While the design hasn't changed, Nissan's Series II Navara promises a better ride both laden and unladen. But, is it enough to make this a good work and play ute?
The Nissan Navara has a lot riding on its success. It’s due to form the basis for the new Mercedes-Benz X-Class, it underpins the Renault Alaskan and it’s likely to sit beneath the skin of the next-generation Mitsubishi Triton.
So, it was only fitting Nissan spent a great deal of time working to fine tune the Navara for the Australian market. It’s a workhorse that aims to bridge the gap between work and leisure, but it was compromised in terms of ride quality and that’s a point Nissan took on board almost immediately after its launch in Australia.
Shortly after launch Nissan started working on a suspension tune to firm up the ride and improve its load carrying ability. If you recall our mega ute comparison of 2016, we were disappointed with the way Navara rode with a load of 650kg in the tray. It was echoed by several other publications and Nissan had to act.
The Nissan Navara Series II isn’t quite a mid-life update, given the model is only two years into its lifecycle. It’s a running change that adds a twin-turbocharged 4x4 SL variant, includes revised suspension and deletes NP300 badges, which had been a redundant point of confusion for some buyers. There are also several minor specification changes across some variants along with the addition of a seven-speed automatic option across the entire range.
We detailed the full suite of pricing changes in October 2016, but the bulk of pricing changes involved either no price change or an increase of $1000 depending on model. You can see the full breakdown here.
Prices range from $19,490 (plus on-road costs) for the Navara DX 4x2 single-cab petrol manual and go all the way through to the range topping ST-X 4x4 dual cab automatic diesel with sunroof, which is priced from $55,490 (plus on-road costs).
The all-new Navara SL offers tradies a perfect no nonsense entry-level 4x4 model that comes with the more powerful twin-turbocharged 2.3-litre diesel engine, all the features of the RX, plus vinyl floors, a fatter set of 255mm wide tyres, rear-view camera, 5.0-inch infotainment screen, auto dimming rear vision mirror, rear differential lock, LED headlights, daytime running lights and side steps — it’s priced from $43,990 (plus on-road costs).
Core to the ride and handling changes are modifications made to all models that use the company’s five-link coil spring suspension. This suspension type is used across the dual-cab range — no changes were made to models with leaf spring suspension.
Nissan started off by understanding the ride of the Navara was compromised when payload was added to the tray. Our experience found that in an ST-X even with 650kg of payload (well short of its 900kg+ limit) there would be constant impact with a rubber stopper used to prevent metal-on-metal contact.
Nissan also said the car looked unappealing with a weight in the rear, which meant it looked like it was constantly overworked and sagging, unlike a lot of its competitors which appear more composed when carrying a payload.
This issue was resolved, according to Nissan, by making changes to the front and rear shock absorbers, with rear rebound dampers also stiffened to prevent the oscillation effect experienced with a softer ride carrying a payload.
Nissan says the result of these changes are an improved ride with better lateral stability – especially when carrying a load. To test these changes out, we had the opportunity to drive an unladen ST-X, a laden SL (with around 300kg of payload) and an ST-X with a camper trailer attached (weighing in at around 1600kg).
Our first on-road stint was in an unladen ST-X variant. Having not spent a great deal of time in the Navara since our comparison last year, the ST-X is a great reminder of why we praised the Navara’s interior so much. It offers an SUV feel in a ute body.
It comes with creature comforts like heated seats, rear air vents and satellite navigation, and, at around $55,000 it’s reasonably well priced. But, when you take a closer look, it becomes obvious it’s missing key modern technology such as radar cruise control, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and digital radio, meaning the value proposition is slowly skewing away from the Navara.
As we set off from our first stop, one of our main gripes with the Navara reared its head. A heavy steering rack at low speed is coupled with a wide steering ratio that needs 3.75 turns to turn from lock to lock. It means low-speed manoeuvres can be hard work and require a great deal of effort.
Driving over speed humps and harder bumps, it also becomes obvious that the ride feels slightly firmer, but still doesn’t entirely resolve the resonating shimmy you get when the rear suspension hits a bump. It almost feels like the rear belongs to another car because it doesn’t impact anywhere near as well as the front.
It’s most obvious when you hit bumps mid-corner unladen, it tends to unsettle the car and doesn’t give you confidence behind the wheel. A leaf spring setup exhibits similar traits but is more predictable and doesn’t cause the body to ‘jiggle’ as much over bumps.
In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t feel all that different to the last coil sprung Navara we drove, which is disappointing. But, where it does make a difference – at least with 300kg of load in the tray – is when the Navara is loaded.
With a weight on board, our next test was in the new SL specification. Over rougher roads and over gravel, it felt far more settled than its unladen sibling. In fact, the rear barely moved when we collected bumps. It felt far more accomplished than the last time we loaded Navara.
The real test will be when we get the chance to load Navara with the same weight we had in it last time. It should respond by not sagging as much at the rear and shouldn’t hit any suspension limiters when we do collect bumps or pot holes, especially during cornering.
The SL spec really offers a perfect balance between workhorse and cruiser. The no nonsense interior can be hosed out, while the infotainment and trip computer offer enough detail to keep you busy on a longer drive.
From the outside, it looks quite good with steel wheels, a wide body treatment and fog lights. Had it been in our recent ute comparison, there’s a good chance it would have taken out the gong. We’ll have to line it up against the Amarok to see if it has the goods to take out the win.
Nissan’s seven-speed automatic gearbox is now available as an option across the dual cab range and it’s a decent gearbox that does a good job of handling torque requests and towing a load. It rarely fusses about and manages to find the right gear when it needs it. It can also be manually shifted to help with long descents while towing.
Towing was our next discipline with an ST-X. With a 3500kg braked towing capacity, the 1600kg camper trailer wasn’t going to be a big drama for the Navara. While the tray was unladen, we drove two up across a range of gravel and sealed roads.
With 140kW of power and 450Nm of torque on offer, the 2.3-litre twin-turbocharged diesel did a good job towing the load. It responded well to full throttle requests and didn’t hunt through gears while towing.
Where it did fall behind a little was with the amount of suspension travel experienced at the rear when we drove across grids and bigger potholes at lower speeds. Even with suspension revisions it can be a little bouncy and unsettled at lower speeds where vertical trailer movements could cause the rear of the ute to lift. That improved at higher speeds where it wasn’t as unsettled.
A brief off-road stint with the trailer also gave us a chance to try it out in low range where the Navara showed there wasn’t much that could stop it. Even towing a 1600kg load it climbed a steep hill and managed to perform tight direction changes on steep angles.
Nissan is sticking with a three year, 100,000km warranty with yearly 20,000km service intervals. Servicing comes in the form of myNissan service certainty, which outlines servicing costs at each interval.
Over three years, the Navara costs $1852 for diesel manual and $1832 for diesel automatic. Over three years, that makes it one of the more expensive options in this segment. But, over 60,000km a vehicle like the Ford Ranger requires an extra service (due to 15,000km service intervals), meaning it costs more over the same three year period if you travel an average 20,000km per year.
Despite Nissan’s local engineering work on the Navara’s ride and handling, the change hasn’t been significant enough to necessarily notice a difference unless they’re driven back-to-back. The ride certainly isn’t a deal breaker, but with the addition of Sync3 to Ranger, MyLink to Colorado and a new infotainment system in Triton, the Navara value proposition becomes a little blurred.
While it does offer a solid engine with impressive fuel economy figures, it lags behind the Ranger and Colorado in terms of ride compliance and comfort. And, until we get a chance to test it again with 650kg on board, we won’t be sure how good it is dealing with a solid load in the rear.
UPDATE Post Launch:
CarAdvice purchased a Nissan Navara SL 4x4 dual cab, which was delivered and made ready for testing a day after we attended the national launch of the Series II Navara.
We tested the vehicle with 650kg of load in the tray and found the issues with ride compliance with a load haven't been resolved. The vehicle still hit bump stops that the bottom end of travel and when driving over speed humps there was four to five oscillations before the rear end settled.
Changes made to the vehicle's suspension haven't resolved the issues we faced when we last tested the Navara.