A Navara goes to Northam
Northam. It’s a tiny little town. It’s not known for much – dust, a few mines and a lot of road blocks. Why would there be so many road blocks in such a small town, you ask? Well, because of the biggest thing Northam is actually known for. Oppikoppi.
Oppikoppi is a music festival that began in Northam 18 years ago. Its origins were humble – a farmer with a rather substantial farm and a lovely guest house cum community pub began having artists over to perform for his friends. Soon, they had to move the bands out of the in-house bar because the crowds got too big. Add a few years and an urban myth or ten, and you get what is now undoubtedly the roughest, most authentic music festival in South Africa.
With all this heritage and rough reputation in mind, transport to and from the famed farm had to suit our destination. Thus, with the Navara being the only gap in my bakkie-driving experience, I opted for the workhorse Navara King Cab to transport myself, my companion and a whole lot of camping gear to the rock festival in the middle of nowhere.
A word on Oppikoppi – the dust
Firstly, the reports about the dust in Northam are not exaggerated. It was not only my first Navara, but also my first Oppikoppi – and it showed. Before we left I was forewarned of the fine red dust that creeps into every part of your clothing, body and car at the Northam farm. I ignored it. I’m a farm girl – and not just any farm girl. I’ve lived in Namibia and the Eastern Free State – two rather rough rural terrains. My grandfather used to farm in the Dealesville area near Kimberly – known for it’s fine, red-mist sandstorms. So, I listened to my fellow companions’ tales of needing multiple showers upon your return, and thought: Dust? What dust?
But alas, they were right.
The dust in Northam not only creeps into every crevice of your vehicle, your tent, and your clothes – but also your chest. I awoke every morning in a coughing fit (much to the irritation of my tented neighbour) as a result of not heeding the warnings of my fellow bandana’d travellers.
A word on Oppikoppi – the people
Oppikoppi is known for being all about the alcohol. Again, I was warned long in advanced about crazy drunken behaviour and sleepless nights of binging.
But, as with many fabled watering holes, the severity of the drinking that goes on at Oppi has to do with two things – the sheer number of people there, and the lack of roads. In my experience (at the university with possibly the worst drinking reputation in the world), these two elements make for odd spectacles and many an urban legend. Oppi this year attracted just over 20 thousand people, within which you’re bound to find a large portion of people ready, able and willing to go completely overboard. On the whole, people were friendly, calm, interesting to talk to and rather easy to be around. Also, not having to drive anywhere is always a great recipe for drinking, and as with most things, your behaviour at Oppi is entirely up to you and your companions. It is entirely possible to spend your time there in the same manner you would on any other holiday – to be responsible and take all things in moderation, and just enjoy it for what it is – a fantastic music festival. If, however, you’re like me and prefer a calmer Oppikoppi experience, then take my advice and opt to stay in the “Kreef Hotel“.
A word on Oppikoppi – the cars
There’s no hard and fast rule regarding the kind of vehicle to go to Oppikoppi with. The array of cars we saw there are comparable to a large shopping mall’s parking lot – if not more diverse. From a kitted out Land Cruiser with Namibian registration to a horribly modified Honda S2000 – all sorts head to the farm. The roads aren’t great, however, so something with a bit of ground clearance seems to be a good idea. There were a few spots where people in 4x2s struggled, but in general the Kugas and ix35s were fine. We even spotted two brave souls who had arrived in their Range Rover Sports and Evoques. Generally, the Kreef parking lot is a great place for off-road enthusiasts to go and drool, as many seem to use the opportunity to show off their modified Land Rovers or Wranglers.
Our trusty steed – the Nissan Navara
If, however, you can go in a Nissan Navara King Cab – do so. From the open road driving, handling the incredible winds outside Northam and the rough farm roads once there, the Navara was an absolute dream to travel with.
The load bay swallowed all manner of luggage. Our packing list included:
- a braai with all its grills,
- a camping table,
- everal camping chairs,
- packs of wood,
- two people’s luggage
- two cooler bags
- a 28 litre water tank (for a friend whose Colt was too full)
It took all this with so much ease that the stuff was still rolling around at every corner. With a tonneau cover on (which, in this guise, is admittedly not the easiest to use), we used the back gate to access our food and drinks once the bigger things had been offloaded. With a canopy on, this would be a great touring vehicle, as the space is really great.
While we weren’t able to do a proper fuel evaluation, the fuel economy was definitely much better than expected. The vehicle was delivered to our office, from where it made 3 trips of 32.2 km for the purpose of loading gear. Then, the trip to the camp site, which was mostly tar and driven between 90 and 120 km/h, was 206 km long. That trip was then made back 5 days later, and again 3 trips of 32.2 km were made to return camping and braai gear. Finally, the vehicle was collected with a quarter tank of diesel still in it. The tank holds 80 litres, and we drove roughly 605.8 km which gives a fuel consumption figure of roughly 9.9 l/100km. That’s quite close to the manufacturer’s claims of 10.3 l/100km, and the fact that it’s lower can be attributed to us rarely driving over 100km/h in top gear, due to traffic and a general sense of not-being-rushed.
Ride quality, handling and general comfort
The Navara’s ride quality is really impressive. While it isn’t quite up to the standard of made-for-tar vehicles like the Amarok and the new BT-50, it’s quite comfortable. Essentially a work horse, the Navara rides and feels like a farm bakkie. Now, this may sound like an insult, but farm girls like farm bakkies, and I felt right at home. With the expectation of dull steering, I was pleasantly surprised at the responsiveness of the wheel, and the handling is not too bad either. On a convenience level, travelling in the Navara is a pleasure, with many a storage compartment for odd bits, and the added space that the King Cab offers behind the front seats being incredibly useful. I learnt to drive in one of these cab-and-a-half-type vehicles, and there’s a simple convenience to them that makes you frown at people who buy single cabs for anything other than a loading donkey.
The Navara is no speedster, nor would you want it to be when taking into consideration its shape and weight. But, that said, the performance specs are nothing to shy away from – and they’re not just paper bound. On the road, the Navara is adept in both on and off-road situations, with enough punch to handle the gravel and overtaking the trucks that plague the road to Northam. The torque band doesn’t feel terribly wide, but peaks very low (according to Nissan, the full 403 Nm of torque peaks at 2000 r/min, which is in line with what we experienced in the vehicle), giving you access to more than enough grunt to get going. This, of course, is also what would make it a great 4×4, although the bad dirt roads we experienced on the farm were not really much of a test of what is obviously a great off-road vehicle. Power, which sits at an average 128kW, peaks at around 4000 r/min, which is slightly higher than usual, but not a problem for a turbo diesel vehicle.
The Navara has been talked about at length, and it was a long overdue test drive. While Leisure Wheels test runs are done with empty load bays on good and bad tar roads, then good and bad dirt roads, I was happy to experience the vehicle this way. This is the way it will be used – loaded up, on a variety of surfaces, and a combination of short and long distances.
The price tag of R357 000 is a bit high, but Nissan sells 168 units per month. In the right hands it’s a decent off-roader that can run with the best of the line-up, and as a day-to-day vehicle it’s immensely practical and reasonably comfortable. It’s a great all-rounder, and the hype that surrounds it nearly justified. While the long awaited 3.6 V6 dCi model has finally arrived, the other models (like the one we drove) could do with an update – especially considering the price range it’s competing in.
On a practicality level, it’s hard to fault. The biggest issue was the tonneau, which is ridiculously hard to use if you’re lacking upper arm strength. Still, it’s an optional extra, and you’re welcome to fit a different type of cover post-purchase. Nissan are also not the only automaker who use this brand, and it does sell well as it effectively seals the load bay. Comfort-wise it’s rudimentary but bearable, and I’d be happy to add one of these to my garage as an overlander or holiday vehicle. As a very non-technical review, then, it gets a thumbs up after this test.