Nissan has been touting the all-new Navara as a revolution in the bakkie market. We attended the recent launch to find out if the vehicle lives up to the hype.
Navara fans have been waiting for the latest version of Nissan’s bakkie for a long time. The vehicle has been available in markets like Australia for more than a year, so its arrival here was long overdue.
Why have we been forced to wait so long? According to Nissan South Africa, it was the result of the Navara being tweaked to better suit our market. Nissan SA wanted a few changes before launching it here, and this process took about nine months. When the Navara received an international launch In Morocco late last year, it was mentioned that the local version of the bakkie will boast 20mm more ground clearance than the European model (248mm versus 228mm). Strangely, though, ground clearance was revealed to be 229mm during the local launch. It’s more than the European version’s 224mm, but not much. Why the discrepancy? These things can depend on where clearance is actually measured, so we’ll be sure to measure it ourselves when conducting a full road test in the near future.
Other changes are also minor but welcome. A diff lock, which is optional in Europe, is standard here, and a polyurethane load bay cover has been ditched for being too soft for local conditions. Time has also been spent preparing some proper off-road accessories in partnership with Ironman 4×4, which you’ll be able to fit to a Navara without having to worry about any warranty issues.
A trick suspension
The big news, which you are undoubtedly already aware of, is that the top-spec double cab Navaras (which are the only models available at present) all sport a coil-spring five-link rear suspension – something that’s more common in SUVs and a complete novelty in the bakkie market. Unlike an old-school leaf-spring set-up, which sacrifices comfort for load-carrying capacity, this suspension promises a great combination of comfort, stability and space. (Despite its coil-spring suspension, the double cab Navara is still capable of carrying around 1 000kg, depending on specific model).
Does it live up to the hype? We didn’t spend a ton of time on bad roads during the launch, but what we did experience was certainly promising. Even on bad gravel, the Navara’s cabin remained comfortable. NVH levels were low, and the ride certainly wasn’t bouncy. More importantly, though, the bakkie felt composed. Ruts and holes that could unsettle a vehicle with stiff leaf springs at the back failed to have much of an impact on the Navara. It inspired a lot of confidence on dirt. Has it completely rewritten the rules? We wouldn’t go quite that far… yet. Some more testing on a variety of roads, and with a proper load on the back, will be needed before making a conclusion. But if the Navara doesn’t boast the best suspension in the segment, it is definitely close to the top.
The downsizing continues
In addition to a coil-spring suspension, the Navara also boasts a brand-new engine. Nissan has followed the recent trend of engine downsizing, replacing the outgoing 2.5-litre diesel with a 2.3-litre oilburner that has two turbos. Power and torque is similar to that of the previous model – 140kW and 450Nm. These figures are respectable, but not quite class-leading. The real benefit, obviously, is improved fuel consumption. Nissan claims 6.5 litres per 100km on the manual model and 7 litres on the auto. With a fuel tank of 80 litres, this promises a range of more than 1 000km.
But where does that leave us in terms of performance? Well, to our eyes, the Navara is an incredibly imposing and attractive bakkie. Combine its looks with that fancy new suspension set-up, and you can’t help feeling that the engine lets it down slightly. It’s a tad unrefined for a bakkie that is this SUV-like, and the engine/gearbox combo isn’t quite as responsive and effective as the similar set-up you’ll find in a vehicle like VW’s Amarok.
That said, the engine does a good job of hurrying the Navara along. Thanks to the combination of a high- and low-pressure turbo, lag is minimal. There’s also loads of torque to work with relatively low down on the rev range. Peak torque is generated from 1 500–2 500r/min, with a torque curve that’s nice and flat. Combine this with the mentioned fuel consumption and Nissan’s new 2.3-litre oilburner is a solid engine that offers a decent balance between performance and efficiency.
At R584 900 for the top-spec 4×4 auto model, the Navara is pricey, but the same can be said of every other leading double cab these days. Moreover, the Nissan provides an astonishing amount of kit for your money. Its list of safety and comfort features rival that of most SUVs. It has front and side airbags for the front occupants, and an additional knee airbag for the driver. It also has ABS with EBD, vehicle dynamic control (VDC) and traction control. In four-wheel-drive mode, either High or Low, the new Navara will engage its new active brake limited slip differential system (ABLS). This electronic system actively manages power delivery and wheel braking between the front and rear axles, and between the left and right of the vehicle, depending on traction and speed. The high-spec models also add hill-start assist (HSA) and hill descent control (HDC) as standard features.
The cabin is a great place to be. You’ll find an excellent infotainment system, climate control, cruise control, three 12V power sockets and a rear power-sliding window that you can open and close from the driver’s seat with the flick of a button. Rear accommodation is particularly impressive. It can easily accommodate a pair of adults, and also has headrests and air vents.
There is no doubt that the Navara is an impressive vehicle – there’s a lot to like about it. With its new suspension and great interior it is a very SUV-like bakkie. But has it revolutionised the segment? Based on what we experienced during the launch, we’re not sure that it has outdone the Amarok in terms on refinement. In order to make a definite judgement, though, we’ll need to spend more time with the vehicle and pit it head-to-head against the competition. Hopefully we can do that in the near future…
2.3D SE 4X4 MT DC R514 900
2.3D LE 4X4 MT DC R565 900
2.3D LE 4X4 AT DC R584 900
Text: GG van Rooyen