The Nissan Navara ute was given a major update in 2012, bringing more equipment and price reductions to the popular One-Tonner.
An all-new Navara is due in 2014 but the current model remains one of Australia's biggest-selling models.
The Nissan Navara is getting on a bit compared with a raft of new rivals that include the Ford Ranger, Mazda BT-50, Holden Colorado, Isuzu D-Max and Volkswagen Amarok.
The private sector (60 to 70 per cent) continues to fuel growth in the ute segment with many of those folks using their dual cab pick-ups as a both a work vehicle during the week and as the family chariot over the weekend.
The big seller in the Nissan Navara line-up has been the ST dual cab 4x4, which now has a more powerful 2.5-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel engine producing 140kW (up 11 per cent) and a not too shabby 450Nm (up 12 per cent) torque. That’s marginally less than the BT-50 and Ranger, which share the same 147kW/470Nm powertrain.
It may not have the sheer grunt of the more powerful V6 turbo diesel in ST-X and ST-X 550 Navara variants, but a short and varied drive route during the launch program proved beyond any doubt why the ST will continue as the dominant seller in the Navara line-up.
There’s plenty of low-down punch with all 450Nm coming on song from 2000rpm and it’s more than willing for overtaking manoeuvres at the speed limit on undulating country roads. It’s quiet too, with little diesel clatter heard inside the cabin. This is without doubt one of the most refined four-cylinder diesel powertrains we have tested in this segment.
We drove the ST with the optional five-speed automatic transmission and manual mode via the shift lever, which comes in handy when negotiating the kind of hilly terrain that the drive route took us over. The standard seven-speed auto in the high-spec ST-X variants would surely prove more fuel-efficient and CO2-friendly than this unit however. That said, the five-speed is relatively quick shifting and, again, smooth and refined.
The upgraded ST-X and ST-X 550 get an improved V6 turbo diesel powertrain that develops a class-leading 170kW of power and 550Nm of trailer-towing torque from 1750rpm. Even at idle, you won’t pick this as diesel. Accelerate from a standing start and you’ll swear blind your driving a 3.0-litre V6 petrol with plenty of mumbo. And it’s silky smooth too, no matter where you are in the rev range.
Our only issue was with the accelerator pedal, which seems to be non-responsive half way down the travel and requires a deliberate boot full of throttle to get things moving again with any degree of urgency.
The seven-speed auto on both ST-X variants does a commendable job, only it’s a little too keen to find top gear, which necessitates the use of the manual mode when climbing even mild gradients.
Another highlight of Nissan Navara range is the suspension tune. It’s difficult to think of another vehicle in this class that can boast the same ride quality.
Our drive route included various quality bitumen surfaces and a good measure of off-road terrain. It didn’t matter; the ride was consistently supple with the suspension absorbing everything we could throw at it.
It’s a similar story with Nissan Navara in the handling department. It’s a large pick-up, but it always feels composed. Naturally, drivers have the option of switching between 2WD to 4H, or 4L via a simple twist of a dial – on the move, if need be.
There’s plenty of grip even when punting along at a reasonable rate of knots, and there’s a good deal of feel to the steering too. It’s quite communicative and allows for a rather enjoyable drive. The brakes, though, feel soft and spongy with too much pedal travel, which means a fair old stomping is needed to haul the vehicle up.
Both Nissan Navara V6 variants and the D40 ST dual cab have a braked-trailer rating of 3000kg and we put some of that to the test by towing a two-tonne load of wood trestles for the Habitat for Humanity organisation in Victoria, for a home they were building for a victim of the Black Saturday fires who needed a bridge built. We did it remarkably easily too. Even with such a large trailer, the Navara made light work of the haul.
Nissan has also increased the spec levels across the Navara range, including the entry-level RX that gets electronic stability control (Nissan calls it Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC)) and three-point seatbelts. The bench seat has also been replaced with bucket seats and the floor is now carpeted with rubber mats, rather than the previous vinyl floor.
Standard kit upgrades on the 4WD ST dual cab include 17-inch alloy wheels, five-channel utili-track, six airbags, 60/40 split-fold seats, three child-seat anchor points, dual-zone air conditioning, choice of six-speed manual or five-speed automatic and USB connectivity.
Additional features on the V6 ST-X include seven-speed auto with manual mode, alloy sports bar, fog lights, rear under-seat storage and privacy glass (second row). The higher spec ST-X 550 adds leather trim, heated front seats, premium Bose audio with hard drive, satellite navigation, reversing camera, satin black sports bar with integrated LED stop light.
There is no doubt the 2012 Nissan Navara offers more for less, and it’s also a very good drive. Will it be enough to hold back contenders from the likes of Toyota, Mazda and Ford? Only time will tell.