Nissan takes another stab at bringing the Navara dual-cab’s load-carrying credentials up to scratch, but is chasing tradies the right choice for a car positioned as a family friendly all-rounder?
You won’t spot the changes to the 2018 Nissan Navara ‘Series Three’ immediately. Externally, the updated version is barely changed compared to the version that came before it, save for a slightly higher rear ride height.
Therein lies the clue – Nissan has tried yet again to fix some of the Navara’s load-carrying flaws. As one of the few utes with a coil-sprung rear end, the Nissan has always become a little droopy at the rear with even half of its full payload jammed into the tray.
Arguably, though, that was the Navara’s best asset. Perhaps not for tradies planning to load the Navara up with more than half a tonne of tools and supplies, but for family buyers who have flocked to upscale dual-cab utes en masse.
Whereas leaf-sprung utes tend to buck and bounce when barely laden, the Navara and its five-link rear was tuned to provide greater ride comfort, making it a more family friendly and urban-suitable dual-cab.
In 2018 guise, the range-topping Navara ST-X 4x4 commands a premium $54,490 (plus on-road costs) price when paired with an available seven-speed auto, though a six-speed manual is also available if you’re looking to knock $2500 off the top.
Inside the standard trim is cloth, but for $1500 it is possible to add leather seats with front seat heating and a power-adjusted driver’s seat taking the ST-X even further away from workhorse spec. Add another $1000 and you can bundle in a powered sunroof too.
A 360-degree camera system now comes standard on the ST-X too for added peace of mind, but a small, low-resolution display screen makes it a touch less useful than it might otherwise be.
Other specifications stay the same as they were in Series One and Two cars, which means a fully loaded equipment list including keyless entry and ignition, dual-zone climate control, power-sliding rear windscreen, 18-inch alloy wheels, rear alloy sports bar, and dusk-sensing headlights.
Nissan also covers small but often overlooked details that most other dual-cab utes miss, like rear face-level air vents in the back of the centre console.
While the family focus is strong, Nissan’s space utilisation falls short of its competitive set, somehow managing to feel more compact in the front footwells than key rivals, with a rear seat that lacks leg and head room and also comes with a noticeably compact cushion.
At pride of place in the centre of the dash is a 7.0-inch touchscreen including satellite navigation, but compare it to something like a Ford Ranger at 8.0 inches with smartphone mirroring and digital radio and the Nissan comes up a little short.
Nissan also puts one of the smallest engines in the commercial ute class under the bonnet of the Navara at 2.3 litres, but thanks to twin turbos churns out a competitive 140kW and 450Nm.
Compare that to 2.8 litres outputting 147kW/500Nm for the Holden Colorado, a similar 2.8 litres but 130kW/450Nm in the Toyota HiLux, 3.2 litres for the Ford Ranger and Mazda BT-50 both rated at 147kW/470Nm, and 3.0 litres for the Isuzu D-Max with 130kW/430Nm and the Navara doesn’t stack up too badly.
On the upside, the Navara claims a slim 7.0L/100km fuel-consumption figure, although after a week of driving including some off-road testing and a bit of peak-hour city traffic, but mostly highway and rural running, the Nissan settled on 9.8L/100km.
The twin-turbo engine manages to feel linear and quite rev happy (for a diesel, that is) in day-to-day punting, but Nissan’s a little off the pace when it comes to noise and vibration isolation. There’s plenty of rattle at idle and isolation as a reminder that the ST-X is still a commercial vehicle.
Nissan also offers six-year capped-price servicing for the Navara, with 12-month or 20,000km intervals. Pricing for the first three visits will cost $547, $571, and $714 respectively plus an extra $32 for brake fluid every two years or 40,000km.
Another of the Series Three alterations centres on the steering, with a ‘faster’ rack added to dual-cab versions making three-point turns less frenetic. That also means a more nimble feel at lower speeds, which is welcome, but brings a touch of nervousness in highway driving.
The main focus of the changes, though, is the often-criticised suspension, which now gets dual-rate springs for comfortable initial reaction to low-level bumps, with a sturdier spring rate as travel increases to help keep things located appropriately when laden.
The revised set-up also holds on to a ‘dynamic rebound damper’ set-up, a bump stop that’s designed to absorb impact at full compression to reduce crash through.
The changes mean that the Navara now rides in a way more like the class norm, jiggling and wiggling when lightly laden and turning even minor bumps into an excuse to buck and fuss until it settles.
The only way to get the high-riding rear back to its previously supple feel is to throw a few hundred kilos of weight in the rear to get better stability and ride comfort. I chose landscaping supplies, but your dirt bikes, camping and off-road gear or work tools should yield the same result.
Is that an issue? That depends on how you intend to use the vehicle. Family buyers with no heavy-duty requirements will fall out of love, but tradies, farmers, and the like will finally be able to load the tray up without trepidation.
That could be Nissan’s downfall – with the rise of ‘lifestyle purchasers’ in the dual-cab market, previous versions of the Navara were just right as family cars, even if they were a little unnecessary for the typical school run.
While the family car appeal has been dialled back a touch, there’s no doubt that the increased ability as a workhorse will please the massive bank of buyers from working families. Though it still baffles the CarAdvice office as to why Nissan doesn’t offer the leaf-spring rear from cab-chassis models at least as an option for dedicated workhorse duty.
Overall, the Navara still hasn’t distanced itself too far from its crossover work-and-play position. It's still suitable for those without a need for a rough-and-tumble workhorse, while extending its appeal to buyers in the light-to-mid duty market.