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There’s a lot of talk in the market about lifestyle utes – pick-ups that are designed more for those who will only occasionally put stuff in the tray, but find the rugged appeal, four-wheel-drive underpinnings and dual-cab body handy for all manner of things. The 2017 Nissan Navara ST is one such vehicle.
In fact, it is one of the most convincing takes on the theme, because it uses a suspension setup more akin to what you would find in an SUV, rather than a workhorse ute.
Now, in the past we’ve made a bit of a deal of the shortcomings of the Navara’s five-link rear suspension setup, which isn’t like any of its mainstream rivals, all of which utilise a leaf-spring arrangement to deal with loads.
And despite Nissan having done some major work to the five-link suspension to make it deal with weight better – including new suspension components (new front and rear shock absorbers, new rear coil springs and new rear rebound dampers) – it still falls well short of expectations when there’s weight in the back.
Even 400 kilograms upsets the rear suspension, making it droop and bounce over sharp-edged bumps, while 750kg in the tray will leave the back end flummoxed, wobbling and rebounding with an unsettled nature to it when a bump or speed-hump is hit.
Look, without wanting to sound like I’m swallowing the ‘leisure truck’ or ‘lifestyle ute’ Kool-Aid, I’ve got to say I get what Nissan is going for here.
Some people – like our very own sales director, Benn Sykes – want a ute that isn’t just about its load capacity or towing heft.
Those types just want a ute because it’s a tough, versatile vehicle. Benn, for instance, admits he’ll barely ever put more than a couple of hundred kilos of stuff in the tray, and that’s exactly the purpose of a Navara with this type of suspension setup (all Navara dual-cabs except the RX model) be that to the detriment of its inherent ute-ness or not.
Consider this, though: the Navara, when unladen, is almost certainly the most refined and comfortable pick-up available on the market, with ride compliance that not just betters, but smashes, some SUVs in the same price range.
It cruises along the freeway with an unflappable air to it, whether it’s just one occupant on board, or four. It feels really good at high speeds, and also deals with lower-speed issues like the aforementioned bumps with a level of suppleness unmatched by most of its rivals.
One thing that could be better is the steering – in particular, the rack action, because it takes a lot of turns from lock to lock, and can be painful at low speeds, particularly when you’re trying to wedge its 5255-millimetre-long frame into a tight city parking space. At least the steering responds well on the open road, and it doesn’t need quite as much arm-twirling at highway speeds (thank gosh).
The engine, too, is up there with the best: a 2.3-litre twin-turbo diesel four-cylinder with 140kW of power (at 3750rpm) and 450Nm of torque (from 1500-2500rpm) that teams brilliantly to the seven-speed automatic. Or, you can have it with a six-speed manual if you so choose.
It’s a drivetrain that offers good urgency and response. There’s a touch of low-range turbo lag, but after a split-second the turbos will get to work and propel you away with tenacity. Indeed, once you’re up to speed, the Navara is brisk, with good roll-on response and gearbox smarts that allow you to squash the throttle, drop back a gear or two, and push on.
Nissan claims fuel use of 7.0 litres per 100 kilometres for the auto, but we saw a bit higher than that – 9.5L/100km, with just commuting purposes served: no load-lugging or serious off-roading.
There was some light off-roading undertaken – gravel roads with loose dirt and some corrugations – and the Navara ST performed well. If you’re planning to do more serious off-roading, there are some figures you should know: ground clearance – 226mm; approach angle – 32.2 degrees; departure angle – 26.5deg; break-over angle – 23.7deg.
And, while it’s clear this review is not about the load-and-go aspect of the Navara, it has a claimed payload of 985 kilograms. I physically shuddered to consider what it would be like with that much mass in the back, having piloted one with 750kg tray-side. The tray, too, is well sized for the class, though like most it can’t fit a standard Aussie pallet between the wheel-arches.
If you’re set to head off on a big around-Australia trip, you’ll probably want to know what it can tow – Nissan claims the Navara has the benchmark 3.5 tonne braked capacity (750kg un-braked), so it’s theoretically ready to go in that regard, and that means the Navara outpunches some of its SUV rivals.
On that topic, the ST tested here is priced at $49,490 plus on-road costs. So, if you’re in the market for, say, an Isuzu MU-X, Holden Trailblazer or Mitsubishi Pajero Sport, and could forego the third-row seats for a more hardy load area, not to mention better towing capacity, you could definitely consider this.
Put it this way: if I had to choose either this ute or one of those SUVs, it’d be the Nissan key hanging from the hook at home, even if it isn’t as packed with tech as some of those competitors.
For instance, you miss out on the latest smartphone mirroring tech (Apple CarPlay and Android Auto), but you do get a 7.0-inch media screen with satellite navigation (added as part of the 2017 Series II upgrade, but resulting in a $1000 increase on the previous ST) and Bluetooth phone and audio streaming.
It’s not the best system ever, but nor is it the worst, and there’s an integrated rear-view camera as part of the system, though there are no rear parking sensors (step up to the ST-X for those). There’s no digital speedometer, either.
As part of the 2017 Series II update, all dual-cab models have seen the removal of the floor-level cupholders – which were illogical to begin with – but no matter which spec you choose you still can’t get ISOFIX child-seat anchor points; instead, the child-seats are top-tether strap-tie doovers, and the rear seat base can be folded up if you don’t plan to use the back seat for humans.
I remember writing at the international launch of this generation Navara back in 2015 that it felt SUV-like inside, and it still does – and it has the full complement of airbags (seven: dual front, front side, full-length curtain and driver’s knee).
But there are some issues with it, when you consider some of the other polished offerings in the dual-cab ute class. The driver’s seat, for instance, can be difficult to position if you have long legs, and there’s no reach adjustment for the steering.
You do get steering wheel-mounted audio controls, as well as cruise control, but – and I know I’m not alone here – it can be really easy to bump the horn when you’re attempting to park, because of the design of the steering wheel. You may end up looking like a tool as a result.
Nissan continues to offer a lengthy capped-price servicing campaign (running to six years or 120,000km), with maintenance due annually or every 20,000km. The average cost per visit over that period works out to be $615 for this twin-turbo diesel auto model, which is pretty high. The brand also offers a three-year/100,000 kilometre warranty, and the same cover for roadside assist.
All told, the 2017 Nissan Navara ST isn’t the type of ute we’d suggest if you were planning to load half-a-tonne of work gear in the back, and keep it there, as soon as you get it home.
But if you’re looking to get into a dual-cab ute, one that’ll double more as a family conveyance than a tool of trade, you could do a lot worse. In fact, having driven and tested every ute in the segment, I have to say the Navara is possibly in the top three if you’re that type of customer. It may even be the number one, all things considered.
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