nissan pickup offroad

Which is better, Hilux or Navara?

When it comes to pickup trucks, Toyota has history on its side. It’s been making its Hilux pickup for more than fifty years. And over that time, it’s gained something of a reputation for being one of the most capable all-terrain vehicles out there.

The Hilux was famously put through its paces in an early series of the British TV show, Top Gear. And since then it has gained almost legendary status as one of the most reliable, and hardest to kill, vehicles on the planet.

Since the late ’70s, the Toyota HiLux has been one of the most popular and respected four-wheel drives sold in Australia. There. I’ve said it. Be that because of successful marketing campaigns promoting the unbreakability (hey, it should be a word) of the vehicle, or the fact that it simply continues to prove to be reliable on job sites and in off-road settings. Even the resale value is strong, which clearly shows there is a deep respect for the old Luxy in this country. The Navara, on the other hand, has not gained the same level of enthusiasm here. People still buy them, and people still like them, but the same passion for the brand just doesn’t exist.

But there’s another kid on the block, the Navara from Nissan. This pickup has been around in one form or another for more than eighty years. And in that time, Nissan has developed tremendous expertise in making a car that is durable and practical. So which is better, the Hilux or the Navara?

Interior

Jonathan Masiga, a mechanic, says both cars offer a very spacious and neat layout. They also made sure that the plastics used within do not appear cheap but luxurious. They also have an elaborate multimedia system but differ a bit: while the Hilux has got a simple yet informative instrument metre, the Navara NP300 has a 5-inch multimedia system. Nonetheless, the Hilux has a special cooling compartment for your drinks while the Navara has more USB ports and cup holders than the Hilux.

Exterior

Alex Ntambi, a car enthusiast, mentions that this aspect is somewhat difficult to compare because we have varying tastes; some may love the Navara NP300 curves while others may prefer Hilux’s strong look.

However, we could look at the range of colours that both cars have to offer: Navara comes in four colours while the Hilux in seven. Apart from having a wider colour range, Toyota Hilux also comes in black which a number of people prefer.

Driving experience and comfort

On good city roads, Aloysius Masaba, a Hilux owner, admits that the Navara will give you a less-bumpy drive, just like any SUV would, while the Hilux will afford you power. That makes the Navara a favourite here.

Looking at suspension, he says the Navara’s multi suspension makes the drive even more comfortable and also renders the driver more handling because it shakes less. The rear suspension of the Navara eliminates the traditional leaf springs, replacing them with coil springs, these provide for a more stable ride and add comfort to rival comfort.

More to that, the passenger also feels comfortable at the rear of the trunk. That is quite the opposite for the Hilux which has leaf spring suspension. The leaf springs provide better handling with load and indeed offer more loading capacity.

Entertainment

Moses Mulungi, a tech fanatic, says both vehicles have six speakers and their multimedia system comes with USB ports, AUX jack, Bluetooth and a DVD player. They also have daylights and a reverse camera. The Hilux boasts of a 6.1-inch multimedia touch screen which dwarfs the Navara’s optional 5-inch screen. It also has a digital recorder which is quite trendy. However, it is not available in all its versions.

Torque and power

The Hilux comes with a 2.8litre engine while the Navara packs a 2.3litre engine giving it an advantage for fuel consumption if driven with similar conditions and driving style. To catch up on power, the Navara has a twin-turbo system that enables both to have a maximum torque of 450 Nm/rpm. However, the Navara gives off 19ps compared to the 177ps by the Hilux. However, we need to appreciate that the Navara does not rave a lot, giving a false picture of being underpowered.

Performance

Let’s start with the performance. According to the figures, the Hilux will do 0 to 62 in around 12.3 seconds, if you choose the automatic gearbox. If you go for the manual, this increases by another half a second to 12.8 seconds, to account for gear shifts.

The Navara is a little faster, thanks mainly to its higher-spec engine. Right now, the Navara comes with a single-engine size, the 2.3-litre diesel engine. But the diesel engine itself comes in two flavours.

There’s a single turbo version that will output around 158 bhp. And there’s the twin-turbo, which will deliver over 187 bhp. The more powerful twin-turbo engine will catapult the car to 62 mph in around 10.8 seconds, making it 1.5 seconds faster than the Hilux.

Practicality

By definition, dual-cab utes need to be practical. They have more asked of them than nearly any other automotive variant on the market. Think trade work, the shopping run, taking a load of garden waste to the tip and then being left to handle the important camping and 4X4 duties, too. From the get-go, the HiLux has a more practical interior. The hard plastic lining would be easy to keep clean, and the simplicity is something to be admired. It felt like a commercial vehicle in every sense of the word, but to call it ‘utilitarian’ would be extremely unfair. This sector of the market certainly has come a long way since the days where apprentices would be sitting in the back seat with their knees wrapped around their chests.

Both vehicles come with the double cab configuration. And both vehicles, being mainstream, are compatible with most truck accessories. But what about the primary purpose of a pickup: to be practical?

The Hilux has a massive load bay. If you go for the double cab version, you’ll get a loading bay capable of hauling over 1,055 kg. That’s enough for four grand pianos, in case you were wondering. It is also proficient in the towing department, according to Toyota, the Hilux is capable and has an upper towing limit of 3,200 kg.

These are certainly impressive figures, but the Navara edges out the Hilux on both fronts. According to Nissan, the Navara can carry more than 1,150 kg in its loading bay. And it can tow more than 3,500 kg, making it supremely capable.

In many other ways, though, the Navara on the test was more practical for our way of life. The factory sliding tie-down points are sensational. Allowing the ability to secure any bulky items in nearly any position is a massive advantage for an everyday vehicle as was the factory-fitted tub liner, which wrapped around the tailgate. When closed it could be used as a mini makeshift table – thanks to the deep upper lip (a neat feature we discovered at happy hour around the campfire that night).

The leather seating occupying the interior of the Navara should also be easier to keep clean compared to the pov-pack HiLux, and as we have already mentioned it is a ‘nicer place to be’ in general. Oh, we have to make mention of the sliding rear window Nissan wisely decided to include. This is a seriously handy feature for reversing; or times when you might have stinky pets (or photographers) in the back.

Safety

Sadly, the Hilux doesn’t do so well on the safety front. The standard version only managed to score three stars on the Euro NCAP safety ratings. The reason for this was that it scored badly in the “safety assist” category. The Hilux equipped with “Toyota Safety Sense” technology did a lot better, scoring five out of five stars. But it’s still unclear how many people will opt for this model. The Navara managed to score four stars the first time around. The Navara comes with an emergency forward braking system and seven airbags.

Thus it seems that the Navara beats out the Hilux in performance, safety and practicality. But these differences are often minor, and might not be enough to sway buyers in one direction or another.

Shopping Run

I somehow got the short straw here, getting to spend time on the blacktop with these two 4X4s (rather than off-road). 

The first thing that caught my attention with the Navara was the interior. It looks like they have taken design cues from the many trendy soft-roading SUVs they build, and the end result in the Navara is nice. Perhaps not suited to rough-and-tumble, but it’s well laid out, and very nice to the touch. Keep in mind this is the top-spec model, with nice (and comfy) leather seats and lots of flashing lights and buttons. Bottom-spec (RX) models still benefit from the nice interior layout, albeit with cloth trim and no touch-screen.

God bless the old HiLux, in comparison. It sports the same old hard plastics reminiscent of earlier models, feeling like it’s made to last, rather than appease. There is a touch-screen multimedia interface (which honestly looks like a cheap Aldi iPad) glued onto the dash, with annoying buttons that are part of the touch-screen. The top-spec SR5 model is pretty similar, including the old-school gate shifter and silly-looking touch-screen. It’s a recipe that hasn’t changed over the years, and why would Toyota change it? The HiLux is a seemingly self-propelled sales juggernaut.

On-road, the HiLux is a definite improvement over the previous generation. The new diesel engines (there are 2.4 and 2.8-litre models) give you punchy, linear performance, and they’re noticeably less clattery than the old 3.0 litre. The new six-speed gearbox is great, as well. The Navara, on the other hand, also gives smooth, spirited driving – in a very different manner. You need to start spinning that 2.3-litre mill for it to start pushing psi and power – making it feel a bit peaky and undecided through the gearbox. It gives greater fuel economy, but I would personally sacrifice that for the drive the HiLux delivers.

In terms of on-road ride, the Navara is a winner. Both utes make obvious concessions on smooth rides in the name of load carrying, but the five-link coil setup does deal with undulations much better. Not to say the HiLux is bad; however, a longer and flatter leaf pack does make advances over the older model. It goes to show that the rate of change in this segment is incredible; think about the rough, loud and slow D22 Navaras and LN HiLuxs not so long ago – and compare them to these new models which are so much more refined and car-like on the road.

OFF-ROAD

I’ll paint the picture for you driving along a windy and rutted dirt road doing just under 40km/h, climbing up from a picturesque valley when all of a sudden the back end of the HiLux wanted to overtake the front end. We did not weigh the tray, and as a result, the vehicle felt dangerous unless put into four-wheel drive. The stability control light would flash violently, and then things would settle down again.

This didn’t happen in Navara. It felt planted and compliant… ‘sporty’ even. So I’m going to give the nod to the Navara for touring and dirt road driving conditions.

On more serious terrain though, that changed. The low-slung side steps on the Navara made it challenging to drive over rocks and ruts, whereas the HiLux (with fantastic traction control) felt genuinely capable. Even with old-school leaf springs in the back-end compared to the exciting new coil-sprung rear end of the Navara. As the Navara featured a factory-fitted rear differential lock, it would crab sideways while trying to climb obstacles – the supple coil suspension didn’t help here. I can’t wait to drive an NP300 with good aftermarket suspension fitted as I can see the serious potential. If you want a vehicle for rough-and-tumble style off-roading though, the HiLux is a more solid performer.

Ownership

Nissan Navara

The Navara range is covered by a three-year/100,000km manufacturer warranty (though there are dealership extended warranty programs available) and will require a trip to the service centre every 12 months or 20,000km.

The ‘myNIssan Service Certainty’ capped price servicing Navara program limits the service costs for the first six services to between $547 and $744 per dealership visit. 

There’s a full-size spare tyre, too. Handy when you get a flat. And the owner’s manual is filled with handy hints. 

Toyota HiLux

On the face of it, the HiLux looks promising. Strong dealer network, capped price servicing, and at long last, a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty was introduced by the brand early in 2019.

Delving into the details a little proves the HiLux to be a bit frustrating, however. Although services are capped at an incredibly cheap-sounding $240, you’ll have to visit twice (maybe even three times) a year with intervals set at six months/10,000km.

Affordable, sure. Annoyingly frequent nonetheless.

Sometimes when you review two vehicles, it quickly becomes painfully obvious that one is the stronger performer. Something minor can irritate you nearly immediately, or one just simply works better. This was not one of those tests. Calling a winner is hard. For my needs, the HiLux would be better suited though. It felt solid, and I loved the no-frills nature of the base model. But it was kind of slow and felt skittish on fast dirt roads unless in 4WD. The Navara is a lovely vehicle to drive on-road. The interior is a joy to sit in, and the coil-sprung rear end rode well. The engine felt stressed, however, one thing all testers can agree on. So this is a hard call. If you are planning on driving tougher off-road conditions, the HiLux gets the nod. But we can’t deny how comfortable and easy the Navara is to drive. Read between the lines whatever you will there

It is amazing just how close these two Utes are. We had two drivers that have driven both, and each driver would be happy with either.

If I were forced to decide between them, I would pick the Navara N-TREK simply because of the orange highlight interior features and slightly better user interface on the audio entertainment system.

However, I would be happy with the HiLux. Personal preferences of looks and features will decide. I think that sums up exactly what the issue is with these two Utes.

Which one you buy will depend on what features you like and how it feels for you. They are so close in almost every aspect (except towing) that it’s almost impossible to differentiate them.

Pick either, and you will be happy. It comes down to personal preference—looks, name badge, interior ambience etc.

You can make the information what you will. The argument about which Ute is best depends on where in the product cycle the Ute is, what is important to you and how much money you have to spend.

I hope you can use the information to assist you in your buying decision.

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