In about as many years as the latest-generation Navara has been on-sale it gets yet another update - sensibly named the Navara Series III – that promises to finally find a balance between its compliant-riding coil-sprung rear-end and the sturdy ability a traditional leaf-sprung workhorse has.
Given its intention as a halfway house between family time and worksite hauling there’s probably no better model to test than this top-spec ST-X, which will mostly tick a complex list of traits for a touring family.
Looking familiar in nearly every way to the Series II, the Series III has the same blend between rugged looks and softer, almost SUV-like lines that rivals like the Mazda BT-50 didn’t pull off.
Items like the rear tray lip spoiler, side steps and front chrome bar add further pizzazz and the standard roof rails are useful. Look closer though and the tilted haunches of the Series III cover a modified rear-end that fixes previous issues related to driveability under load.
As one of the only utes to adopt a five-link coil sprung setup in the back the Navara has been good at driving like a car but drooped to a poor ride with a decent load. New dual-rate springs promise to help fix that and what Nissan calls dynamic rebound dampers should minimise movement as the Navara’s 932kg payload capacity is reached.
And there are further tweaks under the skin, with the steering recalibrated for easier cornering and less turning lock-to-lock.
But the ST-X on test, while packed with most features, gets only a fabric trim interior where most top-end rivals bring leather as standard. It’s a letdown in an otherwise good package that includes 18-inch alloys, automatic LED headlights, keyless entry with push-to-start ignition, 7.0-inch infotainment system, reversing and 360-degree camera view, dual-zone climate control, electric sliding rear window and three 12-volt outlets in the cabin.
Leather trim, with heated front seats, costs an additional $1500. A sunroof can also be optioned at $1000 - something none of its rivals offer.
Pricing starts from $51,990 for the ST-X that includes a six-speed manual or at $54,490 plus on-road costs with a seven-speed automatic transmission (on test). In the greater scheme of increasingly expensive dual-cab competitors, it’s priced on the lower side.
- Standard Equipment: Fabric appointed seats, powered driver’s seat, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, tilt-adjustable steering column, keyless entry and start, dusk-sensing headlights, trip computer with colour display, rear seat air vents, LED headlights, rear alloy sports bar, power-sliding rear windscreen, roof rails, 18-inch alloy wheels
- Infotainment: 7.0-inch touchscreen, satellite navigation, Bluetooth connectivity, NissanConnect smartphone app connectivity,
- Payload: 932kg
- Load Area Dimensions: 1503mm long, 1560mm wide, 474mm depth, 1130mm between wheel wells.
Hopping into the Navara is easy thanks to grab handles and a wide side step that doesn’t turn slippery with a bit of rain on it. Inside, the driver’s seat is high but has a reasonable range of adjustment for a ute and is surrounded by a good view through the glasshouse. The steering wheel however offers only tilt and not reach adjustment which might mean sliding the seat further forward than needed to get a good grip – a common compliant among most current-gen utes.
Otherwise, inside is well presented – more so with the optional leather trim – and there’s an airy feel inside similar to an SUV cabin. The design isn’t leading edge, but it’s lost a fair bit of the usual tradie-spec feel of older generations.
The infotainment is the biggest drawback as it’s getting old and lacks the crisp resolution of new systems. It also lacks Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, forcing the user to use its old looking maps and a basic USB connection for audio streaming. A further issue is that both Bluetooth and USB connection on a mobile won’t work simultaneously, though music can be streamed over Bluetooth – but you’ll need to charge via a 12-volt plug adaptor rather than the USB port. A bit frustrating for a travelling tradie.
Further down the centre console stack are buttons for dual-zone climate control that’s well integrated and the gear shifter with a dial for changing between two- and four-high as well as four-low. There are also three dummy plates for fitting accessory controls, like a light bar or trailer braking.
As far as practicality there’s plenty of room throughout and storage is good – on top of the dash, in the centre console and a deep glovebox. Each door pocket will also swallow a bottle easily and there are slide-out cup holders for both driver and passenger.
The rear seat has been reserved for a good amount of space, so knee room is better than most as well as headspace that’s good enough for six-foot tall bodies. And for fledgling families the rear seat is ISOfix compatible.
Between the cabin and the back tray is an electric sliding rear window that’s useful for quickly accessing gear in the tray or sliding through a long object. And the tub is more than just a plain tub - it comes with Nissan’s utili-track system along the sides for securing loads in a variety of ways. It’s a particularly helpful addition compared to tubs without a rail system and saves buying and fitting something aftermarket.
The tray itself is large but with only 1130mm between the wheel arches (1560mm total), it won’t fit a pallet or standard 1200mm sheeting flat on the deck.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 2.3-litre twin-turbo diesel, 140kW @3750rpm 450Nm @1500-2500rpm (output and configuration)
- Transmission: Seven-speed automatic, dual range 4x4
- Suspension: Double wishbone front, five-link coil-sprung rear
- Brakes: Ventilated front discs, rear drums
- Steering: (type, electrically assisted, variable-ratio rack, etc, turning circle)
- Towing Capacity: 3500kg braked, 750kg unbraked
Powered by a comparably small 2.3-litre engine the twin-turbo diesel still manages to produce plenty of huff for moving along. Total output is 140kW at 3750rpm and 450Nm of torque from 1500-2500rpm that translate to a lot of grunt down low for towing and hauling. We loaded over 500kg into the tray and it didn’t affect take off or cruising in the slightest, and the seven-speed automatic was effective at usually picking the right cog – and if not, it can be overridden into manual gear select mode.
The claimed combined fuel consumption figure is a healthy 7.0L/100km that hit 8.4L/100km during our week-long test which included highway, city and urban driving with a payload in the rear.
It is a noisy engine though and there’s not much separation of clatter into the cabin when getting up the rev range. Same for road and wind noise, though less intrusive and fine on most normal road surfaces.
The payload was also a good test on the updated rear suspension. Compared to the previous iteration, which we’ve experienced with a load and that affected handling with what was an overwhelmed and too soft rear-end, the update sits firmer. When filled with close to 600kg it wasn’t crippled and had a much better footing, and though the 932kg payload capacity isn’t quite the one-tonne territory that some rivals achieve, the Series III feels far better equipped to be take a load near its 1000kg rating.
There is some trade off to ride comfort though with the higher rear-end and modified parts transmitting bumpy roads with some jitter, but it’s a better workhorse and the overall blend for comfort is a worthy trade-off.
The steering update is an improvement too and requires less wrestling with the wheel to turn lock-to-lock. The precise improvement from the new gearing is a reduction from 4.1 to 3.4 turns and it helps for both steering around the suburbs and performing complex manoeuvres in tight quarters.
There’s no doubt this is a better car to drive than before as an all-rounder (and particularly as a work ute) and the setup that should have first landed with this generation ute.
ANCAP Rating: 5 Stars - the Nissan Navara dual cab scored 35.01 out of 37 possible points when tested by ANCAP in 2015. Extra cab and single cab variants have been tested and scored separately.
Safety Features: All Navara dual-cab models come with seven airbags (dual front, front side impact, full-length curtain airbags, and driver’s knee airbag), electronic stability and traction control, ABS brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and emergency brake assist and front seatbelt pretensioners. A reverse camera is standard on ST and above, while only ST-X adds rear park sensors, hill start assist and hill descent control.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000km
Servicing: The Navara has 12 month/20,000km service intervals (whichever comes first) and a capped-price servicing program that covers the first six services with pricing for the diesel Navara automatic set at $547, $571, $714, $571, $547, and $738 for each respective service. Your Nissan dealer will be able to explain full terms and conditions of the program.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The Ford Ranger is a benchmark ute in this category and for good reason. It has a smooth and powerful engine, great towing and payload abilities as well as good ride and comfort both on and off-road. It does however cost more.
The BT-50 shares most of the Ranger’s good habits, including its engine, but it doesn’t steer as nicely and lacks the brawny look most ute buyers want. The top-spec ute is priced similar to the Navara, though.
The Isuzu D-Max has recently had an update that puts a market-first five- instead three-span leaf suspension setup in the rear. Unlike the Navara Isuzu is going for a softer ride from its previously firm configuration but it has good load tugging credentials, a solid engine and is well priced.
- Ford Ranger
- Mazda BT-50
- Isuzu D-Max
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
What an improvement a third-quarter facelift can make. The Navara Series III rides well and can be put to work without worrying about a jiggly ride. It’s hard not to think this should have been the original or at least the first update to market, though.
But at least it’s here and with a better-balanced coil-sprung rear it’s a much more flexible vehicle for work and play. Throw in a comfortable cabin and sharp pricing and top-spec ST-X is a good value offering.
- Interested in buying Nissan Navara? Visit our Nissan showroom for more information.