What's hot: Smart car-like interior accommodation and trim, strong diesel, frugal efficiency, coil-sprung multi-link rear.
What's not: Soft front-end, no reach adjustment on steering wheel
X-FACTOR: In the up-spec cars, unless you looked behind, you would not pick you were in a commercial ute - such is the interior quality and feel.
Price (4WD models): $39,990 - $54,490
Engine/trans: 2.3 litre turbo diesel | 6spd man, 7spd automatic
Power/torque: 140kW/450Nm (twin-turbo ST, ST-X), 120kW/403Nm (single turbo RX)
claimed (manual) 6.6 l/100km | tested 9.0 l/100km
claimed (auto) 7.0 l/100km | tested 8.3 l/100km
It is sometimes in the marginal moments, in the sudden unexpected 'test', that the true mettle of a car emerges.
For the new 'D23' NP300 Navara, all-new really though the bones of the chassis are mostly unchanged, that moment was found with all wheels in the air. And found then again in the way all wheels managed the landing.
Up until that point, our views were firming on the merits of the new Navara's coil-sprung multi-link rear suspension, but had not quite fixed.
Coils under the tub are not usually found in a 'fourby' ute; other key contenders in this segment utilise a leaf-sprung rear.
But that conventional leaf arrangement works best with a load in the tub; it's designed first for hard graft and ride comfort second.
Not the new Nissan.
It's not all roses, and we'll get to the debits in a moment, but this is the best 'empty tub' rear-end you will find at the moment.
Better, aside from the occasional drumming from the rear, at the wheel of the new Navara you could be forgiven for forgetting you were in a commercial ute.
This is one very smartly designed interior. The accommodation - the look, the feel, the seat comfort and feature list - is as good as you'll find in a soft-roading wagon.
Add a stout modern 2.3 litre twin-turbo diesel (single turbo in base model RX, but still a willing worker) and you've got one very good ute in the new NP300 Navara.
While the segment is getting tougher, there's a very worthy new Triton that's just hit showrooms and the king - the all-new HiLux - is about to land shortly, this new Nissan is one you should certainly look over very closely.
It will impress you with more than its bull-dog looks.
Let's get the first debit out of the way: this clean-sheet new Navara lands without reach adjustment to the steering.
And both myself and co-driver found the wheel and pedal relationship NQR, not quite right.
It's most noticeable when driving the six-speed manual (with a long clutch throw), but get the pedals right and the wheel is a tad distant. Get the wheel right, and you're cramped at the pedals.
It's not a 'biggie', it doesn't take long to settle in, and, until recently, none in the segment offered a reach-adjustable wheel. But the new Triton does, and is the better for it (so score one to the Triton).
The second debit is the short squab on the base model RX. The seats in the ST and ST-X are among the best you'll find, the RX - a lot cheaper, sure - gets a bit short-changed and we think you'll be looking for the missing under-thigh support on a long haul.
But let me tell you, other than those two blots on the copybook, it is very hard to fault this interior.
It really sets a new standard for accommodation and feels more 'quality SUV' than work-truck.
The dials are big and clear, with a selectable display ahead of the driver (with multiple screen options between the tachometer and speedometer dials - fuel economy, distance to empty, audio information and navigation directions) as well as on the large 7.0-inch touch-screen in the ST-X (5.0-inch in the ST, and a 4.0-inch for RX and lower grades).
Both come with reversing camera as standard (optional on the dual-cab RX), but only the ST-X gets sat-nav as standard fit.
All dual cab models also get three 12-volt power sockets in the cabin, and a fourth, weather-proof 12-volt power socket in the rear tub.
Features aside, the quality of the trim, piano-black highlights and metal garnishes is first class. The dashboard, centre-stack and console look and feel a class above - everything you touch has a solid, appealing feel.
So too the doors. Where working utes once made do with a hard plastic cover, now the doors too are trimmed like a modern SUV. Even the side mirrors, chromed in the up-spec models, come with repeater turn signals.
The seats too, front and rear, are generously padded and especially comfortable in the ST-X and ST models.
The ST-X also gets heated, leather-accented front seats, with an eight-way adjustable driver's seat with power slide, recline and height options as well as power-adjustable lumbar support.
The ST gets an appealing tight-weave fabric for the seats, front and rear, which, we think, is more practical than leather in the hot Aussie sun (and easily cleaned).
The seats in both ST and ST-X come with a 'spinal support feature', designed to reduce pressure on the spine and muscles.
If you're a fleet buyer and your people spend long hours at the wheel, Nissan has something to show you in the new Navara.
Other features in the range-topping ST-X include dual zone climate control and sunroof with electric one-touch power tilt and slide, Intelligent Key with remote keyless entry, illuminated push button engine start and rear interior lights.
All models we drove - RX, ST and ST-X - get a 'doggie window' in the rear glass: a power-sliding glass section operated by a switch on the dashboard.
We really like this feature (one which Triton has now dropped). It not only helps in quickly cooling the cabin down, but also allows easy reach access into the tub and improves ventilation through the cab.
Importantly, 'Pongo' the pooch is also gonna love it. He can stick his head in and slobber on a shoulder while on the run between worksites.
Lastly, certain to add to the appeal for family buyers, the centre console houses rear air-vents for second row passengers.
So, yes, a fine interior and very well-featured. Shame that reach adjustment didn't make the list of 'must haves'.
ON THE ROAD
First over a series of salt beds and sandy tracks, then along a rock strewn trail following the famed 'Dingo Fence' on the edge of the South Australian outback, and we're thinking this new Navara is pretty damn good at soaking up a rough surface.
We've been driving the lower foothills of the Gawler Ranges sitting north of the Eyre Peninsula.
It's 4WD 'high' territory here, nothing so challenging to require low range.
That said, we stepped through a few of the deeper washouts in 'low' just to get a feel for its operation. (It offers 'shift on the fly' 4WD, but you need to stop for low range, and would probably climb a wall if it had to.)
Up front is one of the best diesels in the business. A Nissan/Renault alliance product, it pumps out a worthy 140kW and 450Nm from its twin-turbo charged 2.3 litres.
The lower-specced RX model gets a single turbo, a little turbo 'lag' and slightly less output, 120kW and 403Nm, but you'd barely notice.
In both states of tune, this is a willing engine, and, mated to the six-speed manual in particular (which is standard across the range), is happy to get up and boogie if given a decent prod.
Pulling out quickly on road, or overtaking, is no issue.
Neither is lugging out of a corner with lower revs - even from just above idle the twin-scroll turbo pulls strongly and smoothly. (The single turbo RX needs a few more revs, but it too pulls effortlessly from as low as 1300rpm.)
We were driving without a load but there is ample torque underfoot and a 3.5 tonne maximum tow rating.
Gravelly on start-up, it quickly settles down to a gruff hum when warm, and at highway speeds is as quiet as we've come to expect from European diesels.
Manual models have well-spaced ratios, but the throw of the clutch is a bit long. The shift itself, though also with a long action, has a well-enough defined gate and centres nicely between third and fourth.
A seven-speed Jatco auto is a $2500 option.
Floor it, and you'll get a shower of revs - it jumps down to lower ratios a little too eagerly - but changes are otherwise decisive and its 'settled' on-road.
It also changes down pretty well when slowing for a corner and, mostly, will have the right gear underfoot when needed.
And, yes, as far as fuel economy is concerned, we were very surprised by the abstemious way the new Navara sips diesel.
Along these off-road trails (light duty, and unladen, granted), we averaged 8.3 l/100km in the ST auto and 9.4 l/100km in the ST-X (and 9.0 l/100km in the equivalent manual).
So there we were; we'd done a lot of driving over the two days, most of it along tracks, trails and rough gravel roads.
By then, and having done a few hundred kilometres the day before on bitumen, we'd decided that the front end might be a bit too soft. The Nissan doesn't point as well as the Triton or Ranger on the tarmac.
Of course, off road, a bit of extra 'give' can be useful when picking along a trail and the new Navara has good approach and departure angles for this kind of work.
But we were also thinking, and said it more than once, “I'm liking this smooth coil-sprung rear end.”
At this point we were on a wide gravel road on the run back to Wudinna. It had been graded not so long ago, but recently subjected to some heavy outback rain, and with sudden deep washouts and sandy hollows in unexpected places.
We were travelling at highway speeds, putting the new Nissan truck through its paces over the corrugations and potholes along the way. We were increasingly impressed with its ability to deal with this kind of road.
Then came the warning over the intercom, a “big wash-out” just over “the third crest”, then “keep right” over the next.
Which assumed we could count.
So we crested with a bit of care, counting as we went, skirted the hollow (which didn't look such a big deal), then put the foot down again.
We were back at enthusiastic highway speeds (we promise, your honour) when we crested the next, keeping right as instructed... and landed 'square on' in the most almighty hole.
At the most unseemly speed.
There was that half-second before impact where you have time to think about cacking yourself, and the next half-second where you realise going for the brakes is both pointless and dumb, then there is impact.
It launched us four wheels in the air, big time - we're talking Bob Beaman and 1968 Olympics here - then landed, then followed 50 or 100 metres or more of bouncing and wondering how it is that the thing hasn't broken entirely in half.
There is also the simultaneous battle of keeping the nose pointed down the road.
Fifteen or twenty seconds later (heart ok, nothing slightly lumpy added to the pants region), I said to my battered companion, somewhat sheepishly, “Heh heh, good thing about the traction control…” then noticed we'd turned it off.
But at that point, that coil sprung rear convinced us: this is one hell of a well-balanced suspension. We've no doubt, leaf springs in an unladen back would have launched that ute-back skyward.
And would have landed us in one almighty mess. The coils in the new NP300 Navara give additional compliance to the rear and allow more independent movement (live axle notwithstanding), while not compromising load capacity.
And feel more forgiving on-road; more like an SUV in fact, than a conventional dual-cab ute.
So, again, having tested it both in the air, and on the ground, a tick for the new Navara for its on-road performance.
Payload capacity is 933kg-1034kg (depending on the model), maximum braked towing of 3.5 tonne (less the payload), and towball download of up to 300kg (also depending on the GVM calculation).
Off-road capability includes a wading depth of 450 millimetres, angles of approach of 29.5-32.5 degrees and departure of 24-26.7 degrees (depending on the model) and a lateral tilt of 50 degrees.
There is a two-channel lock-down system standard in the ST-X, and a lined rear-tub, also standard for this model.
The new NP300 Navara comes with vehicle dynamic control (VDC) with brake limited-slip differential (BLSD), ABS, electronic brakeforce control (EBD), traction control and brake assist (BA) also appear on all dual-cab grades.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Nissan has a much better Navara with its new NP300 dual-cab ute. This is an impressive car in a tightly fought segment.
We like its car-like accommodation, we particularly like the performance of the 2.3 litre twin-turbo diesel, and, subject to its performance with a load, we think the coil-sprung multilink rear advances dynamics for vehicles of this class.
We think Nissan has missed an opportunity by not matching the Triton with a reach adjustable steering wheel, and it doesn't quite match the Triton's on road refinement. (The new diesel in the Triton is a particularly refined unit.)
The NP300 Navara does however offer a classier feeling interior than the Ranger or BT-50, and certainly feels more like an SUV on road, and less like a working ute than each.
And, in the context of the segment, the new model is well priced. The new Triton has it bested, but, feature by feature, the Nissan slips below similarly-equipped models from Ford, Mazda or VW.
So, with HiLux on the horizon and updated Ranger also coming, let the battle begin. This is certainly a good one from Nissan; we think you'll like it too.
PRICING (Nissan's estimated drive-away price in brackets)
- DX 2WD manual petrol dual cab - $26,490 ($29,977.00)
- DX 2WD automatic petrol dual cab - $28,990 ($32,553.00)
- RX 2WD manual diesel dual cab - $32,990 ($36,681.00)
- RX 2WD automatic diesel dual cab - $35,490 ($39,265.00)
- ST 2WD manual diesel dual cab - $38,990 ($42,873.00)
- ST 2WD automatic diesel dual cab - $41,490 ($45,457.00)
- ST-X 2WD manual diesel dual cab - $44,990 ($49,065.00)
- ST-X 2WD automatic diesel dual cab - $47,490 ($51,649.00)
- RX 4WD manual diesel dual cab - $39,990 ($43,905.00)
- RX 4WD automatic diesel dual cab - $42,490 ($46,489.00)
- ST 4WD manual diesel dual cab - $45,990 ($50,097.00)
- ST 4WD automatic diesel dual cab - $48,490 ($52,681.00)
- ST-X 4WD manual diesel dual cab - $51,990 ($56,289.00)
- ST-X 4WD automatic diesel dual cab - $54,490 ($58,873.00)
Note: Nissan bases its drive-away estimates on Victorian data. Speak with your local dealer for a drive-away price specific to your region.