WHEN THE D40 NAVARA first appeared on the scene four years ago, it was a breath of fresh air for the light commercial sector.
With class-leading ride and handling levels, and a diesel that - on paper - punched holes in the competition, it sold up a storm and continues to do so.
Today the D40 Navara remains Nissan Australia’s best selling model range. But does it continue to measure up to the hype metered out by motoring journos over the past four years, or has the competition moved the game along?
To find out, we took a diesel automatic D40 Dual-Cab up into Victoria’s high-country to see how it got on, on and off the road.
A common theme in this segment (Triton aside) is simple box-like styling. In this regard the D40 lifted the bar on its arrival and continues to attract buyers who find the wide, chunky and muscular styling of the Navara appealing.
It is certainly handsome enough in a US-truck kind of way. Nissan's design DNA can be seen in the chrome angled-strut grille (where a hint of big brother Patrol can be seen) and fender flares, which are not add-ons, but integral to the exterior panel pressings.
The light commercial segment is undergoing some change and manufacturers are now looking to inject some design flair into their ‘working’ models, following Mitsubishi’s lead with the Triton. Recent spy images of the 2011 Ford/Mazda Ranger/BT50 have revealed some appealing curves. No-doubt, others will follow.
In the meantime, the Navara's styling maintains the edge on market leader HiLux, which looks under-tyred, nose-heavy and awkward. The Navara also more than holds its own against the likes of D-Max, Colorado, BT50 and Ranger.
All models in the D40 Navara range are available with the same YD series 2.5-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel engine as fitted to our test vehicle.
With peak power of 128kW and maximum torque of 403 Nm at just 2000 rpm, the 'little' diesel eclipsed the field with its outputs back in 2005.
It features 16-valves, double overhead camshafts, second-generation common rail technology and a variable nozzle turbocharger which is said to deliver lower emissions as well as more power.
For those who prefer a petrol engine, the Navara is available with Nissan’s robust and punchy VQ40 198kW 4.0-litre V6 engine. Either engine choice is available with a six-speed manual or a five-speed automatic (as fitted to our test vehicle).
The Navara's party piece is its part-time four-wheel drive system, another area in which it has until recently, led the way in the light commercial segment.
The system is driver-selectable via a rotary switch on the centre console and confirmed by a dashboard mode indicator.
In 2WD, drive is delivered to the rear wheels, but once four-wheel drive (4H) is electrically engaged, torque is split on a 50/50 basis between the front and rear axles to cope with slippery conditions.
With 4H selected the Navara can be still be driven on the bitumen much like an AWD vehicle, providing an additional level of safety and surefootedness in slippery conditions.
For real off-road work, 4L can be selected, with Navara’s low ratio (2.625) being one of the best in class on its debut.
Underneath the Navara is a ladder-frame chassis with an independent front suspension system that features double wishbones and coil springs.
The rear suspension is a rigid axle with over-slung leaf springs; it provides a surprisingly compliant ride given its 'built to carry a load' specification.
Steering is power-assisted rack and pinion, while the braking system has ventilated discs up front, and, like most in the segment, drums at the rear. ABS with EBD and Brake Assist is a standard feature.
Interior and Equipment
The Navara continues to lead the field on the inside, at least up-front.
The front seats are comfortable and supportive with an adjustable driver’s seat cushion making all the difference, something that is, unbelievably, still not a feature in some of its light commercial competitors.
Navara RX models come standard with an in-dash single CD, central locking, air-conditioning and a split-fold rear bench.
The ST-X model (as tested) adds an in-dash six-stack CD player, power windows and mirrors, remote central locking, ‘utili-track’ cargo securing system, alloy wheels, side steps, leather-bound steering wheel with cruise control, dual front airbags, anti-lock brakes and seatbelt pretensioners.
Importantly for a vehicle with off-road aspirations, the Navara is well-equipped with grab handles, both on the A and B-pillars and above the doors.
The Navara Dual Cab features a three-seater rear bench that may once have set the pace but is now only adequate. Triton now leads the way in the rear, with the Navara's rear seats feeling upright and too short in the seat cushion by comparison.
The rear bench seat in the Navara however flips up on a 60/40 split to create extra storage space behind the front seats.
Cabin storage space has been thoughtfully conceived. The cabin has two glove-boxes ahead of the front passenger, offering a total of 6.4-litres of space, a 6.0-litre storage box within the centre console and a small storage area on top of the dashboard.
Coin, cup and card holders can also be found in the centre console, while there’s a sunglass holder on ST-X models in a practical overhead console in the roof.
The rear tray provides impressive load space for a dual-cab measuring 2.36m2. It has a minimum width between the wheel-housings of 1130mm and an internal bed-length of 1511mm.
The D40 Navara's ability to deal with a load is further enhanced by the unique ‘c-channel utili-track’ system that is standard fitment on ST-X models.
This factory-fitted system incorporates five rails (one channel on either side of the load floor, plus one on each of the three fixed sides of the pick-up bed) into which self-locking cleats can be placed, providing fixed points for securing ropes and a range of accessories designed to work with the c-channel.
Built in Spain, the Navara offers a similar level of fit and finish (inside and out) to its main rivals, which are now largely manufactured in Thailand.
When it comes to on-road ability and comfort, the D40 Navara is clearly still a segment leader. It steers, corners, grips and goes in a manner more reminiscent of a large car or SUV.
The accommodation for driver and front seat passenger arguably also bests its competitors.
On the open road, the Navara belies its size and feels 'light' and car-like. On winding roads, its abilities (and remember it is almost a two-tonne light truck) will have you believing that you can chuck the Navara into corners... and you can within reason.
The Navara's excellent road manners come at a price though. Softer spring rates see load capacity limited to just over 800kg, when most of its rivals can manage closer to 1000kg.
However being rated to tow 3000kg (trailer with brakes) wins a few points back for the Navara, making it a popular choice for those wanting to tow vans and boats.
The Navara is wide (1850mm) and, with a turning circle of 13.3 metres, can be a handful both on and off the road. Manoeuvring around carparks and obstacles can prove challenging.
And, while no doubt assisting its impressive on-road manners, the ride height is lower than the competition. Unfortunately, this means less underbody clearance when off the road and in the rough, especially when combined with the ST-X's low-hanging side steps.
With cubic inches in short supply, the Navara's diesel engine has to be revved to access to that 403Nm of torque. Keeping the Navara 'on song' means regularly seeing in excess of 3000 rpm which would be okay if the engine noise was pleasant.
When pushed, the Navara’s diesel is smooth but sounds thrashy, and given this engine’s requirement for revs, the noise becomes a constant feature of every drive.
That little 2.5-litre diesel may punch above its weight in the power stakes, but its lack of low-down torque now sees it outclassed when it comes to efficiency.
We averaged 12.8 l/100 km on test, a figure bettered by the larger engined (3.2-litre) and more heavily-loaded Triton we tested in the same region last year.
With a sophisticated 4WD drive system (only recently matched by Mitsubishi with the release of the Superselect equipped Triton), the Navara acquits itself well on the dirt.
Select 4H on the fly and loose dirt roads are a breeze to navigate. The relatively soft suspension handles bumps and corrugations surprisingly well, and the Navara feels quite sure-footed and composed.
In the first part of the foray off the gravel and onto more challenging terrain, the Navara took things in its stride. Some damp steep trails and mild bog holes posed no real problems traction-wise, Navara's road tyres being the limiting factor in these environments.
Despite the limitations of the tyres, the Navara's 4WD system in low range proved itself more than capable when the going gets rough. It dealt with more than one steep and slippery slope that we were not expecting to clamber over.
In nosing down some of the steeper tracks, the Navara's low range gearing was put to the acid test and we found ourselves constantly on the brakes in order to keep the speed down. The brakes held up well, but the pedal travel is too long and lacks any real feel.
On the rougher tracks however, the Navara's real off-road shortcoming revealed itself.
That relatively low ride-height had the Navara dragging its underbody and/or sidesteps over the crests and even catching the towbar on some of the steeper hollows and wash-outs. This had us fairly crawling – inching – through some sections.
A steep damp bush trail is where you can really test the mettle of your vehicle, putting drive systems, traction and engines all to the test in equal measure.
The Navara (in damp, not wet conditions) proved that traction wasn't an issue but accessing the torque of the diesel was.
Ideally, on slippery or rocky trails, you want to be able to make progress with a minimum of revs and speed on-board.
In other words you want low-down torque and the Navara's little diesel comes up short, needing a big rev and forcing you to carry too much speed through some of the pinches.
The Navara offers an interesting mix: it continues to offer some of the best attributes of its class, but it also falls short in others.
Ultimately, it will come down to deciding what you want from your truck.
If you're looking for a dual-cab ute and plan to take it bush on some reasonably serious trails or carry a load on a regular basis, then there are better factory-standard choices on offer.
Nissan's own D22 Navara is rated to carry over 1000kg and tow 2,800kg (trailer with brakes) and would arguably be a better off-road proposition.
Alternatively, HiLux, Triton and BT50/Ranger will provide a better diesel 4WD or workhorse experience.
Should you still want the Navara for this work, then you'll be looking at a suspension lift and upgrade at the very least, changes that may impact on its superior on-road manners.
If on the other hand your new dual-cab ute will spend most of its time on the blacktop, or on regular dirt roads, then the composed Navara makes a compelling case.
Nothing in this segment drives as well on-road or is as comfortable to pilot as the Navara. For many buyers, that will be all that matters.
Which leaves one final question for consideration. Petrol or Diesel?
The Navara's comparatively small, yet powerful diesel engine impressed with its on-road performance but fell short when it really had to work. It lacks the low-down torque for which turbo-diesels are renowned and needs to be revved to perform, the reward in heavy going being a constant and irritating engine noise.
But it’s ‘horses for courses’. If it was our money, and we were spending most of the time behind the wheel on the blacktop, we'd be having a close look at the petrol-powered Navara, even if it meant paying a little more at the bowser.
With Nissan's proven and powerful 4.0-litre V6 under the bonnet, the petrol powered D40 Navara ST-X could very well be the ultimate urban 4WD dual-purpose, dual-cab ute.
- Class leading on-road dynamics
- Class leading comfort for the driver
- Well thought out interior
- Superior 4WD system
- Muscular looks
- Intelligent Utilitrack load securing system
- Large ute tray (for a dual-cab)
- Noisy overworked engine
- Lifeless feel to brake pedal
- Low ride height
- Low-slung side steps
- Rear seat no longer the benchmark