Nissan's Navara is the only affordable pick-up with a car-like suspension set-up. And, as Jonathan Crouch discovers, it has plenty of other virtues too.
Nissan promise that this current Navara pick-up can manage to offer relatively car-like ride, refinement and performance whilst remaining a dependable workhorse. Plus efficient engines and a reasonable sense of style allow this truck to appeal to commercial and private buyers alike.
Nissan have been proudly promoting their pick-up heritage with today's Navara model. That's no surprise considering the Japanese brand first produced such a vehicle over eighty years ago. The Navara nameplate isn't quite so old, dating back to the year 1997 and marking the first modern Nissan pick-up that didn't just appeal to those after a working vehicle. Indeed, with pick-ups popular as alternatives to SUVs, refinement is more important than ever. With that in mind, Nissan developed a smooth 2.3-litre turbodiesel engine for this current model that's so refined that Mercedes also uses it for its X-Class model. It also claims to be powerful and efficient. The key attribute here though, is the provision of a rear suspension set-up for the family-friendly Double Cab model that promises more car-like standards of ride and handling ride, without sacrificing its off road or load carrying ability.
The Navara's 2.3-litre dCi turbodiesel is available in two different power outputs; 163PS or 190PS. The lower powered of the two is standard equipment on Double Cab models and the only option on everything else. The 190PS version is reserved for the Double Cab only and makes its extra power through a second turbocharger that can provide additional boost to the engine. Two wheel drive is an option for King Cab (two seat) models, while 4WD is standard on all other variants. The standard gearbox is a six-speed manual item, while a seven-speed automatic is an option but again, this is reserved for the Double Cab model only. One of the big problems with using a pick-up as an everyday vehicle is comfort. As vehicles of this kind are primarily designed to carry up to a tonne of weight in the bed, rear springs must be pretty industrial. The issue is that when unladen, things can get pretty bouncy. Due to this, the Double Cab Navara ditches old fashioned leaf springs for the back axle. Instead, there's a five-link rear suspension setup with coil springs to give a much plusher ride without sacrificing load capacity.
There was a time where pick-ups were square-edged things that you could never call stylish. Mitsubishi's L200 bucked the trend with its curves proving a hit with buyers. With this in mind, Nissan has been more daring with this current Navara while incorporating its signature 'V-motion' grille and boomerang shaped daylight running lights. Whether you choose this vehicle in double cab or king cab guise, gone are the sharp creases and flat panels of earlier Navara models, replaced here by curves and contours. From the confident nose rearwards, it looks a modern design but one with a tough edge. The basic chassis of the Navara may be that of the previous generation model - Nissan themselves describe it as 'a fully updated version of the previous generation' - but don't let that put you off. The Japanese brand really has gone over the whole vehicle with a fine tooth comb and improved it in every appreciable area. This includes a smart dashboard to lift interior quality and NASA-inspired seats (yes, really) to make for an even more car-like experience. Those that plan on making the Navara work for a living will be more interested in the range's ability to tow 3,500kg and the Double Cab's 67mm increase in bed length over the previous generation design.
Prices start at around £20,500 ex VAT and there are various trim levels available for the Navara; entry level 'Visia', 'Acenta', 'Accenta Plus', 'N-Connecta' , 'Tekna' and 'N-Guard', plus there's an extreme 'AT32' variant if you want the most extreme, expensive version it's possible to buy. 'Visia' is the only option on the Chassis Cab and 2WD King Cab while 'Tekna' trim only comes with Double Cab models. 'Visia' is very much a working man's trim level with steel wheels, black bumpers and mirrors along with no air-con. You do get a Bluetooth stereo with USB and aux in, electric windows and cruise control though. 'Acenta' includes manual air-con, alloys, chrome mirrors and grille along with a sunglasses holder. 'N-Connecta' (a popular choice) adds dual zone climate control, heated door mirrors, bigger alloys, fog lamps, rear view camera and leather for the wheel, handbrake and gearknob. 'Tekna' is where a lot of the clever stuff comes in such as Nissan's handy 'Around View Monitor' that gives a virtual bird's eye view of the truck, rear parking sensors, LED headlights with daytime running lights, 7" touchscreen with sat-nav and Bluetooth audio streaming and roof rails. Optional extras include a rear diff lock for serious off-roading, a towing kit and heated leather seats. All models get seven airbags, ABS, hill decent control, traction control and even autonomous emergency braking on the Double Cab.
Once you get your stuff in, the cargo bed is usefully long, up to 1788mm in the King Cab model or up to 1578mm in the Double Cab variant we have here, a segment-leading figure which is 67mm more than the previous generation model could offer. As for the weight of items you can carry, well payload capacities are slightly down compared with the previous version, but you'll still be able to carry well over a tonne in this Double Cab model - or as much as 1,203kg if you were to go for an entry-level 2WD 'King Cab' model. Bear in mind also that there's a generous maximum towing capacity of 3.5 tonnes across the Navara range, which is un-bettered in the class. And when you are hauling something of that weight, you'll still be able to carry up to 800kg in the cargo bay, delivering a best-in-class total that betters the next nearest rival by a useful 200kgs. As to be expected in this day and age, downsizing and weight loss has been key to keeping the Navara's running costs in check. The 163PS single-turbo version offers combined fuel economy of up to 46.3mpg and CO2 emissions from 159g/km.
Nissan's Navara goes up against some tough rivals - primarily Mitsubishi's L200 and the Ford Ranger. In comparison to these two key competitors, this Nissan's clever five-link rear axle gives it a clear advantage for those in search of a more car-like driving experience. With no penalty on load capacity or towing ability, it could be the stand-out feature on this extremely class-competitive pick-up. That would mean little if this NP300 was ugly, or worse, dull. But it isn't. And it certainly isn't dull in the way that it drives, thanks to that clever suspension. Plus we think safety standards here are class-leading. Which means that as an overall package, the Navara is hard to beat.
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