rally race navara

Are Nissan Navaras any good?

As good as it was, time waits for no man (or 4×4). So with impeccable timing, Nissan has brought its third-generation Navara, the NP300 to the forefront. Considering that there are refreshed versions of the Ford Ranger, Toyota Hilux, Volkswagen Amarok and Mitsubishi L200 all entering the market, the Nissan has some stiff competition. However, this fight for supremacy is only set to intensify with the Renault Alaskan (based on the Navara) and Fiat’s Fullback (based on the L200) both priming themselves to enter the battle, while Mercedes-Benz, Peugeot and Citroën are all watching on from the horizon.

Therefore it’s a good thing that Nissan has been thorough with the NP300, then. Although the chassis and 4WD system are modified versions of those found on the second-generation Navara, everything else is new. The engine has predictably been downsized and now comes in at 2.3 litres, a reduction of around 200cc.

Two outputs are available: 158bhp and 187bhp. You might expect Nissan to have simply cranked the boost up to get the additional power, but they’ve been a little more thorough than that, bolting on an extra turbo to create extra grunt. Naturally, both engines feature economy and emissions improvements, too.

The big news is that the Double Cab ditches the old-school leaf-sprung rear end of the previous generation. In its place is an all-new five-link set-up with coil springs that promises greater ride comfort and improved handling. Despite this change, it can still carry over a tonne in the bed and tow 3.5 tonnes.

While King-Cab models still soldier on with cart springs, these will account for less than 10% of projected sales and are likely to be bought purely as workhorses. As the Double Cab is the one that will appeal to private buyers, potentially as an alternative to an SUV, that’s the model we’re looking at here.

We’re not going to beat around the bush, and the NP300 Navara has the best ride comfort of any unladen pick-up we’ve experienced. However, the latest generation Toyota Hilux has run it close. Where the previous-generation Navara (and other leaf-sprung competitors) would become bouncy and unsettled, the new model feels much more like a conventional SUV.

A 2.3 dCi diesel engine powers every Navara in the range and they come with either 161bhp in single turbo guise or 187bhp for the twin-turbo version. The lower-powered engine is the only one offered in Chassis and King Cab body styles, while the Double Cab gets both engines. In addition, the 161bhp diesel is only offered in the basic Visia, and Acenta trims. Nissan offers a 2WD King Cab, but the rest of the range gets part-time 4WD that is selectable via a dial on the dashboard.

The other big difference between the two body styles is that the King Cab features traditional leaf springs at the back, while the Double Cab gets a 5-link suspension system with coil springs. This delivers a more comfortable ride, but reduces payload capacity, although it’s probably worth the sacrifice for the far more refined drive the Double Cab offers.

Despite their main purpose as a beast of burden, pick-ups like the Nissan Navara remain a common sight on our roads. They’re classed as light commercial vehicles (LCVs) for tax purposes so attract a flat rate of benefit-in-kind (BIK) company car tax. That makes them cheaper to tax than regular large SUVs.

All Navaras get a 2.3-litre twin-turbocharged diesel engine with either 161bhp, and a six-speed manual gearbox in Visia and Acenta trims, or a 187bhp version of the same engine for N-Connecta, Tekna and N-Guard models. If you choose the more potent motor, you can have a six-speed manual or a seven-speed automatic box.

Unlike some rivals, such as the Volkswagen Amarok and Ssangyong Musso, the Navara is available in a variety of body styles. Most popular is the Double Cab, which has four proper doors and five seats. If you need a longer load bed, there’s the King Cab, with two occasional rear seats and a shorter cab, and both can be bought without a bed at all so you can fit custom bodywork. Just bear in mind, that you only get those options on the two lowest trim levels – N-Connecta and above are Double Cab only.

Nissan Navara reliability

There’s no reason to suspect the Navara won’t manage to stay reliable. All its parts are well proven, and the 2.3-litre diesel engine has found its way into more than 300,000 Renault and Nissan commercial vehicles already without any major problems being reported.

Nissan’s 11th-place finish in our 2019 Driver Power owner-satisfaction survey was a drop from fourth place the previous year, but few participants were Navara owners. Generally, Nissan drivers are pleased with the infotainment, technology, safety systems and the practicality of their cars. The brand’s reliability, though, has seen nearly a two-fold rise in the number of owners reporting faults within the first year, rising to 19.3%; an increase from 10.3% in 2018.

Safety

When it comes to safety, the Navara is pretty well equipped, which helped it achieve an impressive four-star rating from Euro NCAP. This is about on par with its rivals. As well as the mandatory stability and traction control systems, all models get seven airbags and a Forward Emergency Braking system, which can detect an impending collision, warn you about it and apply the brakes automatically if you don’t react in time. There are two ISOFIX child-seat mounting points in the rear, and all models get LED daytime running lights.

What stands out?

The most striking feature of the Navara ute from Nissan is how well the better-equipped versions combine high power with low fuel use. The Navara also offers a very comfortable cabin and is smaller, and easier to park, than most utes. The Navara now rides and handles much better than its immediate predecessors, including the NP300. There are rear-wheel drive and four-wheel drive versions.

What body styles are there?

Dual Cab, King Cab and Single Cab. Dual Cab Navaras have four doors and seat five, and in pick-up, form ride on coil springs at the rear.

King Cab Navaras have two small seats behind the front seats, where you can carry luggage, animals, or (for short trips) human passengers. Access is via two small rear-hinged doors, which can be opened only if the corresponding front door is open. Single Cab Navaras are available in cab-chassis form only – you specify your own tray. All King Cabs and Single Cabs use leaf springs at the rear.

The less expensive Navara at each equipment level comes with rear-wheel drive only. The more expensive version has part-time, dual-range four-wheel drive. (These drive only the rear wheels on normal roads, but you can select 4WD, or low-range 4WD when driving off-road.)

The Navara is classified as a light commercial pick-up.

What features do all Navaras have?

Audio with at least four speakers (six in dual-cabs), and auxiliary, USB and iPod inputs. It can be controlled from the steering wheel.

  • Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming.
  • Cruise control operated from buttons on the steering wheel.
  • Daytime running lamps, which make the car more visible on overcast days.
  • Headlamps that switch on automatically when it gets dark.
  • It has tinted side windows.
  • A security alarm and remote locking via a keyfob.
  • A 12-volt outlet in the rear tub
  • Electronic Traction Control, which helps the car maintain drive on slippery surfaces. This is especially helpful with the four-wheel-drive models in difficult going.
  • Seven airbags. Electronic stability control, which can help control a skid or a slide. (For the placement of airbags, and more on Navara safety systems, please open the Safety section below.)
  • The warranty is five years with no limit on kilometres driven.

Which engine uses the least fuel, and why wouldn’t I choose it?

The most powerful engine in a Navara, a 2.3-litre turbo-diesel, uses the least fuel, consuming no more than 7.0 litres/100km in an automatic form on the official test (city and country combined). There is little difference for fuel use between two-wheel drive and 4WD versions. Manual gearbox models use half a litre less.

In real-world driving, the consumption is about 11 litres/100km with the automatic gearbox, and 10.5 with the manual – still good figures for this sort of vehicle, and especially for one with such lively performance.

This diesel is the first in a Japanese dual-cab ute to use two turbochargers – one to enhance accelerator response at low speeds, and the other to maximise power when you hold your foot down. A similar layout is used on most Volkswagen Amaroks.

The only good reason not to choose this engine is its price: it comes only in the more expensive Navaras – the SL, ST and ST-X variants.

However, while the diesel supplied with the less costly Navara RX is less powerful, it uses marginally more fuel. (This too is a 2.3-litre engine, but it has only a single turbo.)

The third engine available is 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol that comes only with the Navara DX, the basic work model. It offers less power than either diesel in most driving conditions, and it uses the most fuel.

All engines come with a six-speed manual gearbox or an optional seven-speed automatic. (The more work-oriented Single and King cabs do not offer the automatic option.)

What key features do I get if I spend more?

The DX cab-chassis comes the less powerful of the two diesel engines and is the most spartan version of the Navara, coming with 15-inch steel wheels, vinyl floor covering, and less fancy door and exterior trims.

Go for the Navara RX, and you get 16-inch steel wheels. You also get tinted rear and side windows, CD-player, a rear-window demister, fancier external mirrors and door handles, and an interior fuel-flap release. The RX is available with two-wheel-drive which makes its starting price cheaper than the two-wheel-drive-only DX.

Spending more for a Navara SL 4WD Dual Cab gets you the more powerful, twin-turbo, diesel engine in a package that retains rugged steel wheels and a work-friendly vinyl floor. The SL also has an 8.0-inch multi-function screen on the dashboard, with Android Auto/Apple CarPlay smartphone integration, and a reversing camera, but you lose the CD player.

For more comfort and style in a Navara, you can opt for the more expensive Navara ST. That brings you fancier-looking 16-inch wheels (King Cab) made from an aluminium alloy, carpets on the floor, and satellite navigation. The steering wheel, gear change lever and handbrake lever are trimmed in leather, and there is a trip computer. Headlamps are a more effective projector, design. Signature running lights give the car a more distinctive look. And the ST has fog lights, side steps (which help you get in and out of the cabin), and a chrome sports bar for the tub (which can be handy for carrying long items).

The ST Dual Cab gains tougher ‘Black styling’ as featured with the Navara N-TREK and bigger 18-inch wheels that increase ground clearance for better off-road capability.

Navara STs with four-wheel drive gain a locking rear differential, which gives you better drive in slippery or very rough off-road conditions.

Pay more again for a Navara ST-X, and you gain partial-leather seats, heating for the front seats, and power adjustment for the driver’s seat. Power-folding door mirrors are heated, for demisting in wet and cold weather. There are also four cameras to create a virtual overhead view. An alloy spare accompanies the sporty-looking 18-inch alloy wheels. (Other models have spare steel wheels.)

The ST-X also has an intelligent key that allows you to unlock the car simply by touching a front door handle, provided the key is nearby (say, in a pocket or bag). There are moveable tie-down points in the rear tub and a heavy-duty plastic liner, and also roof rails, which make it easier to mount luggage systems.

On ST-X Dual Cabs, a power-operated sunroof or full leather seats are extra-cost options.

Four-wheel drive versions of the ST-X have Hill Start Control, which prevents them from rolling backwards on steep hills, and Hill Descent Control, which prevents the vehicle from running away on steep off-road descents.

The Navara N-TREK is based on ST-X Dual Cab and gains a host of exterior enhancements: a black alloy sports bar, partial leather-accented seat trim with orange fabric seat inserts and orange accent stitch, N-TREK decals, and black and orange accents.

The most expensive Navara, the N-TREK Warrior, is the most rugged Navara model yet and has been modified here in Australia. It gains chunky 32.2-inch all-terrain tyres on 17-inch rims, and locally tuned suspension, distinctive body-coloured steel bullbar, with integrated LED light bar, unique N-TREK Warrior exterior styling and stainless-steel front underbody protection plate.

What might I miss that similar cars have?

A four-wheel-drive system that works on normal roads and not just off-road. More expensive versions of the Mitsubishi Triton and all automatic Volkswagen Amaroks with 4WD have this feature. It makes them safer and more convenient in marginal driving conditions than the Navara.

Reach adjustment for the steering wheel (the Navara wheel adjusts only for height), which could bring some drivers more comfort. The Triton, Amarok and Toyota HiLux offer this, for example.

Autonomous emergency braking as available in the Ford Ranger, Amarok, Hilux and Mitsubishi Triton.

Other cars you might look at include the Isuzu D-Max and Mazda BT-50.

How is it for carrying stuff, and for towing?

It’s good, of course – it’s a ute. And the Navara can also be used for towing.

How much you can carry depends on which Navara you get. Fewer seats in the cab mean more length in the tray and more weight you can put in the tray (because there’s less weight in the cab).

Legally, a Navara carries less than most other utes. Even so, the best-equipped Navara – the ST-X Dual-Cab four-wheel drive – can legally carry 770kg in the tray (38 bags of cement) and a driver and passenger. All other variants can legally carry more.

The aforementioned dual-pitch springs fitted to the rear of this latest Navara update are all about better preparing the car for a load in its tray.

We tested it with 750kg in the tray back-to-back with the outgoing Series 2 model, and there was a marked difference.

Before you take off there is a lot less sag in the rear suspension of the latest car; it sits flatter and is less stressed by the load on board.

The level of control is also significantly improved once underway. Revised shock absorbers and less bouncing the rear means the tail is better controlled.

The flatter stance also teams with the revised steering to deliver better feel through the wheel to the driver. Overall there is more confidence to the way the car reacts to bumps and corners.

When towing, too, the Navara is much improved, as we discovered when towing the maximum 3500kg load.

The additional control in the rear suspension means movements are better controlled, the car settling quicker after large bumps, something particularly noticeable if those bumps is in the middle of a corner.

One dual-cab Navara, the RX cab-chassis 4WD, has leaf springs at the rear, which have not been changed for this update. It is also adept at carrying heavy loads. But this is the farm ute of the range and comes with the less powerful diesel engine.

All of the Single Cab and King Cab Navaras have leaf springs at the rear.

Further inspection reveals that although it looks crossover-like, it’s still a commercial vehicle at heart. The leather steering wheel and gear lever are nice enough, but those expecting a sea of soft-touch plastics should look elsewhere. Everything is solid and will no doubt be tough as old boots, but the plastics are all hard to the touch.

This adequate quality extends to the engine. You are always aware that there’s a fairly big diesel mill up front, and it gets particularly thrashy above 3000rpm. Performance is respectable with either engine output – it’s no ball of fire, but it’s always able to keep pace with traffic.

Given a choice, we’d opt for the 187bhp unit simply because you don’t have to work it quite as hard. From a driving perspective, we’d also be tempted by the automatic gearbox; it can be a little sluggish from a standing start, and the odd shift could be smoother, but it’s better than the long-throw and occasionally vague manual’ box.

Wearing our sensible trousers, it’s worth knowing that the seven-speed automatic does increase CO2 levels from 169g/km to 183g/km, while economy tumbles from 44.1mpg to 40.3mpg. It should also be noted that the 187bhp lump is the only option should you want an auto or one of the top tier trim levels.

The Navara is far more comfortable than its competition, looks good in the metal (to these eyes at least) and yet is still able to carry or tow big loads. Therefore if you are in the market for a pick-up, it is the one to go for. But is it a direct competitor to an SUV? That’s a tricky question to answer.

There’s no doubt an SUV would offer cheaper running costs, better rear seat accommodation, should handle even better and probably have a higher level of perceived quality inside.

Not that this will matter that much to many people who are likely to buy a Navara, though; the idea of a do-everything lifestyle vehicle is the appeal here. That the Nissan doesn’t drive exactly like a crossover is no real issue; by narrowing the gap between pick-up and SUV, the Navara has become one of the best pick-ups out there. 

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