this lazy mannerism.
The Navara’s small-diameter steering wheel lends it some sporty flavour but it’s not indicative of the steering box’s high ratio that requires some extra twirling to go from lock to lock.
That is normal in the 4WD segment, installed deliberately to minimise road shock when the front wheels encounter obstacles.
The 70mm chopped from the ladder-frame chassis creates a shorter wheelbase that has reduced the turning circle, making the ute easier to manoeuvre than its predecessor.
The dynamic performance is excellent for this segment. Where a leaf-sprung ute would bounce uncontrollably over ruts on the beach and sand tracks, the Navara keeps its rear wheels on the ground and that results in plenty of traction and no bogging down.
This is the key to the success of this rear suspension system and the decider for buyers. For trade-related activities, it’s unlikely there would be much benefit in the Navara’s rear coil set-up.
But for families, off-road enthusiasts or part-time explorers, the back end is remarkably comfortable and ideal for poor traction conditions.
Safety and servicing
The Navara has a five-star crash rating and the ST-X comes with a healthy list of features outside the safety of its inherent large full-chassis body.
It has seven airbags and the full suite of electronic stability and traction aids, rear parking sensors and a reversing camera, the headlights are LED (as are the daytime running lights), the mirrors are heated and fold flat to avoid damage and it gets hill-descent control and brake assist.
Nissan offers a three-year/100,000km warranty and has a three-year roadside assistance program.
The Navara needs 12-month or 20,000km service intervals and its capped-price service program costs $1775 for three years.
Glass’s Guide expects the Navara ST-X to have a resale value after three years of 53 per cent of its initial purchase price, equal to the Amarok, above the Colorado and Triton but less than the Ranger’s 56 per cent prediction.
The centrepiece of the Navara is its coil-sprung rear suspension. It’s seen as a gamble by Nissan by departing from the norm – especially in Thailand – but is demonstrably more comfortable than most rivals and offers better traction advantages.
Other than that, the Navara is on par with its competitors. It is certainly comfortable, affordable and almost fun to drive. Its ownership costs are very good and, as a family vehicle, offers a lot of room, features and comfort.
The success of this ute lies less in how capable it is, and more in how good the incoming rivals will be.
Ford Ranger XLT from $55,390 plus on-road costs
The working man’s new plaything remains one of the most sought-after dual-cabs in the crowded market. It looks tough, goes hard and is very capable both for work and leisure. It’s about to be upgraded with more tech and a new nose but the fundamentals remain. The top-shelf XLT gets a 147kW/470Nm 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo-diesel and six-speed dual-range transmission to average 9.2L/100km from an 80-litre tank. It has a 1023kg payload, tows 3500kg (with trailer brakes) and features include sat-nav, bedliner, sports bar, bodykit, 17-inch alloy wheels and auto headlights and wipers. Ford provides a three-year/100,000km warranty, lifetime service program, and capped-price servicing costs $1425 for three years. Resale after three years is the best here at 56 per cent.
Mitsubishi Triton Exceed from $47,490 plus on-road costs
The recently launched new-generation model is a winner in terms of value for money and performance. Heaps better than the previous effort and even looks better. It has a 133kW/430Nm 2.4-litre turbo-diesel engine mated to a five-speed automatic and two-speed dual-range system borrowed from the Pajero.
Fuel economy averages 7.6L/100km, by far the best around. It tows 3100kg (braked), has a 935kg payload and features include leather upholstery, digital radio, rear camera, sat-nav and 17-inch alloy wheels. It has a five-year warranty and capped-price servicing will cost $1510 for three years. Glass’s Guide estimates its three-year resale value will be 52 per cent of the purchase price.
Volkswagen Amarok Highline TDI420 from $55,490 plus on-road costs
The odd one out by not coming from Thailand (it’s made in Argentina) and not having a dual-range gearbox. The eight-speed automatic drives a constant 4WD system and the spread of ratios makes the low-range box mostly obsolete. It has a 2.0-litre bi-turbo diesel engine rated at 132kW/420Nm and averaging 8.3L/100km. It has a braked towing capacity of 3000kg and a maximum payload of 1000kg. Features include front and rear parking sensors, reversing camera, sat-nav and tray light. It has a resale value of 53 per cent, a three-year/unlimited-distance warranty and a capped-price service cost of $1733 for three years.
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