Hooking up with the Navara V6 dCi is a bit like meeting the teenage children of a friend you haven’t seen for a year or two: You can’t help but blurt out something inane along the lines of “My, how you’ve grown?!”
And receiving the teenager’s curt answer: “Like, what were you expecting, dude?”
But the interesting thing about the Navara is that all the growth is under the bonnet. Not only has it got more cubic capacity, but it has also grown in terms of the number of cylinders. It leads the way (sorry Toyota) in the diesel double cab market by providing buyers with the option of a six-pot oilburner – married to a seven-speed auto gearbox. Not long ago, that combination would have made many a luxury sedan proud.
So while we’ve all been going gaga about the car-like manners of the Amarok, Nissan has added a model of the “go big or go home” variety: 170 kW and 550 Nm give it serious oomph and this should make it the perfect tow vehicle, thanks also to a 3000kg braked trailer rating.
Of course, there is the small matter of a R508 000 price tag? is it going to be a deal-breaker, or is the market ready to accept this for what it is: an SUV with an open luggage compartment?
If you want to show that you’re an early adopter, then you may take issue with Nissan’s subtlety. A subtle V6 badge behind the front wheelarch is the only nomenclature giveaway, and like other new-generation Navaras it has a smoother, more neatly-integrated bumper and a new bonnet. But drive behind a V6 and you wouldn’t know?which seems a pity, really.
Features and equipment
By and large, it deserves the SUV tag, and in terms of feel from behind the wheel you could be inside its close cousin, the Pathfinder, recently updated with this identical drivetrain. The V9X’s bent six potter is also found in the likes of the Renault Laguna, and has an unusual 65 degree angle between the bores.
Another uncommon feature is the use of compacted graphite iron (CGI) for the engine block. Nissan says it is lighter than iron but stronger than aluminium, making it ideal for an oilburner, where the combustion process is particularly intense.
Talking SUV traits, our test unit came with the Nissan Connect option, a R25 400 infotainment system centred on a liquid crystal display which provides the visual output for satellite navigation and a reversing camera. An added bonus is a Bose sound system with a 40 GB hard drive, Aux input and integrated Bluetooth.
Less SUV-like is the fact that the fuel flap can only be unlocked with the ignition key and not remotely, and a steering column which adjusts solely for height.
On the drivetrain side, the Navara gets stability control, incorporating side to side torque distribution via “virtual” differential locks front and rear, as well as a mechanical limited slip differential for more positive traction to the rear wheels.
With its generously-proportioned bak, complete with tie-down hooks and the versatile utili-track system, the Navara looks willing and able to meet a wide range of user needs.
With the Navara cabin it makes sense to start at the back and work forward, because as a four or five seater the Navara is very impressive, without any real compromises involved in the layout.
The rear doors are large and open wide for easy access and while there’s a step up (obviously), once inside all is good. It is roomy in all planes and the seats have an appealing, textured charcoal-coloured upholstery (leather is an option) and the angles and contours lend themselves to painless travel.
The cushion is split 60/40 and tilts upwards to lock against the backrest when not needed. This reveals a storage compartment which can be covered with a net, ideal for restraining small items.
The Navara’s front seats are also spacious and comfortable, but to some not as sumptuous as they could be. The view forward is commanding and the rear view equally so, thanks to that generously-proportioned back light, and good-sized mirrors.
The dashboard has a solid and classy look and everything is quickly assimilated, even though there are plenty of buttons. Drive mode – 2-Hi, 4-Hi and 4-Lo – is selected with a rotary dial, placed within easy reach of the driver. The steering wheel includes remote switchgear for cruise control and audio, while stalks are the standard lights/indicators and wipers pairing.
Nissan point out that the instrument cluster is new and while this isn’t startlingly obvious, they do have a clear and upmarket look – another sign that Navara straddles the double cab/luxury off-road wagon divide.
As far as storage goes, the Navara impresses with its upper and lower glove compartments, a central bin which houses the multimedia connections, a coin tray and generous door pockets. Both front seats have rear storage pockets. Overall, it has the kind of interior that you’d expect from a powerful and rugged on/off-roader.
But the real eye-opener is how refined it feels irrespective of the terrain it is traversing. Big turbodiesels are notoriously thumpy in their power delivery but with an extra two cylinders you’ll be wondering whether there’s even an engine at work.
Nissan says the relatively low compression ratio (16:1) contributes to the reduced levels of noise, vibration and harshness. It really is a big smoothie – with extra protein.
Peak torque from the long stroke, intercooled V6 arrives at 1700r/min and the vast majority of it – 500 Nm to be exact – is already available from 1500. So it comes as a bit of a surprise that when you first mash the pedal under your right foot, not a lot happens for the first fraction of a second.
In fact, the more aggressive you are with the accelerator pedal, the longer it takes for the pedal travel to translate into forward motion, as if the engine and gearbox are having a leisurely natter about just what to do about the driver’s demands.
Seems Nissan’s engineers have taken a conservative approach to how quickly the electronics allow max torque to go through the gearbox from a standing start. This kind of electronic manipulation isn’t uncommon – it is just that it seems particularly marked in the Navara. As we discovered, you’re better off pressing the accelerator to the floor more progressively, feeding in the torque as if you’re softening a naartjie’s innards before hurling it into the opposing team’s grandstand?
Then it is totally satisfying, building speed determinedly. The vehicle is capable of reaching 100 km/h in less than 10 seconds, progress ending only at a limited 195 km/h, the engine revving all the time in a way which is completely at odds with what we expect from a turbodiesel. It really is mighty, to the point where engaging 4-Hi seems to be a logical decision on a wet road?
The real pleasure comes in its overall responsiveness on the open road, though its tendency to shift into top gear prematurely, and then sometimes be unwilling to kick down, could be irritating in the suburbs.
Shifting the gear lever to the “sport” mode rectifies this suburb-bound problem to a large degree as the gearbox then becomes more responsive.
Rapid braking isn’t traditionally a Navara strong point, truth be told, and there has been a fairly extensive makeover in this department to make allowances for the added straight line ability. Brake discs now measure 320mm, and uprated calipers contribute to much more meaningful stopping ability, along with reassuring pedal feel – enough to qualify for an “excellent” under our rating system. ABS, EBD and BAS give it impressive credentials on paper, too.
Look, let’s not make any bones about it: a Navara is big. Its turning circle would do an oil tanker proud, so don’t expect to nonchalantly drive straight into most bays, and remember to hone your three-point turns. Fortunately, the helm is light at parking speeds, but with nearly four turns from lock to lock, a lot of wheel-twirling is required.
Handling and roadholding is pretty much par for the course, though with the mass of a big six up front it seems to understeer more resolutely than its four-cylinder stablemates, and the rear end isn’t quite as adept at soaking up closely-packed corrugations as the Amarok.
Of course, it is worth bearing in mind that the Navara’s rear suspension is rated to carry 900kg and tow a braked trailer weighing more than three times that.
You get used to it but the Navara, as well as having the most torque and the most power, also casts the largest shadow thanks to its super-sized 3200mm wheelbase and significant overall length, so wieldy isn’t a term you’d associate with it.
Name a dimension and the Navara’s will trump any class rival. That includes track width, which translates into good stability and the Navara should, in every way imaginable, make a great “tow truck”.
Off road the Navara is capable, its 230mm of ground clearance standing it in good stead. Approach/departure angles of 30 and 24 degrees are pretty much par for the course, but the ramp angle of 160 degrees is worse than average, and is a result of the long wheelbase and side sills.
With its virtual diff locks and reliance on the ABS technology to manage traction, the Navara V6 is very much a modern SUV as far as off-road technique is concerned, and by that we mean the driver must let technology take charge and provide the grip control. Experienced 4x4ers will no doubt agree that this is less fun (and requires less skill) than carefully modulating the throttle to limit wheelspin while simultaneously using the steering to search out terrain with the most grip, but that’s progress for you?
Engaging low range also recalibrates the throttle to make it less sensitive to small changes, making it even harder to get it wrong.
Tardy standing start reactions aside, the Navara V6 dCi represents another leap forward for the double cab. No doubt there will be plenty of debate around paying more than R500 000 for a bakkie (and whether it needs 170 kW and 550 Nm) but the end result is a very satisfying driving experience and a great tow vehicle that covers the bases as far as safety, comfort and refinement in a wide variety of conditions are concerned.
And it’ll only use around 11,5 litres of diesel per 100km in the process?
“In V6 turbodiesel guise, the Navara is no longer a bakkie, it’s a truck. Beefcake, with extra beef. If I towed a significant load more than three or four times, I’d lie awake at night longing for one.” – Adrian Burford.
“The Navara V9X is mega powerful, very smooth, surprisingly economical, can do 4×4, and drives like a classy SUV, and not a bakkie. But it is a bakkie, so you can haul the quads or the furniture around on the bak. It will certainly be an outstanding tow vehicle too. The auto gearbox, although smooth, does get caught in no man’s land at times – shifting to the “sport” mode cured this issue in town. Is this the ultimate 4×4 double cab? If it retailed for R50 000 less, I would have said that it certainly is.” – Danie Botha
“Let’s be honest, the Navara V9X is ridiculously expensive. Despite the increased power and torque, it’s tough to justify the price. In fact, unless you plan on doing some serious towing, it’s probably not worth it. But I don’t care, I still want one. Driving a bakkie has never been this much fun.” – GG van Rooyen