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First drive: Nissan Navara evolves the breed

Important load: Nissan says the new Navara is vital to its Australian strategy and will be the most important new product of 2015.

Nissan’s new-generation Navara marks a giant step forward for the one-tonne utility

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Nissan logo29 Jul 2014

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS in THAILAND

NISSAN’S completely redesigned Navara will storm the Australian one-tonne pick-up market early next year with keen pricing, newfound refinement, advanced technology, exclusive multi-spring rear suspension on select variants and a full armada of diesel and petrol models.

While yet to finalise the Australian-market line-up, the company is already calling the new-generation light commercial vehicle (LCV) its most important model release for 2015.

According to Nissan Australia executive marketing manager Peter Clissold, the D23-series Navara is a key element of the Japanese brand’s restructuring objectives, and will boost its presence enormously in the all-important volume-selling pick-up/cab-chassis segment, which is second only to small cars on the Australian motor vehicle market.

“The Navara business has been very important to us and our dealers for decades,” he told GoAuto at the D23 global first drive event in Thailand this week.

“In Australia we view it as a three-legged stool – passenger cars, SUVs and LCVs.

“With Qashqai and X-Trail we arguably have the strongest and freshest SUV line-up in the industry, and now we’ve set our sights on similar upgrades to our LCV line-up as well.

“So it’s hugely important for us in Australia … and it will be our most important release in 2015 – absolutely.” The Navara has been Nissan’s runaway bestselling nameplate since the previous-generation Pulsar was replaced by the unpopular Tiida in 2006, underscoring its significance to the brand.

But while the new model should usher in more buyers attracted to its uplift in refinement, convenience and safety, Mr Clissold believes the one-tonne truck has lost none of its fundamental strengths that have underpinned its success over the past 28 years.

“The marketing will evolve as the car has evolved,” he said. “To our benefit, we have a good understanding of the owners of Navara we feel we know how to speak to them.

“This car combines strength with smarts, so the additional safety and convenience technologies will come into our communications as we launch new Navara.

“But at its core it is still all about power, toughness and capability, and in that regard it will be a continuation of what’s worked for us with Navara to date.

“The segment has seen some evolution in as much as it still includes tradies, but also now includes Australian families looking for a multi-purpose vehicle that can carry things in the bed and also carry their family around. It’s where the segment itself is moving to.” Traditionally the second top-selling pick-up overall in Australia after the dominant Toyota HiLux, the Navara has been squeezed out of that position by the more advanced Ford Ranger above and the cheaper Mitsubishi Triton below.

Marketed in some places as the NP 300 as well as the Frontier, the Thai-built light truck replaces the previous two iterations that sold concurrently in Australia – the entry-level D22 first introduced in 1997 and the larger D40 from 2005.

Developed over five years with more than one million kilometres of accumulated testing in Japan, Europe and The Americas, the D23 is the 12th generation Nissan pick-up in 81 years.

Nissan says more than 40,000 tests were undertaken to improve durability and quality over the previous models.

Thailand will supply all Australian-bound D40 Navaras, with Spain no longer a source for select models sold here.

Australia is likely to see three D23 body styles available from launch. These are Single Cab, King Cab (two-door) and Double Cab (four-door) versions, in either rear-drive (4x2) or four-wheel-drive (4x4) iterations.

Nissan says it has engineered the towing capacity to top out at 3500kg – up from 3000kg in the existing pick-up – which puts it in league with the best in class.

Compared to the D40, the new Navara is slightly larger except in overall length and wheelbase, although the tracks are identical. Carrying over is the boxed ladder-frame chassis as well as the double-wishbone front suspension and some floorpan parts.

The rear leaf spring set-up and axles are also modified from the preceding pick-up. Only the Double Cab models for now are recipients of a new five-link coil-spring rear suspension. Nissan insists choosing the more advanced back end does not diminish load rating or carrying capacity.

For cost and packaging reasons, the rack-and-pinion steering remains a hydraulic system rather than a more efficient electrically assisted alternative, however GoAuto understands the latter is in development for future iterations.

Overall dimensions for the Double Cab 4x4 are 5255mm in length (down 41mm compared to D40), 1850mm width (+2mm) and 1820mm height (+25mm), with the 3150mm wheelbase 50mm shorter than before.

The D23 rear bed measures 1503mm (length) x 1560mm (width) x 474mm (height) – making it slightly smaller but a little deeper than the D40, with overall carrying capacity remaining steady.

More high-tensile strength steel has been applied in key structural areas to maintain strength and durability.

The result is a 70kg lighter truck than D40, mostly due to weight savings gained in the body and rear bed engineering. The shape is now 11 per cent more aerodynamically efficient (0.37Cd versus 0.41Cd), bringing fuel economy benefits.

Kerb weights vary from about 1520kg to 1600kg in the four-seater King Cab and 1700kg to 1960kg for the five-seater Double Cab.

“Exceptional” angles of approach (31 degrees) and departure (25.6 degrees) – with all parts fitted within the ladder frame for best-possible ground clearance (220mm on Double Cab 4x4) – means the Navara can handle roads with a lateral tilt of 50 degrees. Recommended wading depth is between 450mm and 600mm, depending on the model.

As before, the 4x4 system offers 2WD, 4WD-Low and 4WD-High – shifts ‘on the fly’ can be made at speeds up to 100km/h – while an electronic locking rear differential, hill-descent control and hill-start assist have also been developed.

On the safety front, Nissan is striving for a maximum five-star ANCAP crash-test rating, according to chief vehicle engineer for LCVs, Takashi Fukui.

However, the lack of Europe’s soon-to-be-mandatory autonomous emergency braking (AEB) functionality puts it in line to score a four-star result from the European NCAP regime.

Brakes are vented discs up front but, in Thailand at least, drums in the rear. Whether this changes for Australia is unknown.

Airbags protecting the front, side, driver’s knee and head areas (extending to the second row where applicable) will be included in locally bound D23s, while stability control with anti-lock brakes will also be standard.

Nissan says everything the customer sees and feels will be new, including the completely redesigned body and interior.

Consumer research dictated a more masculine look compared to the simple and flat surfaces that came to define the old truck – evident in the newcomer’s bonnet ridges, more aggressive body side texturing, flared wheelarches, beefy side sills, ‘V-motion’ grille design and LED signature headlights, the latter a first for the pick-up series.

The D40’s old “tough and rugged” interior ambience also gave way for what the brand dubs “passive authority”.

As a result, the dashboard was modelled on the Altima mid-size sedan as a starting point – though the latest (and completely unrelated) Pathfinder and X-Trail SUVs share plenty of fascia elements as well – with smooth and integrated surfaces, a focus on a large central screen, clean instruments and everyday practicality.

While both outgoing Navaras have been strictly diesel in their diet since the 198kW/385Nm 4.0-litre V6 petrol engine was phased out in the D40 during 2011, the new Navara will rectify that situation with a 118kW/231Nm 2.5-litre petrol engine offered on 4x2 models in Australia.

All new Navaras will, however, be four-cylinder-only propositions, with the Renault-sourced 170kW/550Nm 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel in the flagship ST-X 550 variants vanishing due to an inability to meet Euro 6 emissions standards in Europe.

On the diesel front, the ‘YD25’ 2.5-litre oil-burner (to be still available in some markets) also struggles with emission regulations and will be sidestepped in Australia for an all-new Renault-engineered ‘YS23’ 2.3-litre unit – a 10kg-lighter item with common-rail direct injection offering up to 20 per cent better fuel consumption.

It will be available in two output choices.

The first is a ‘Medium Output’ 120kW of power at 3600rpm and 403Nm of torque at 2000rpm, thanks to a single two-stage turbocharger.

Higher-spec D23 diesels score a ‘High Output’ unit delivering 140kW at 3750rpm and 450Nm from 1500rpm to 2500rpm the upgrade comes courtesy of a twin-turbo application. The current D40’s 2.5-litre diesel is offered in 106kW/356Nm, 126kW/403Nm and 140kW/450Nm variations, according to application.

The standard transmission will be a six-speed manual or a Jatco-sourced seven-speed torque-converter automatic first seen in Australia in the V6 diesel, replacing the five-speed auto in the D40 2.5 diesel.

On the comfort and convenience side, the new Navara follows Nissan’s latest passenger-car and SUV models with better spinal support for front-seat occupants, a rear camera, keyless entry and start option, Bluetooth audio and phone streaming, and available dual-zone air-conditioning with rear-seat ventilation outlets.

The Navara will be introduced in over 180 markets. More than 14 million Nissan pick-ups have been made since the first Datsun 12 truck was unveiled in 1933.

To put the new D23 to the test, Nissan flew us to Chiang-Mai in northern Thailand to assess the Navara in top-line Double Cab 4x4 guise over a number of local rural roads.

While the drive was over a period of hours, the route itself was fairly uniformly straight rural roads, with only a few hilly passes and a makeshift off-road section to test the D23’s impressive approach/departure angles and wheel articulation.

However, it is abundantly clear that both the Ranger and the Volkswagen Amarok have provided compelling inspiration for Nissan’s engineers to improve the still-competitive D40 from a driveability and comfort/refinement point of view.

The latter is obvious the moment you step up into the Double Cab’s almost outrageously car-like cabin.

If you have had any time in the latest Pathfinder, X-Trail or even Qashqai, the dashboard’s presentation is virtually identical – down to the switchgear operation and much of the material quality.

Sure, the plastics might be a bit harder for durability purposes as you’d expect in a light truck, but the ambience and layout concedes nothing to the Navara’s passenger car/SUV siblings.

The only real immediate disappointment – and this one’s a big one – is that there is no telescopic steering adjustment. Why, Nissan? Some other observations: the cluster’s dials and colour TFT data display screens appear out of lower-line Infinitis (let alone Altimas) the central touchscreen lacks nothing in terms of functionality the Double Cab’s audio system cranks up to a decent sound quality ventilation is excellent and there’ s even a manual handbrake (hurrah).

The front seats kept supporting comfortably after even a couple of hundred kilometres, the rear bench is sufficiently accommodating of your reporter’s 178cm frame with an adequately pitched backrest, and there’s enough leg and headroom as well.

More importantly, the ride (on the five-link coil spring suspension) was remarkable for not being obvious virtually every pick-up we’ve experienced jiggles and rumbles after a time to reveal its truck roots.

From a driveability point of view the new YS23 twin-turbo diesel is a smooth and quiet unit, but it does require a determined right foot to really hustle away. We wonder how it will react with a load – though superior power-to-weight figures suggest that the lighter newcomer should eclipse the old YD25 engine in the D40.

At any rate, the Navara never felt gutless. The six-speed manual shifter is a little heavy but certainly not as recalcitrant as the Ranger’s gearbox, while the seven-speed auto deals out the ratios in a smooth and responsive manner – even in manual mode.

This is all promising stuff if Nissan is striving for best-in-class honours.

However, the D23’s hydraulic steering feels a little too springy and lifeless for our tastes – though there is nothing amiss about its reaction times.

Off-road, over wet gravel surfaces full of potholes, there is far less kickback from the helm than in previous Navaras, though of course we have to wait until Australian roads are sampled before we can make a definitive verdict here.

Unfortunately, no petrol, Single Cab, King Cab or 4x2 Navaras were made available for the Aussie press contingency to drive.

However, on the strength of our first taste in Thailand, the 12th-generation Nissan pick-up truck has made massive strides in comfort, refinement and technology.

We liked the old D40 for its chunky rugged charm, and some of that has been lost in the gentrification of the latest Navara.

But for the majority of increasingly urbanised one-truck buyer demographic, it seems the Japanese are right on the money with the D23.

An Aussie road experience is eagerly awaited.

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