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The dual cab ute market is certainly burgeoning these days. While most tradies are happy to stick with the budget versions, there are some who are happy to pay a few more dollars and get a few more goodies. Like 550Nm - say hello to the Nissan Navara ST-X 550.
The recipe is simple - take a regular Nissan Navara ST-X and swap the 2.5-litre four-cylinder diesel motor for a 3.0-litre, turbocharged V6 diesel. Back it up with a seven-speed automatic, and you're done. Well, it's a little bit more involved than that, but you get the idea.
Yes, it's the engine that dominates this car. With 170kW on tap, and a whopping 550Nm to back it up, the Navara ST-X 550 is probably the quickest dual-cab ute on sale today. With its huge torque and all-wheel-drive, the other thing that really impresses is its towing capacity - 3000kg.
But hang on for a minute; the standard Navara, with its 2.5-litre diesel and 403Nm, manages to tow 3000kg, too. So, for the price difference of $7750 between the two models what do you get apart from an extra 147Nm?
Quite a bit as it turns out. There's a plastic-lined tray, a satin-black sportsbar with LED brake light, a hard tonneau cover which locks with the central locking, a tinted bonnet protector, front fog lights, headlamp washers, privacy glass, roof rails and, of course, V6 badges.
That engine, code-named V9X, is quite different from regular V6s. It uses a 65-degree vee angle, giving enough room to nestle the turbocharger within the banks of the vee. The block is also constructed from compacted graphite iron, which gives a weight advantage over cast iron (which would make the Navara too front-heavy) but is quieter than an a light-weight aluminium block.
Despite the CGI block, it is a little loud. A couple of things work against the Navara 550's refinement: 1) The auto calibration keeps the revs up higher than necessary; and 2) The exhaust note doesn't match what drivetrain whine, making it always sounds like it's working harder than it should be.
There's no doubt the Navara 550 is quick - in fact, it's likely the quickest dual-cab ute on sale in Australia - but something with that much torque should sound a lot more relaxed. The auto should be riding the wave of torque and upshifting early, rather than hanging onto the gears - there are seven ratios after all. Peak torque is made at 1750rpm, and it starts with a fraction of lag, and then rushes all in after that.
Fuel use is listed as 9.5-litres/100km, which is certainly better than some of the V8 utes around which make the same amount of torque. In our week of testing, we racked up 11.2-litres/100km. Not bad considering the bit of off-roading and city driving we concentrated on.
On the road, the Navara 550's ride proves a little bouncy at the rear (leaf springs), but quite comfortable up front (independent coil-over-shocks); you can really tell the differences between the opposing suspension types. If it's a dual-cab and comfort you want, then go for an Volkswagen Amarok.
It handles okay for a big lump and steers reasonably well, even if actual feel is a little muted, however that's par for the course in these kinds of cars.
Off the road, the Navara 550 is excellent, and it churns through the sand with ease (tyre pressures dropped and VSC off) using its power to push through any boggy situations, with the huge torque keeping the motor from bogging down when in really heavy stuff.
Inside, you're kept comfortable by dual-zone climate control and fairly soft seats, even if they are a little flat. The back seats have just enough room (the Amarok is definitely the class leader in cabin comfort) but on long trips can get a little wearing with their bolt-upright seating position.
The stereo, for a car which costs $60,990 before on-road costs, is frankly rubbish. At least it plays MP3s and has bluetooth.
The price is also not reflected in the choice of cabin materials, with an ultra-cheap headlining and hard dash plastics. It's spruced up a tad by the use of leather on the steering wheel (with the nice perforated feel) and gear selector, and with a silver accent for the centre console, but on the whole, its tradie-ute origins don't look like they justify the price-tag.
If it's the most comfortable and refined dual-cab ute you want, then buy a Volkswagen Amarok. However if it's bucket-loads of torque and an automatic transmission you're after (the Amarok is manual-only at this stage), plus a 3000kg towing capacity, then the Nissan Navara ST-X 550 is for you.
While it's certainly quite expensive, it's a lot quicker than its 2.5-litre sibling, and comes with extra goodies to make it worth the extra dough. It's quite good on the road, and excellent off it - the only question will be, how many will see a work site?