The dual cab ute segment has become more competitive and more popular than ever. The first all-new Navara in a decade promises to shake the segment up with a coil spring, multi-link rear end.
Launched headlong into an even more competitive dual-cab utility sector, the 2015 Nissan Navara promises a lot, especially with its multi-link, coil-sprung rear end, a first for any of the major players in the dual-cab 4x4 segment.
Nissan took CarAdvice into the South Australian outback to put the new Navara - which the brand labels the NP300 Navara - through a dusty torture test. While there will be 27 variants of the new Nissan Navara by the end of the year, we tested the various options in the dual-cab range. Read our 2015 Nissan NP300 Navara pricing and specifications guide here.
You wouldn’t think corrugated, marbled and dusty dirt roads would be the ideal terrain to showcase the ride and handling of a dual-cab utility and you’d be right - if the dual-cab in question was one of the raft of currently available models. Not so for the new Navara with a new - for the mainstream utes in the segment anyway - coil spring rear end with a proper multi-link system. It’s this kind of nasty road surface that theoretically best illustrates the strengths of the Navara in comparison to the rest of the dual-cab field.
Navara won’t be right at the pointy end of the segment when Ranger gets refreshed and new HiLux launches, especially in a tech sense. Reverse-view cameras are standard for the top two Navara models - ST and ST-X - and in fact, a camera isn’t available even as an option for the rest of the multi variant range. Navara won’t get lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, and autonomous emergency braking or radar cruise control either. None of the competitors get a coil spring rear, though, and for buyers who spend a lot of time and kilometres behind the wheel of their dual-cabs, that could be a bigger bonus.
Styling is the most obvious step forward for new Navara and it’s a case of the smaller truck looking more like its American Titan sibling than ever before. Nissan designers have struck a solid balance between style and purpose too. The Navara doesn’t look too soft, it still retains its tough truck appearance, but it’s got some style and design cues that ensure it’s more attractive than the outgoing model.
Elements like the subtle tailgate lip spoiler provide a handy tray for your water bottle or coffee when you’re stationary, but also add a touch of style. Even the much more basic, entry-level model looks tough and fit for purpose with its steel wheels and minimal garnishing.
The tray is par for the course in the dual-cab segment and isn’t quite as low as we’d like - for ease of loading - but isn’t as high-sided as some either - think Mitsubishi Triton in that regard. We liked the top spec model’s standard tub liner and adjustable tie down rail system too, a must at this end of the working truck segment. The floor measurements come in at 1503mm long, 1560mm wide, with 1130mm between the wheel arches. The top-spec ST-X dual-cab 4x4 model weighs in at 1921 kilograms and can tow 3500kg.
Behind the wheel, the cabin has a much more premium feel than any Navara we've ever tested, and like Mitsubishi’s Triton, might indeed feature one of the better cabins across the entire Nissan fleet. The seating position is excellent, the seats themselves comfortable and cleverly sculpted to keep you in place, and visibility is excellent. All dual-cabs get an electric rear portal window in the windscreen, making Navara the only dual-cab with that feature after Mitsubishi removed it from the new Triton.
Touch surfaces don’t feel harsh even though some are unpadded plastic, the centre armrest is (crucially) padded, which comes in handy off-road, and the driving position is comfortable after a few hours on the road. The second row is expansive enough for two adults on longer journeys and three on shorter journeys. There might not be quite as much leg room as the segment leaders, but there isn’t much in it and we look forward to comparing Navara to Amarok and Ranger.
There’s copious interior storage, not to mention 10 bottle/cupholders. You won’t be lost for places to stow your wallet, phone or smaller items like keys. The USB and 12V charging points are also easily accessible, although we’d like them in the centre console so any connected device could be hidden away.
One CarAdvice reader queried via Facebook the floor mounted bottle holders in the second row, and it’s a valid question to ask. They can’t be easily removed and don’t seem entirely logical given the back doors get their own bottle holders. It’s a minor concern obviously, but given the amount of storage elsewhere throughout the cabin, you could do without these in the floor right where the occupant in the centre of the second row will put their feet.
The infotainment system is a clear step forward as well with controls that are easy to use and the main functions all work reliably. We paired a phone, streamed audio via Bluetooth and tested the satellite navigation in the top spec ST-X and all worked properly without glitches. The general fit and finish is typical of Nissan, looks hard wearing and ensures the Navara feels more premium than any previous model.
Under the bonnet is an engine bourn of the Renault-Nissan Alliance, a twin-turbo, 2.3-litre diesel which is a real powerhouse. The sequential turbo operation ensures there’s no lag, with the smaller turbo coming into boost quickly and then the larger turbo taking over seamlessly. The twin turbo engine churns out 140kW at 3750rpm and 450Nm between 1500 and 2500rpm. In seven-speed automatic guise, the ADR fuel claim is 7.0 litres/100 kilometres, while the six-speed manual is even more frugal, at a class-leading 6.5L/100km.
While the engine, especially at start up and under load, isn’t as quiet as the segment leaders (the new Triton recently impressed us), the cabin is a lot more insulated than the outgoing model, even at freeway speeds. There’s hardly any wind noise or tyre roar that enters the cabin, and the engine fades away at cruising speeds to leave you in a relatively quiet environment.
Peak torque is available just off idle from 1400rpm and you can ride the wave of torque right up to it’s outer edge at 2500rpm. The power peak at 3750rpm means you can keep pushing the Navara beyond the torque peak, too. While the engine will rev cleanly out to redline, you’ll rarely need to do it, such is its effortless nature. It gets up to city speeds easily and the ratio spread of either the auto or manual, help to optimise the engine’s power and torque characteristics.
While the seven-speed auto is my pick of the gearboxes on or off-road, the six-speed manual is still capable and does the job smoothly enough. It’s a gearbox and clutch pairing that you’ll be able to get used to and operate smoothly without too much trouble. The auto shifts seamlessly regardless of load, and it’s inherent ability to retain momentum makes it even more advantageous off-road. Either gearbox is ideally matched to the broad torque spread of the diesel engine, which makes for effortless day-to-day running.
It only takes a few minutes on Adelaide’s suburban roads as we head for the hills to grasp the benefit of proper coil spring suspension. Dragging the dual-cab ute segment into 2015 and dispensing with the arguments over load carrying, Nissan has finally provided buyers with a utility that rides and handles like a more modern vehicle. The steering can’t match the ride and handling combo though - it’s a little on the slow side and requires too many turns lock to lock. You get used to it, but sharper steering would better suit the Navara’s significantly improved handling ability.
There’s a resolution to the ride that leaf springs can’t get close to matching, and the coils springs in concert with the multi link system iron out any road surface competently. The harshest way to judge a dual-cab is when it’s unladen, yet the Navara’s ride and bump absorption is exceptional, even devoid of weight in the tray. Smaller, high frequency ruts and bumps never have the rear-end jiggling around like a leaf spring system does.
Off-road, the suspension system forges further ahead of the competition. There’s still as much articulation as you need in the true rough stuff, but the Navara can deal with ruts, bumps and corrugations with ease. At speed (between 80-100km/h) on highly rutted dirt highways, you don’t need a single minor correction at the front end to counteract the rear-end ‘steering’ as can be the case with a leaf spring system. It’s reassuring, safer, and it means the stability control rarely comes into play no matter how slippery the surface.
We didn’t need to access low range on our launch drive, but some thick sand means we can turn stability control off, leave the electric switch in 4H and let the engine and transmission do their thing. The Navara makes smooth progress no matter how difficult the sandy sections. The ride alone makes a huge difference off-road, especially if you’re covering long distances. It’s definitely fatiguing when you’re being bounced all over the cabin, even if you’re the one with the wheel in your hands.
The NP300 Navara is covered by Nissan's three-year/100,000km warranty, including three years of 24-hour roadside assistance. There's a revised capped-price serving plan up to 120,000km as well with services every 20,000km or 12 months. For the diesel engines the breakdown is as follows: 20,000km ($532 manual and $525 auto), 40,000km ($578 manual and $572 auto), 60,000km ($693 manual and $687 auto), 80,000km ($578 manual and $572 auto), 100,000km ($532 manual and $525 auto) and 120,000km ($739 manual and $733 auto).
While the new Nissan Navara might not have some of the techno trickery to match the HiLux or Ranger, it has features that trump both vehicles to counteract that. Class-leading fuel economy, a seamless sequential turbo engine and a car-like rear suspension system that can carry a load and tow, but handles way better than leaf springs, all ensure the Navara is right at the pointy end of the field.Style is in the eye of the beholder, but we reckon the NP300 Navara is spot on for the segment looks wise too.
There’s never been a better time if you’re in the market for a dual cab ute and there’s never been a better time to buy a Navara either.