2012 NISSAN NAVARA REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Dual-cab utility, V6, turbo-diesel, automatic
Price: $56,990 (plus on-roads)
Fuel Economy listed: 9.5 l/100km | tested: Not recorded
Nissan’s Navara pickup has been with us for quite a few years now, and its bold chunky styling has seen it well-accepted by both private and fleet buyers alike.
So far in 2012, Nissan has shifted 17,732 of the 4x4 model (second only to the Toyota Hilux). And, adding to the Navara’s appeal, was the arrival last year of the brilliant 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6.
With 170kW and 550Nm, it has all the stump-pulling grunt you could ever need in a 4x4 dual-cab ute. Great for hauling a quad-bike trailer to the bush block, some lardy friends along for the ride and a dog the size of a small horse in the tray.
But what happens when you leave the blacktop? How well does the Navara 550 perform during a gnarly off-road session?
We put it through some serious pain to find out.
Quality: Hard plastics abound in the Navara, but the ST-X 550 brings with it a changed centre stack which sets it apart from the entry-level Navara.
But, leather seats aside, there’s no getting away from its work-truck origins.
Comfort: The seats are great both on-road and off it and there’s plenty of space up front. While the back seats are not quite Amarok-comfy, there’s enough room there for most adults for longer journeys.
Equipment: The 550 comes with a reversing camera, sat-nav screen, Bluetooth and an above-average Bose stereo with the requisite CD, MP3 and aux-in capability.
The tray is also plastic lined, which is a bonus, plus you get sidesteps and a bonnet protector (but with such a slabby front end, we’re not sure what it really protects).
Storage: Apart from that huge tray behind the cabin, there are good-sized door bins, a dual-lidded glovebox and a small, covered recess ahead of the gear lever. Behind it are two good-sized cupholders. But hey, if you have anything large, just chuck it in the tray.
Towing capacity is the same 3000kg (braked) of the Navara range.
ON AND OFF THE ROAD
On road driveability: A long stretch of blacktop led to the 4WD track. On road, that 170kW and 550Nm V6 diesel powerhouse under the bonnet is effortless when overtaking or climbing hills - all that’s needed is a slight press of the accelerator and the wave of torque does the rest.
Acceleration away from standstill is equally impressive - though there is a moment of lag as the turbo spools-up.
The seven-speed auto has ample ratios to keep the engine on the boil (but holds onto the gears longer than strictly necessary).
Off-road: On our test track, it was time to take things more seriously. Letting the tyre pressures down to 20psi was the start, which helps them to conform to the rock faces we’d be tackling; staked tyres were the last thing we needed.
The track we chose began with some tame ruts, becoming increasingly difficult the further along it went. But with sand and ball-bearing gravel covering the boulders along the path, it was about as slippery as you’ll find.
Tackling it on foot was like rollerskating.
Starting in 4-High, we approached the steep inclines with a degree of caution, picking the line to straddle some of the deeper ruts.
We’re acutely aware that the ground clearance of 230mm is fine on paper, but with those standard sidesteps, the ramp-over in narrow, winding tracks is considerably less.
In truth, the sidesteps are the saving grace of the sill panels. It’s easy to get caught out as the approach angle is pretty good. Just when you think you’ll be fine stepping up and over a rock, you’re greeted with grinding sidesteps on the way through.
Without locking differentials, the next best thing to keep drive to gripping wheels is stability control. The Navara’s ESC (dubbed VSC by Nissan) works as it should on smoother gravel, pulling up any power-induced slides or loss of traction.
In the really rough stuff however, it’s a different story.
On one occasion we found ourselves straddled across a couple of rocks with two wheels off the deck. We expected the ESC to kick in and brake the wheels which were spinning. Nothing.
Other times, with only one wheel in the air, the ESC braked it allowing us to creep forward with the torque directed to the gripping wheels.
We think that in these situations, the Nissan’s ESC needs to cut in earlier and release quicker.
It’s a little lethargic; the calibration hampers what would otherwise be a quite-capable offroader.
Perhaps more concerning is that the ESC is switched completely off when you select 4-Low, with no facility to switch it on.
You only have to look to Land Rover’s Terrain Response system to see how brilliant a tailored-to-suit ESC can operate.
Despite these misgivings, the Navara got us ‘there and back’. And that’s the critical factor with any off-roader.
And while it didn’t do it as easily as some - the systems in the Ranger/BT-50 twins take some beating in heavy going - that huge torque coupled with the auto can be a real advantage for creeping out of trouble.
Perhaps if you’re planning on tackling a lot of really rough-going, and you must have a Navara, it’d be worth heading down to your local ARB shop to get diff-lockers fitted.
While you’re at it, a lift kit and bigger wheels would make the Navara virtually unstoppable (as it would with most dual-cabs).
ANCAP rating: 4-Stars
Safety features: Six airbags (including cabin curtain bags), collapsible steering column, ABS, EBD and a good VDC (on road, though) means you’ll feel reasonably safe in the Navara.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000km
Service costs: Off-roading increases servicing costs. Any hard work, especially where dust or water are involved, reduces servicing intervals dramatically. Talk to your local dealer regarding interval costs.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Toyota HiLux SR5 ($53,490) – Toyota sells the HiLux on its “unbreakable” reputation, but it really is left behind in the current crop. Its lazy engine is pretty solid and parts are readily available, which is a plus. (see HiLux reviews)
Mazda BT-50 XTR ($50,810) – Plenty of torque, a good-sized cabin and an even better tow rating than the Navara means this - and the slightly more expensive Ford Ranger - is probably the pick of the bunch. (see BT-50 reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The Navara is certainly capable for medium duty off-road work. Just a few modifications - diff-lock and lift kit - would put it into the ‘serious contenders’ category for heavy off-road work and allow it to get the best out of its powerhouse V6 diesel.
For most people, it will do the job just fine – the real question is whether you need the V6 diesel or not.
The V6 model is very well-featured, and that rush of torque is a real plus. But if tackling the rough is your bent, then perhaps save the nearly $8000 and grab the 2.5-litre diesel ST.
After all, eight grand buys a lot of ARB gear.