Work utes have changed over the past decades and the Nissan Navara is chief among the contenders for most improved. Here we take a look at the cab chassis, 4X4 RX model.
The 2016 Nissan Navara NP300 RX 4X4 Diesel is an impressive and affordable option at the lower end of the workhorse single-cab ute market. It’s not the cheapest Navara model - that gong going to the entry-level DX - but with pricing starting from a realistic $32,990, the RX delivers a better-than-expected cabin experience.
Not so long ago there would have been very little point reviewing work utes at this end of the segment – they were all diabolical. Nowadays the game has changed. Buyers expect more for their money, and bargain basement work hacks are now actually pretty good to use every day. Chief among those capable workhorse protagonists is the Nissan Navara cab chassis range, thanks to a broad spread of specification and pricing.
Read more in our Nissan Navara launch review.
As mentioned above, the NP300 Navara range kicks off with the DX, making this RX model the second step up the model grade scale. The DX can be had in 4X4 cab chassis guise from $31,990, while pricing for the RX 4X4 cab chassis starts from $32,990 as tested here, plus the usual on-road costs.
Our test example gets the 4X4 drivetrain for added flexibility over the base 4X2 model, along with leaf spring rear suspension, and a 2.3-litre, single turbo diesel engine generating 120kW at 3750rpm and 403Nm between 1500-2500rpm. With the optional seven-speed automatic transmission fitted to our test vehicle, the RX Navara 4X4 consumes an ADR claimed 7.1L/100km. On test, we used an indicated 9.8L/100km, which makes a mockery of the lack of efficiency of work vehicles from generations past.
The power figures won’t blow anyone away, but even with 400kg loaded into the tray, the engine gets the Navara up to speed efficiently enough. Unladen, the Navara scoots around town with genuine ease, and the chunky 403Nm torque figure makes for efficient take-off power and roll-on acceleration.
While this engine doesn’t get the second turbocharger of the higher-end Navara grades, it does benefit from similar modern technology and design. That means it runs cleaner, quieter and more efficiently than any previous model, while still maintaining all the strong points of diesel engines.
A real benefit in this model is the smooth-shifting seven-speed automatic gearbox. Lifted straight from Nissan passenger car platforms, the excellent transmission transforms the drive experience and takes it well away from the usual clunky, workhorse fare. The Navara is bettered only by the Volkswagen Amarok, which runs an eight-speed automatic across the range.
Serving as the ace in the Navara deck, the interior is comfortable and refined. It retains a workmanlike, robust sense of indestructability, but the seats are nicely sculpted, the driving position is excellent, the controls well laid out and the environment generally comfortable.
The Bluetooth phone connection worked well during our test, and didn’t drop out or lose clarity. The same can be said for the audio streaming, with the basic audio system working well. We’d like to see a reverse camera with a bigger screen as standard, especially in vehicles like these that spend a lot of their time out on the road.
Driven back-to-back with a Mazda BT-50 over our week of testing, the Navara had a much more car-like ambience inside the cabin and behind the wheel. You’d never hate having to spend long days driving the Navara – it’s a far cry from the super heated vinyl seats, rubber floor mats, no air con and no power steering of old.
Rolling on 16-inch steel wheels, the RX Navara automatic has a very useful 3.5-tonne braked towing capacity and a generously proportioned alloy tray with a payload of 1278kg. The tray provided adequate tie down points during our test, although a little more flexibility would have been appreciated. The kerb-to-kerb turning circle is a minimum of 11.8 metres and you need to work the wheel fairly enthusiastically to execute any manoeuvres with any sense of expediency.
On the subject of turning circles and scooting around town, there is an elephant in the room with modern interpretations of the single cab chassis utility like this one – physical size. Fellow tester Curt Dupriez commented on the unwieldy nature of the Navara, especially within the urban confines. These utes have steadily crept up in size over the years – you only need to take a look at a Holden one-tonner from the 70s if you don’t believe that claim.
The tray dimensions mount a compelling case, but the width of the tray especially makes any tight manoeuvre or reverse park a little more ungainly than it might otherwise be. The steering is slow and ponderous no matter how slow or fast you’re travelling, and that remained a point of issue throughout our test. Three point turns, tight corners and loading docks all highlighted the amount of rowing on the wheel that is required to hustle the Navara around town. The lack of a reverse view camera or sensors obviously doesn’t help matters, and the slow steering and general size of the Navara means you need to be aware of your surroundings, but we found we did get used to it.
We’ve argued before that after a long, back breaking day on the tools, tradies probably don’t need to get an extra workout on the drive home, and the Navara remains a solid example of why we argue that point. A simple rack or ratio change would probably sort things out, and it’s probably only a cost cutting measure that maintains the status quo.
Unladen, the Navara’s ride quality and bump absorption impressed over a range of different road surfaces. We barreled over speed humps and raised platforms at speed and the Navara managed to iron things out quite comfortably. If you spend equal amounts of time without a few hundred kilos in the tray, the Navara won’t require the wearing of a kidney belt to keep your internal organs intact.
Moving onto a road loop with approximately 400kg strapped into the tray, the Navara – as expected – settled down in comparison to the unladen ride, and felt a little more composed over the same surfaces. The engine and gearbox deal with the extra load with ease, and there’s no discernible change in the way the Navara gets up to city speeds. The wide tray means you can load a full-sized pallet into the middle of the tray and still see around the edges of it, which is a handy feature if you have to manoeuvre a laden ute around town.
Over a single week it’s difficult for road testers to mimic the day-in-day-out rigour that a work ute like this will cop over the duration of its life, but even a short stint driving the Navara highlights its many strong points. Additionally, the Navara is covered by a three-year/100,000km warranty with capped price servicing for six years or 120,000km, whichever comes first.
Its affordability is an obvious bonus, especially when weighed up against the competition, but if you take the minor gripe of the slow steering out of the equation, it’s also a genuinely comfortable work vehicle. The Navara should definitely be at the forefront of any consideration for buyers in this segment.
Click on the photos tab below for more images by Christian Barbeitos.