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Toyota Hilux vs Nissan Navara

5 November 2006

The age of the dickied-up double cab is drawing to an end, and the era of the pick-up as a genuine SUV is upon us. At least that’s the way it would seem, judging from what’s in the Toyota and Nissan stables. We pitch the 4-litre versions against each other.

The humble 4-door bakkie is a vastly different beast from what it used to be, mixing space for five real live humans with the ability to haul a considerable burden in terms of weight and volume.

Most importantly of all, it now boasts 21st century safety equipment, and levels of refinement which were alien to the genre just a couple of years ago. No two vehicles embody this trend more than the Toyota Hilux, and, more recently, the Nissan Navara. While they’re at the vanguard of the trend to safer and quieter bakkies (Ford/Mazda and Colt are to follow suit in the new year) they’ve also introduced a new look to the market. Bigger and bolder, they’re altogether more truck-like (in the American sense of the word) aesthetically.

The Navara is a big success is every sense of the word. It casts a shadow over the Toyota in all planes bar overall length, and it also has a more angular and aggressive countenance. Loads of chrome, a brutal tubular metal roof rack (rated to carry 100kg), well- defined wheelarches from which 17-inch alloys bulge, and a bold, chromed rear bumper means it is completely in-yer-face. By comparison, the Toyota is almost subtle. Its more rounded curves aren’t as distinctive or as pretty in the macho idiom.

It is starting to grow on us though – with the exception of the slit-like rear glass – and we felt it looked pretty good in its metallic blue coat. Go for metallic on the Nissan and you’ll pay an extra R1350, while Toyota throws it in gratis.

The Toyota’s chrome detailing is limited to the exterior mirrors, and wheels are comparatively dinky at just 15 inches in diameter. It doesn’t look as purposeful or as classy and it was also felt that the Toyota’s stick-on tailgate script looked a little tacky on a R320 000 vehicle. The Nissan costs R325 800, and both manufacturers charge extra for a roll bar or a tonneau cover.

Features and equipment

Navara ★★★★★
Hilux ★★★★

Under the bonnets of both lurk engines that would happily do duty in sports cars – and in the case of the Nissan it does, albeit in a slightly different form. In 4,0-litre guise it produces a heady 198 kW, 23 more than the Toyota, and its 385 Nm narrowly beats the Hilux’s 376. Both are V6 configurations, aided by twin cams per bank, variable valve timing, and fuel injection.

They continue to mirror each other in terms of transmission: five-speed auto boxes in both cases, driving the rear wheels, with drive to the fronts and then on to low range selected from the driver’s seat. The Toyota has an auxiliary lever for this purpose, the Nissan a more contemporary rotary switch on the facia.

They live up to the role of viable substitutes for wagon-type SUVs with comprehensive equipment lists, but the one for the Nissan is much longer. It could be a luxury sedan thanks to features such as an auto-dimming rear view mirror (with built-in digital compass), six-disc in-dash shuttle, auto up/down for the driver’s window, and a heated rear glass.


Navara ★★★★
Hilux ★★★★

Boy, the double-cab goalposts have moved! The Hilux led that charge, and the question thath needs to be answered here is, has it been upstaged by the Nissan? The short answer is yes – and no. The Navara definitely brings a new level of refinement to the game, and is exceptionally quiet at idle as well as when the engine is revving moderately hard. The differences between them is quite marked in this regard, and the Nissan’s wind noise is also slightly lower, thanks probably to those sculptured exterior mirrors. Both do well in the road noise stakes, as bakkies often tend to do, thanks to ladder frames filtering out much of the aural feedback from the road. The Nissan has more adjustments for the The Toyota’s more rounded curves aren’t as macho. The looks are starting to grow on us though – with the exception of the slit-like rear glass.

driver’s seat, but not all drivers felt that it resulted in an advantage in the comfort or driving position stakes. The Toyota’s pew just feels right in terms of softness, support, height and position. The Nissan you could fiddle with, and yet not feel any better off for it. Get into the back and you may be surprised to find that the Toyota is more comfortable, despite having slightly less space. The seat is more reclined, the higher cushion provides better under-thigh support, and occupants sit less hunched, with their knees lower. There’s more width in the Nissan, though, so there’s more space for broad shoulders. With two people in the back the wide central armrest comes into its own and the seat is also split 60/40, and the two sections fold up separately. The front passenger’s seatback tips forward, and the load possibilities are therefore myriad. It proves as capable of being a load-lugger, and the “bak” is fitted out with Nissan’s Utili- Track system. This allows sturdy tie-downs to be moved around on runners fitted to both the inner flanks and floor of the load area, so that even big and heavy items (such as a quad) can be securely restrained.

Both tailgates are opened via fashionable centrally mounted latches, but eat your Jungle Oats before tackling the task on the Navara: the tailgate feels as though it is made of solid steel, and lifting it from the horizontal back to the vertical isn’t a task for the aged or infirm. Load bed size is similar, and the Hilux noses ahead with an extra centimetre or two of length and depth, but the Navara pulls alongside again with slightly less wheelwell intrusion. With 60kg more in terms of payload, this race ends with the Toyota out front.


Navara ★★★★★
Hilux ★★★★

The Navara sports a brutal tubular metal roof rack, well-defined wheel arches from which 17-inch alloys bulge, and a bold, chromed rear bumper.

tial 2050 kilos – a 200kg-odd disadvantage. So it is actually the Toyota which launches marginally faster in a robot race, but the difference is so small as to be irrelevant.

The tiniest of fractions separate them all the way to the kilometre mark, and the story is much the same when overtaking on kickdown. To find a difference on our results table, we drilled down to two decimal spaces. Top speed hardly matters in this kind of comparison, but drive flat out and the Nissan will get to its destination quicker, simply because it is restricted to 190 km/h versus 180 for the Toyota. With similar gearing, they’re both turning over at two-and-a-half thousand (the Toyota marginally more relaxed), both also shifting almost imperceptibly back to fourth when necessary. We’d say the Nissan feels creamier in this regard, simply because it is better insulated.

Cruise carefully at the highway limit and the Toyota proves to be surprisingly economical (maybe that rounded sheet metal is fairly aerodynamic?), and we’d expect it to average around 16,5 litres per 100km as an annual average. The Nissan was considerably thirstier in our steady 120 km/h test, slurping its way through 14 litres in 100 kilometres of highway, with its mass and large frontal area no doubt counting against it. We’d expect an average of 17,5 – a figure that will tax the 80- litre tank (the same volume as the Toyota’s) more often.

Mass also affects its stopping ability – eventually. It returned very impressive results in our standard 80-0 km/h test, but three-quarters of the way through the 12-run regimen some fade became evident. It is unlikely that the stoppers of even a fully laden Navara will be worked so hard, and in normal duty it stops like a car, thanks to ABS, EBD and BAS.

The Hilux is merely average on the clamps, and while fundamentally similar, its disc/drum doesn’t allow it to stop as quickly – despite less mass to haul back down. It also feels less stable due to a tendency for the nose to dive, and while it has anti-lock, it doesn’t have any other electronic aids.


Navara ★ ★ ★ ★
Hilux ★ ★ ★

Under this heading we expected the Navara to roll out as a convincing winner. It didn’t disappoint us – though it doesn’t have it all its own way off road.

Nissan’s engineers seem to have raised compliance for leaf springs to a new level here, and despite running on 17-inch tall, 65- profile rubber, it comfortably wins (pardon the pun) when it comes to absorbing bumps and potholes. Obstacles which normally jar the kidneys and test the padding of both seats and glutes are deftly soaked up, making for better progress on any road, and especially through incongruously named traffic calming zones.

While it has a large turning circle and relatively low-geared steering, the helm feels well-weighted for this type of vehicle. There’s a sense of stability and poise on poorer surfaces, which is confidence-building. On open roads, it’ll track straight and true for hours on end without wearing the driver down.

The Toyota feels almost as good until the surface deteriorates. Then there’s some steering kickback which, when accentuated by the tail’s tendency to skip around over pockmarked surfaces, can require a driver’s full attention. Fortunately the steering is a little quicker in response, and also needs fewer turns, so deft action can keep it on the straight and narrow. But it can be tiring when it isn’t part of the game plan…

We knew the Navara, with a 3,2-metre wheelbase, would face some challenges when the tarmac ended. Sure, its plush ride and decent wheel travel help keep the cola in the can over the rough stuff, but its ramp angle – and to a lesser extent the departure angle – prove to be limiting factors. Having said that, the Toyota is certainly no paragon of virtue in these areas, its belly also tending to scrape midway between the axles, but overall, we’d give it the nod for superior ability to keep a little air between metalwork and terra firma.

It also has slightly better low range gearing, a fact that becomes apparent on steep descents where the Nissan drivetrain provides very little engine braking. The Hilux’s quicker helm and better turning circle cement its reputation as the slightly superior off-roader with a more nimble feel, partly as a result of better forward visibility. Both factors will play into its hands at the mall, too.

The final verdict

Hilux ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Navara ★ ★ ★ ★

ISOFIX seat attachment points and three inertia reel belts in the back, the realisation dawns that it is the more modern and holistic take on providing a bakkie that crosses over into SUV territory.

But it weighs too much, which means the engine must work harder much of the time, and the penalty comes at the pumps. Still, it is a class act in terms of ride comfort, refinement and luggage versatility. If we were going to spend R325K on a vehicle that combines the ability to carry both passengers and all kinds of loads, we’d have to choose it first.


  • Lehlohonolo Hloni Thobane Sele

    I’d agree with the verdict but i still feel the NAVARA, its sporty roof rack, stability and shape still works magic for me.