The skinny: Nissan’s new Navara is one of the most well-presented dual-cab utes around, with comfort to spare and plenty of grunt. In mid-spec ST trim, it’s a very compelling option as either a full-time workhorse or as a super-handy part-time family car.
Vehicle Style: Dual-cab utility
Price: $41,490 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 140kW/450Nm 2.3 turbo diesel 4cyl | 7sp automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 8.8 l/100km (variant/s) | tested: 6.8 l/100km (variant)
Big, burly dual-cab utes are now embedded at the top of the market. A lot of buyers who may once have settled on a large sedan, now pile the family into a four-door ute.
And that's the secret to their market success: these versatile load-carriers, built strong for a life of hard work, can easily double as a weekday workhorse and a family bus on the weekend.
But while dual cabs of years past have been rather utilitarian, the lastest breed are far more liveable on the inside and a lot more carlike in the way they drive.
And if the ute segment follows the same path as the medium and large SUV categories, 2WD variants may dominate over 4x4s as buyers seek out the best value - and recognise their need for all-paw traction may not be as important as they think it is.
We took Nissan’s fresh-faced Navara NP300 in mid-spec 4x2 ST trim for a week-long spin to test the theory that 4x4 is overkill for day-to-day driving. The answer? A solid “yes”.
Quality: Nissan’s cabin plastics aren’t the best in the biz, but they’re better than most that you’ll find in the commercial ute segment.
Fit and finish is good, but we do question the wisdom of bolting the rear cupholders directly to the floor. With that area likely to be traversed by boot-clad tradesmen’s feet, we’re sceptical about their longevity.
Comfort: From the high seating position you get an expansive view of the surrounds, and the seat itself offers plenty of support under the thigh and to the lower back.
However there’s still room to improve. Like most commercial utes on the market, the Navara’s steering column doesn’t adjust for reach, only tilt. That can make it a challenge to get truly comfortable behind the wheel if your legs (or arms) are longer or shorter than the norm.
There are no such ergonomic challenges in the back seat, though. Entry and exit is aided by a large door opening and side steps as well as a set of grab handles screwed to the B-pillar.
The rear seat cushions are a tad flat in the base, but the backrest is reclined to a comfortable degree and there’s plenty of legroom to go around. There’s even a pair of face-level air-vents on the back of the centre console to keep passengers cool.
The centre-seat passenger has to place their feet around the floor-mounted cupholder, but aside from that there’s little to whinge about in the back of the Navara.
Equipment: As a mid-grade model the Navara ST comes with all of the essentials and a few luxuries; air-conditioning, cruise control, power windows, a reversing camera and Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity are all included.
You also get a leather-upholstered steering wheel and gear selector, plus a five-inch colour touchscreen incorporating Nissan’s own smartphone connectivity system. An auto-dimming rear view mirror is standard too.
The audio system is a six-speaker AM/FM/CD setup with a single USB audio input/charging port.
Storage: With a 1503mm long, 1560mm wide and 474mm high tub, the Navara’s got plenty of room for gear and cargo. There’s also 1130mm of space between the rear wheel wells - enough for a smallish pallet - and a 12-volt power outlet.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: In ST trim the Navara NP300 is propelled by a muscular twin-turbo 2.3 litre diesel four, producing a stout 140kW at 3750rpm and 450Nm of torque spread between 1500 and 2500rpm.
It’s not the widest torque band considering this engine’s use of sequential turbocharging, but torque doesn’t seem to taper off as abruptly as some other diesels once revs rise beyond 2500rpm.
The ST’s optional 7-speed automatic is a decent gearbox too, though at times feels like it allows the engine to rev too high rather than shifting early to exploit the abundant bottom-end torque.
But leave it to its own devices, and it does fine. There’s no hunting up steep grades, it shifts smoothly and has a good range of gear ratios to tackle low-speed traffic crawls and high-speed highway cruises.
Refinement: Not the Navara’s forte, admittedly. The engine is loud and rattly when under load, and there’s a fair amount of wind noise thanks to the ST’s high ride height.
Ride and Handling: One of the Navara’s key points of difference is its use of a coil-sprung rear suspension, rather than a more traditional leaf-sprung rear end.
It’s still a live axle under the tub, but the more linear springrate of a coil spring versus a leaf spring gives it better ride comfort than the average ute.
Does it result in poorer load-carrying capability? We loaded our tester up with a couple of hundred kilos and noticed little impact on handling besides a slightly more settled feel.
And the Navara ST 4x2 auto’s payload of 1067kg is plenty - albeit roughly 70kg less than what’s offered by leaf-sprung rivals like the VW Amarok.
Braking: You can have faith that the disc/drum braking hardware will slow the 1783kg Navara, and its firm and responsive pedal delivers better-than-average brake feel for a ute.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 35.01 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: ABS brakes with brake assist and electronic brakeforce control, Traction and stability control with brake limited slip diff, seatbelt remindrs for all seats, three-point seat belts for all seats, front height adjustable seatbelts with load-limiting pretensioners.
Navara ST also comes with dual front, dual side, full-length curtain, and driver's knee airbags.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Toyota Hilux SR 4x2 manual ($33,990) - Toyota’s HiLux dominates the ute segment, but isn’t available in a mid-grade 4x2 dual-cab auto configuration like the Navara.
It’s also ancient, with a new replacement due to arrive in Australia soon. Then again, at $33,990 it’s a pretty cheap buy right now. (see HiLux reviews)
Mitsubishi Triton GLX 4x2 auto ($33,990) - Less powerful and less torque-laden than the Navara, but cheaper and just as comfortable. The Triton is perhaps the Navara’s stiffest competitor right now (see Triton reviews).
Ford Ranger XLT 4x2 auto ($46,990) - With a terrific 147kW/470Nm 3.2 litre turbodiesel five-cylinder under the bonnet, the Ford Ranger XLT 4x2 has muscle to spare. You certainly pay for the privilege, however. (see Ranger reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Don’t need to traverse a muddy goat track to get to your worksite? Rarely find yourself struggling for traction on slippery boatramps? Save yourself some coin and get the 4x2 Navara.
You still get the same beefy twin-turbo diesel and tall ride-height as the 4x4 ST, but with less weight to lug around and more money left in your hip pocket. It’s a win-win.
And you’ll be buying yourself one of Australia’s most carlike utes.
It’s got unbeatable ride quality thanks to its all-coil suspension, and a rear seat that’s not just adequate, but genuinely comfortable