Work or play? That’s the question the 2015 Nissan Navara NP300 asks - and, in this specification in particular, it kind of screams it.
So, is it the sweet spot in the new Nissan Navara range? Perhaps, yes.
It is priced smartly – the ST automatic here is $48,490 plus on-road costs – and is well equipped for the expenditure.
Highlights include 16-inch alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights and LED headlights, front fog-lights, alloy sports bar, side-steps and differential lock.
Further, this spec – unlike the RX – has a reverse-view camera and a 5.0-inch touchscreen media system. And, for tradies who spend a lot of time on the blower, there’s Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, as well as USB inputs to keep those devices charged.
The interior feels pretty liveable, too. It is a ute first and foremost, so the materials are hard-wearing and easy to wipe down rather than being soft to the touch, but the cabin is well presented and generally very logically laid out – and the media system is a cinch to use.
The driver’s seat offers decent adjustment, but you need it because there’s no reach adjustment for the steering wheel – and that could be a deal-breaker for some buyers who have long legs.
The rear seat of the Navara NP300 is roomy, with good head and knee room, but toe wiggle space is a bit limited. It’s still a bit of a knees-up position and the squab of the bench is a tad short.
The base of the seat folds up to reveal a couple of hidey holes, but, in terms of child-seat fitment, there’s an unconventional top-loop system rather than the simpler anchor restraints or the simplest system, ISOFIX. In fact, this top-loop system was enough to deter one of our staff from loading his young bloke in the back for the weekend.
Further, the floor-mounted cupholders get in the way, and don’t feel overly sturdy, either.
That said, all back-seat occupants will appreciate the rear airvents, and there are big door storage pockets but no map pockets. And if safety is a concern, it really shouldn’t be: ANCAP recently awarded the new Navara a five-star rating, and it has seven airbags (dual front, front-side, full-length curtain and driver’s knee) as standard.
Behind the rear seat is an electric window that allows access to the tray – or adds the option of loading long items through to the cabin, safely of course! – and the tray itself is competitively sized for the segment.
It measures 1503 millimetres front-to-back, 1560mm wide and has a depth of 474mm. Further, the width between the wheel arches is 1130mm, making it slightly too narrow to fit a standard Aussie pallet (1165mm). Indeed, on that front, it can’t match the Volkswagen Amarok's deeper, wider tray for pallet-swallowing capacity.
The Navara's payload (ST auto: 986kg) is about par for the course for a dual-purpose ute, and it has the equal-best towing capacity in the class (3500kg braked).
Under the tray is the big talking point for the Navara NP300 – a five-link coil-spring rear-end suspension setup that sets it apart from all of its mainstream rivals with their leaf-sprung backsides. (Hat tip to the Ssangyong Actyon Sports ute, which has had coil springs and a proper payload since day dot.)
That suspension setup has an affect on the way the Navara drives, both positively and negatively.
The good? It rides very well over speed humps and sharp bumps, though there’s still some wobble from the tray over rutted surfaces. That wobbliness is never annoying, and over most surfaces the Navara feels much more settled than rival utes such as the Mazda BT-50, Ford Ranger and maybe – just maybe – the benchmark Amarok.
The bad? The back end will sag much more noticeably in the Navara, and the effect on the ute’s handling with ballast on board can be felt through the steering wheel. That's less of a problem on the highway if you do a lot of commuting, though.
Another gripe of the Navara NP300 which stays the same across the model range is its slow steering. The wheel takes a lot of turning, particularly when parking. It's likewise annoying if you’re driving on winding roads, as you have to row at the wheel a lot more than you do in competitor vehicles.
The ST model, along with the flagship ST-X, gets Nissan’s new 2.3- litre four-cylinder twin-turbo diesel engine.
That powerplant produces 140kW of power at 3750rpm and 450Nm of torque between 1500-2500rpm. The grunt gets to the ground through a seven-speed auto (the six-speed manual attracts a discount of $2500), with a selectable four-wheel-drive system.
For those playing along at home, the 4WD models add a sizeable $7000 premium over the 2WD versions. Our test loop was mainly road-biased, though an early morning parking manoeuvre on slippery grass showed the benefit of the switchable 4WD, as mud churn was imminent.
The diesel engine is a refined and grunty thing. Even though it can’t match the torque levels of some of its rivals, the fact it has two turbos – one working low in the rev range and the other that keeps momentum up as revs rise – means progress is smooth. It’s the sort of engine that wouldn’t be out of place in an SUV or passenger car.
The transmission, likewise, is excellent. It shifts between cogs without fuss, and picks the right point to drop down a gear on hills and the like, too. It allows the engine to remain in its sweet spot during urban running, and at higher speeds in top gear the drivetrain is anything but stressed.
Nissan offers the Navara NP300 with a comprehensive service program that’s probably better suited to tradies than families, as maintenance is due every 12 months or 20,000km, whichever occurs first. The capped-price program spans six years/120,000km, at an average cost per visit over that period of $599.
The Navara is covered by a three-year/100,000km warranty, and all new Nissans come with three years’ roadside assistance.
The 2015 Nissan Navara NP300 ST dual-cab automatic ute is the sort of truck that caters to both work and play. It’s entirely liveable as a daily driver despite its somewhat cumbersome steering, and it also ticks the boxes as a weekend warrior for the family.