July 31, 2014
What’s hot: Balanced 2.3 litre diesel; brilliant fuel economy, five-link SUV rear suspension, best-in-class interior.
What’s not: The V6 is disappearing, manual shift needs a firm hand, no reach adjustment to the steering wheel.
X-FACTOR: The car-like accommodation and snug feel inside will win friends; so too will the fuel economy and tough-truck capability.
Vehicle style: Light commercial 4x4 utility
Price: (expected range) $39k - $55k
Engine/trans: 140kW/450Nm 2.3 litre twin-turbo diesel | 6spd manual, 7spd auto
manual listed: 8.9 l/100km | tested: 8.9 l/100km
auto listed: 8.9 l/100km | tested: 7.8 l/100km
Let the battle begin. Nissan’s new D23 'NP300' Navara is a greatly improved car.
The new Navara would seem to be up to the challenge - it feels a wholly different vehicle to the current model it’s set to replace early next year.
It is more sophisticated, more comfortable, better finished, and quieter.
It is also very well-featured. The average family will fit comfortably and well-accommodated between these doors, and, aside from that firmer ‘tub-back’ ride, will not feel they’re riding around in a truck.
Importantly, though the new 2.3 litre twin-turbo engine is slightly downsized on the current model’s 2.5 litre diesel, the new car is just as strong and its payload and towing capacity unchanged.
But the fuel economy, as we discovered on test in Thailand, is exceptional for a vehicle of this style and weight (1.85 tonne no less), notwithstanding the somewhat slippery 0.37 drag coefficient.
Nissan’s target was to match the interior quality of the ‘medium passenger car’ class with the interior of the new Navara.
If you didn’t notice the tub on the back and the upright glass at the rear passengers’ heads, you would otherwise swear you were seated in a smart SUV.
The style, soft surfaces, brushed metal and deep piano-black of the centre-stack and dash is classier by a country mile than the current Navara. For quality feel, it’s a match for the Pathfinder (with which it shares more than a few elements).
The seats in the up-spec models we drove - no information on pricing at this early stage - were trimmed in quality leather with perforated insets and raised stitching.
The well-shaped driver’s seat, electrically adjusted, and the manual passenger seat proved comfortable and supportive for the two 100 kilometre loops we drove - each over varied surfaces and with some exotic challenges for the unwary. (Elephants and mud on the first, kamikaze chooks on the second.)
We also like the feel of the multi-function leather-wrapped wheel, which, though only rake adjustable (not reach), is easily set for a comfortable driving position.
Each we drove also came with electric sunroof, sat-nav, reversing camera, front and rear sensors and rain sensing wipers among other premium features. (These were not your base-spec models.)
So, ticks for comfort, trim quality and fit and finish.
If the up-spec models we drove are indicative of the standard of the interior finish we can expect across the range, the new Navara might have just now claimed the ‘best in class’ award.
That said, without pricing information, our rating is a bit of a shot in the dark.
ON THE ROAD
One loop took us on Thailand’s b-class roads into the mountains ringing Chiang Mai - that means mud, broken surfaces, elephants and other exotic hazards. The run terminated at a 4WD track constructed for the launch.
The second 100km run had us on both highway and sealed, although narrow and patchy, country back roads.
We did the first loop in a six-speed manual, the second in the seven-speed automatic.
The new 2.3 litre twin-turbo diesel, in particular, is an impressive unit.
Developed jointly under the Renault Nissan alliance, it retains the 140kW of power and 450Nm of torque of the older 2.5 litre engine, but is smoother, quieter and better balanced.
It also meets Euro5 emissions regulations which is why it is coming to Australia in favour of the Euro4-compliant 2.5 litre.
The 2.3 litre comes in two states of tune; we drove only the higher output twin-turbo 4x4 models. Importantly, that peak torque sits astride a wide rev-band and can be accessed at a low 1500rpm.
On road, both six-speed manual and seven-speed auto are lively, each will pull from very low revs and provide a quick stamp of power at highway speeds when needed.
Another quite apparent improvement in this new model is in on-road refinement. The new 2.3 litre diesel and drivetrain is noticeably smoother and better-balanced than the current 2.5 litre.
Unless accelerating hard and pushing the diesel up near its 4500rpm redline, it intrudes little into the cabin, and, while not as unobtrusive as a passenger diesel, is refined and unfussed.
The automatic is the same unit hitched to the V6 diesel in the current Navara ST-X 550. You should expect it to have no trouble handling the torque of the smaller 2.3 litre over a lifetime of use.
The 4x2 models in the new Navara range share the same engine but with a smaller twin-scroll turbo producing 120kW and 403Nm of torque.
Across the range, each sits on a slightly shortened version of the current chassis.
The big news however is under the tub.
While leaf-springs rule the roost - mostly - for workhorses, the new Navara gets an SUV-style five-link live-axle rear suspension on up-specced twin-cab models.
Cab-chassis, 2WD and extended cab models retain the leaf sprung rear.
The ride is firm, the Navara is built to carry a load after all, but the softer front end - which allows a little more initial compliance - noticeably reduces jarring and crashing from the front end on poor surfaces.
The five-link live-axle rear also seems to work well in providing better body control, with less jiggle and rebound ‘bounce’ from the unladen tub.
It has the same load and tow-rating capacity as the leaf-sprung models, so would seem to be a win-win.
Only when hitting unexpected concrete ledges which were an occasional feature along gravel and mud sections of the off-road loop (to reduce the damage from monsoonal rains), did things get shaken up to any degree.
The ‘shift-on-the-fly’ switchable 4WD works as it should, seamlessly engaging the front axles when extra traction is needed.
We encountered some boggy sections - and elephants - but nothing calling for a low-range haul.
On road or off, the steering feel is good (and the wheel is very good). Unlike some in the ‘fourby-ute’ sector, it provides a good feel for the road at the dead-ahead and doesn’t have that off-centre ‘hole’ where nothing much happens.
It’s not especially direct, around three turns lock-to-lock, but about right for off-road use.
Lastly, we took the auto over the 4WD course to put the suspension articulation to the test, and the hill-start and hill descent control.
On a 30 degree incline, the new Navara could be ‘parked’, then, when the brake is released, the hill-hold allows three seconds to get back on the juice to creep up and over.
Hill descent and traction control (which works like front and rear diff-locks), typical of this new breed of technology laden four-wheel-drive utes, works seamlessly and effortlessly.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
True, a couple of hundred kilometres in an unfamiliar country on unfamiliar roads is hardly the definitive test of a new car.
But a few things are apparent from our time in Nissan’s new twin-cab Navara. There is no question about it, Nissan has a better, smarter, classier new Navara waiting to swoop on this market in the first quarter next year.
The four-star rating reflects our view of where this car sits relative to the current twin-cab 4x4 contenders.
Where it does better the Ford, for now, just slightly, is on interior style, accommodation and for the quality and feel of the surfaces and trims.
The Ranger and BT-50 can’t quite hide their workhorse origins, whereas the Navara feels no different to a well-trimmed SUV.
The Nissan, though, clearly has something special going on in fuel economy.
We rarely better official consumption averages, but the second loop along country back-roads and through small Thai villages (dodging the occasional outraged Bantam) saw an average of 7.8 l/100km.
Even the climbing route into the mountains returned 8.9 l/100km.
So we’ve got a good car here. One that looks pretty sharp in the metal, and one you’d happily size-up against an SUV wagon as a family rig.
Lastly, if you’re planning an overseas driving trip, investigate the mountain roads and villages around Chiang Mai in northern Thailand.
Rope bridges across flooded streams, elephants, dogs, chooks, temples, ‘Long Huts’ and friendly Thais everywhere you go, it’s a wonderful place.
Disclosure: Tim O’Brien travelled to Thailand to the media launch of the new Navara as a guest of Nissan Australia.
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