The Navara ST-X Dual Cab is Nissan's latest stab at blending work truck toughness with weekender comfort and finesse. Does the diesel 4x4 strike an ideal balance?
If the 2016 Nissan Navara ST-X marks unique territory on high-end dual-cab 4x4 ute landscape, it’s not, despite television advert suggestion, its capability to negotiate the innards of a runaway metal pipe. Instead, this reinvented Navara’s headline change is the adoption of multi-link, coil-sprung rear suspension unique in the rugged, load-lugging utility set, an attempt at achieving properly car-like ride comfort at an architectural level, if at the mercy of scrutiny over the suspension type’s tough truck suitability.
While its suspension may set ute-o-phile tongues waging, there’s more to the Navara ST-X’s grander pitch to well-healed ute buyers. It also promises rich and unique specification to compliment on-road comfort, segment-smashing fuel economy, highly competitive towing and payload-hauling abilities and, well, that daisy-like freshness of things all new. To many eyes, it’s quite the looker, too.
As a complete package, it promises to shine across the board no matter where you look, as you might well expect as its handsome $54,490 (plus on-roads) base price – including a $3500 premium for the seven-speed automatic transmission – sitting at the richer end of the flagship diesel all-wheel-driven ute segment.
This particular example had its mettle thoroughly tested in our recent mega-test against seven of ute-dom’s finest, which you’ll find here. This NP300 generation Navara range has been through the CarAdvice wringer numerous other times since its June launch, a solid eight-from-ten performer in review, though the top-shelf ST-X Dual Cab did get beaten – just – by segment-leading stalwart, VW’s Amarok, in a recent twin-test, where the Navara scored a commendable seven-point-five.
But if you’re not cross-shopping Navara – if, for example, you’re a Nissan brand loyalist considering moving into the new model form the old – how does perform in isolation? Well, the overall impression of the ST-X is generally positive, though not without some misses to balance its hits.
Case in point is the 2.3-litre diesel four. On paper, it’s a downgrade from the old range-topper’s 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel, a drop of 30kW (now 140kW) and short-changed in torque by a sizeable 100Nm (now 450Nm).
However, the new smaller four offers competitive outputs within the current rich ute status quo, its sequential turbocharging arrangement – a fast-spooling turbo at low RPM, a larger turbo for mid-RPM heavy lifting – making for a flexible and driveable unit, if one that can’t escape that conspicuously loud rattle that plagues virtually all diesel four cylinders. It does lack smoothness of the old V6 put to pasture in its losing fight against ever-stringent emissions regulations.
Nissan claims 7.0L/100km combined for the ST-X is this guise – as low as 6.3 mated in 2WD manual Navara – which, again, looks class-beating on paper. On test, however, over hundreds of kilometres mixing everything from highway cruising to hard-core off-roading, our test car returned a less impressive if reasonably fit 8.8 average figure.
The diesel four is gutsy enough to turn the rear tyres in default high-range two-wheel-drive mode if you’re eager off the mark and there’s little initial throttle lag, though the throttle is a little doughy – no bad thing for low-speed, around town work, during light off-road duty or when parking and manoeuvring in tight spaces. It does feel a little agricultural, though, and feels to work hard for its keep once the right foot is pinned.
There’s not a huge amount of flexibility in this engine – peak 450Nm torque is available in a narrow 1500-2500rpm band, and its maximum 140kW of power arrives at just 3750rpm and offers nothing much beyond, but the auto its tied to is a faithful companion.
It’s a seven-speed design – that offers a largely superfluous manual mode – with a self-shifting action is intuitive and friendly enough for most driving duties, though it can be a lazy shifter and only kicks down or holds ratios approaching the engine’s 4000rpm redline once the diesel is really on the boil. With seven forward ratios, though, it’s a rare moment when you catch engine falling off its torquey mid-range sweet spot. Even better, on the move and with a constant throttle, the powertrain is quiet and downright refined.
With a hefty 650kg load in the tray, the diesel clatter is even more noticeable above 3000rpm, though forward progress does verge on effortless. As it should given the decent 930kg payload capacity. Nor did the Navara break much of a sweat towing a 750kg unbraked box trailer, the added weight virtually transparent in the driving experience. Nissan claims a braked towing capacity of three and a half tonnes, which matches direct rivals from Ford, Holden and Mazda.
It’s how the extra weight in the cargo hold adversely affects the Navara’s driveability, though, that is of some concern.
For one thing, thus laden, there’s noticeable sag in rear suspension compression. And on the move it’s not unusual for the ST-X to bounce off its suspension bump stops over road undulations, the rear end floating around like a dinghy in a storm.
At low speed, the driving sensation is merely amusing. However, carrying speed, in the 80-110km/h range, the effect of a decent payload is mildly disconcerting, requiring steering correction for straight-line stability or tracking a chosen trajectory through a corner. Loaded up, it’s not unwieldy, per say, it’s just not that a confidence inspiring drive.
However, if you rarely test the payload capacity limits in the balance of ownership, the state of suspension tune is a real plus. Unladen, the ride comfort of the ST-X is downright pleasant if, as we’ve discovered in testing against Amarok, not quite class leading. In opting between a heavy-duty load-lugging and a soft alternative setting for everyday comfort, Nissan opted for the latter without managing to achieve both.
The Navara’s front end can be upset by bumps and corrugations, and it’s far from car-like in dynamic responses and in controlling body-roll. Nor is it’s the sharpest tool on the block, its weighty steering a little slow and cumbersome either around town or across the beaten track, exacerbated by a lazy 3.7 turns lock to lock. Again, it’s no worse than the segment average butit doesn’t really move the ute game forward as perhaps an all-new model should.
Impressive, surprising even, is the degree of wheel articulation (unladen by payload) the coil-sprung rear allows for challenging off-road terrain, easily a match for rivals’ leaf systems. Lateral tilt capability is claimed to be 50 degrees. Meanwhile, wading depth is said to be decent 450mm.
At 228mm, ground clearance is reasonable rather than generous, but there’s a fuel tank bash guard that’s the first to get a hiding if so happen to beach it on a sharp crest. There’s plenty of approach (32.4deg) and departure (26.7deg) angle, provided there’s no tow bar fitted, though given Navara’s lugging and towing capacities many owners will likely tick this optional box.
Via a typical rotary selector, the high-range two- and four-wheel drive modes can be selected at speeds of up to 100km/h, and low-range 4WD is available when severe ascents/descent demand. Separately, Navara uses Active Brake Limited Slip – rather than conventional mechanical LSD design – which apportions drive across all four wheels, and works a treat minimising wheel slip across gravel and sands tracks.
The Hill Descent Control, functional in low and high range, aids negotiation of steep slopes without fuss, while the quite useful Hill Start Assist handily holds the brakes for two seconds when an ascent is greater than 10 degrees.
Locked in high-range 4x4 mode, the Navara is not only capable along a dirt track surfaced with loose gravel, it can be a downright hoot. And in low-range 4x4, the throttle take-up is relaxed enough to make negotiating the roughest terrain an exercise of commendable accuracy and precision.
In short, the flagship Navara is a thoroughly capable, though short of outstanding, both on and off road.
As we’ve discovered in past review, the Navara can’t match segment leader Amarok for rear cargo volume – unlike the VW, you can’t fit a standard Australian palette in the (1130mm) gap between the Nissan’s rear arches. At 1503mm length, 1560mm in total width and 474mm of depth, like much of the rest of the package, the cargo area is measurably middle order compared with rivals.
The Navara ST-X tray does have two neat features. A hard-wearing tub and a waterproof 12V outlet are standard fitment. The clever Utili-Track system allows the heavy-duty tie down points to be adjustment along the length of tray to suit a variety of payload shapes – that said, the track is set high in the tub can’t secure low-level loads. The flat-top tailgate, though, is an inspired idea – it’s really comfortable to sit on – while the sliding rear glass, too, allows an extra layer of flexibility for loading long objects through to the cabin space.
That cabin space, particularly the second row, is decent if hardly class leading. But Nissan has put some effort in making the ST-X upmarket in presentation, materials and spec. That extends from the LED headlights to clever little details, such as placing cup-holders adjacent to air-con vent to keep your drinks cool. It suits the duality of weekday work truck and weekend family conveyance fittingly.
The big positives are those leather seats with heated functionality, which are relaxed in shape and comfortable for long-hauling thanks in part to electric lumbar adjustment. Work or play, a robust leather is simply more utilitarian and easier to maintain than the cloth offered in some rivals. Outward vision is good – though the view of trailing tailgate edge is quite obscured – and the only real gripe for roominess is the lack of headroom caused by the do-you-really-need-or-want-it sunroof.
The second row is quite roomy, though again it’s not quite as generous as the best in segment. That Nissan’s dual-cab design is one of the few on the market to offer rear air-con vents is a big consolation, if one marked down for a lack of Isofix child seat anchor points. As we pointed out in our mega-test, it’s also one of the few four-door utes with no adjustable middle head-rest.
The Navara is back by some decent ownership credentials. While the three-year or 100,000km warranty isn’t anything to shout from the rooftops, it’s supported by attractive 12-month/20,000km service intervals with a $599 per annum price cap assured with fixed pricing for a full six years. It also comes with three years of roadside assistance.
While the Navara ST-X mightn’t be hardest working draft horse in the competitive premium diesel 4x4 four-door stable, there are plenty of buyers who may rarely, if ever, need stretch their ute’s load-lugging ability to the limit.
So while the Nissan’s most obvious point of difference, its car-like multilink rear suspension, presents perhaps the biggest outright compromise in on-the-job utility, is arguably its finest asset when balancing light-duty work with family-focused school runs and weekend getaways.
Adding those nifty details – from rear air vents to the flat-top tailgate ‘seat’ – absent in key rivals mightn’t bolster the ST-X’s toughness credentials, but they certainly combine to create one of the nicer utes on the market.
Click the Photos tab above for more images by Tom Fraser.