Dual-cab utes are all the rage at the moment, with the Ford Ranger and Toyota HiLux sitting atop the Australian sales charts. Along with those two stalwarts, there are plenty of other worthy load-lugging options on the market – options like our Nissan Navara.
It's got coil springs down back, a twin-turbo four-cylinder engine up front, and room for all the camera gear you could ever ask for in the tray. How's life with our resident dual-cab workhorse?
Think of this as a rolling logbook – a little window into life with the cars in the CarAdvice stable. You’ll find the most recent entries at the top, and the older instalments at the bottom.
Expect to see monthly updates from here on out. They might be longer, more in-depth breakdowns of specific trips, or sentence-long snapshots of foibles that have popped up.
Let us know if you have questions about the cars and we’ll try to answer them. Most of all, enjoy!
- 2017 Nissan Navara SL
- Purchase date: February 2017
- Price paid: $43,000
- Odometer: 42,000km
Update Nine, 13/06/2019
Sam Purcell, Off-road editor
Modifications: they’re part and parcel of the Australian off-road scene, and what many of us do in the quest for better, more reliable off-road vehicles.
Sam: While our owned 2017 Nissan Navara SL benefitted greatly from the work we did on suspension and wheels/tyres, there’s still scope for some more useful mods. With that in mind, we’re back in the workshop for more gear.
Update Eight, 20/04/2019
Sam Purcell, Off-road editor
It’s the fridge that can stop people from stealing your beer. Or soft drink, or Manchego, or whatever else you have stored in there. Of course, the ice-cold beer I’m mentioning is enjoyed after you find a nice camp spot and start to unwind for the night.
Sam: ARB is an Australian-born 4WD aftermarket company renowned for its efforts in innovation, and this fridge is another example of that. It’s called the Elements fridge, and costs $1699. It’s a big fridge, 440mm high, 820mm deep and 490mm wide. It’s not light, either, tipping the scales at 32kg.
Update Seven, 13/04/2019
Sam Purcell, Off-road editor
The Victorian High Country is a magical place, and one of the best off-roading destinations on the planet – and we were there recently!
Sam: You will need a bit of gear, though, the right gear, to ensure you tackle the High Country in a safe and self-sufficient manner. Here’s our guide to stuff that you might want to consider packing in, or fitting onto, your 4×4 before you head off-road.
Update Six, 13/03/2019
Sam Purcell, Off-road editor
Lots of the dual-cab utes sold in Australia – and there are a lot of dual-cabs sold in Australia – never go off-road. Ours has seen a lot of carparks, but it's being prepared for life as a proper mud-plugger now. Here's what that entails.
Sam: The real beauty of a 4x4, in my opinion, is that although they are more capable off the showroom floor than many give them credit for, they can be transformed into something even more special.
Thanks to Australia's huge, vibrant and world-renowned aftermarket industry, you can really go crazy on just about any vehicle, depending on what you're looking for: awesome off-road capability, long-range desert runs, remote beach fishing, or if you just want to be a weekend warrior and enjoy some camping and off-roading.
Now we've got the keys to the Navara, our plan is to show you what is possible, with the help of a few aftermarket tweaks. After we make some modifications, we'll put the Navara to the test in some of Australia's best, and most challenging, off-road destinations.
Update Five, 30/01/19
Rob Margeit, Culture Editor
Change is scary, but it's also a good thing. Our big Nissan is getting some serious upgrades, as we prepare to do some serious off-roading. Rob Margeit is excited, that's for sure.
Rob: Our Navara has undergone some surgery, and it’s immediately apparent going under the knife has paid off. Thanks to the good folks at Heasman Suspension and Tuning, our Navara now boasts new shock absorbers, airbag helpers inside the rear coils, new steel rims with fat, and I mean fat, all-terrain rubber, and sits two inches higher thanks to lifted springs.
The result is a more cosseting ride, particularly over some of Sydney’s crappy roads. You’d think, though, that adding chunky all-terrain tyres would come at a cost in the road-noise department, and you’d be wrong. Simply, our Navara remains quiet, even over rough surfaces.
The Navara’s future involves some pretty heavy off-roading duties, hence the beefed-up suspension all ’round. In the meantime, Trent is going to use the Navara to tow his latest project vehicle from Melbourne to Sydney. So stay tuned for an update, not just on the Navara’s towing abilities, but also to find out what vehicle will be gobbling up Trent’s cash for the next few months.
Update Four, 16/01/19
Sam Purcell, Off-Road Editor
Rubber is key. Sam Purcell, our Off-Road Editor, has taken a look at the rolling stock on our Navara. At least, it used to be on our Navara...
Sam: Everybody knows the tyres on the majority of new vehicles are built to a price, and big improvements in handling and performance can be had by upgrading.
When the Navara was bought, we quickly swapped the factory-fit rubber for a set of Bridgestone Dueler A/T 697s, which is a decent all-terrain tyre with great on-road characteristics. The size was similar to stock: 265/70, mounted on some steel King wheels They've done around 30,000km of good service, reaching around halfway of their total life.
Update Three, 30/11/18
Sam Purcell, Off-road editor
Nissan trod a different path with the Navara, eschewing the fashionable leaf-sprung rear end for a five-link set-up. What's the point? Read on to find out.
Sam: Nissan’s claim to fame is their different rear suspension set-up. Its five-link coil-sprung live axle, compared to the more common leaf spring. I’m a big fan of it, even though it has some shortcomings when it comes to getting loaded up. For a light-duty 4WD, it’s great.
For example, it handled a lightly loaded run to the tip admirably. Go hard on payload, and watch that bum get a little too close to the ground, though. The good news is that’s all easily fixed with aftermarket parts. Stay tuned on that front…
Our SL-spec Navara straddles the gap between high-spec and low-spec models. You get the more powerful engine and a locking rear differential, along with steel wheels, no sports bar and a basic interior.
Continuing with the theme of modification, the SL is a smart buy. You’re probably going to have different wheels and tyres on your shopping list if you’re heading off-road, so spending extra on alloys doesn’t make sense. A less fancy interior handles getting knocked around a bit better, as well.
The only big negative for me is the quaint infotainment unit. It’s a small screen that does the job, but it’s aged horribly in just a year. There isn’t any smartphone mirroring, and navigating through it can be a bit of a chore.
And when you plug a phone in, it automatically changes its source to USB. That can be quite annoying, to say the least.
Update Two, 16/03/18
Scott Davison, Product and Marketing Manager
With offices in Melbourne and Sydney, sometimes CarAdvice cars need to shuffle between the two cities. Luckily, we always have people heading back-and-forth. After a round of meetings in New South Wales, Scott Davison volunteered to bring the big Nissan back to Melbourne. Here's what he thought.
Scott D: We needed to move the CarAdvice Navara from Sydney to Melbourne. My partner and I had a long weekend coming up and we both love a good road trip, so we decided to kill two birds with one stone and volunteer to do the drive.
There are two main routes you can take from Sydney to Melbourne by road. You could take the direct route via the Hume Highway, which is 870km and can easily be done in a day. The problem is, it’s rather boring.
Or, you can take the more scenic route along the Princes Highway (A1) that is less direct but far more interesting. This extends the trip to just over 1000km and makes it a multi-day proposition. We chose this option.
For the highway geeks amongst you, you probably already know this, but here are some fun facts about the Princes Highway. Firstly, it is very often mispronounced as the the ‘Princess Highway’.
Second, it actually runs from Sydney all the way to Port Augusta in South Australia, covering 1941km and passing through three states.
Third, it also forms part of the Highway 1 network circumnavigating Australia. At a total length of approximately 14,500km, it's the longest national highway in the world.
But the drive isn't actually about the numbers, it’s about the views. It’s a beautiful way to travel between Sydney and Melbourne. It takes you via various coastal towns and through some amazing Australian scenery. If you ever have the chance to take this route, you should. And make sure you allow time to stop to sample some vanilla slices along the way.
But anyway, you want to know about the Navara, not the road trip right?
Well, we definitely weren’t the only ones doing this trip in a dual-cab ute. I believe one in 10 cars sold these days is a ute, and that ratio is even higher on the Princes Highway. From our non-scientific study, a very good percentage of these are white. If you want to stand out, don’t buy a white dual-cab ute.
However, there is obviously a good reason everyone is getting dual-cab utes. I guess it’s the way they combine five seats and work capability, but possibly a bit of an image statement as well. Many of the utes we passed were towing boats or caravans, and for this it certainly makes a lot of sense.
Personally, I still prefer a wagon to a ute. I find it more practical, particularly for a road trip like this. You can put the seats down and use the full length of the car for longer items like surfboards and, more importantly, you can actually lock these items up.
You can also always sleep in the back if you find yourself caught out. In our case, we weren’t planning to sleep in the car, but we ended up using the back seats of the cabin to store most of our items, as we didn’t want to leave them in the tray.
We definitely enjoyed the sensation of sitting high and feeling like we were driving a truck. The downside of that is the Navara feels more truck than SUV.
Certainly for my pregnant partner in the passenger seat, the trucky ride meant she started getting uncomfortable after a couple of hours, which doesn't happen in our Subaru Outback. You can clearly tell Nissan took a truck first, car second approach with the Navara.
The infotainment system is basic, but it did everything we needed. Once Bluetooth was hooked up, we were able to listen to podcasts and music very easily (important on long trips).
And given we were following one road the whole way, navigation wasn't so important on this trip, but when we did use it we ran Google Maps off the mobile and had instructions fed through Bluetooth audio. Not quite as good as an integrated system or Apple Car Play, but it did the job.
Cruise control was easy to operate, but unfortunately, like some other cruise control systems on the market, it allows you to drift well above the limit when you're on a downhill section. To me, that defeats the main reason I use cruise control, which is to avoid accidentally slipping above the speed limit and copping a fine.
One little feature I thought was strange at first, but actually proved quite useful, was the small compass sitting next to the rear-view mirror. It displays a simple direction (N, SW, etc.) to indicate which direction you're heading.
It's a very simple feature, but I liked it, and it was fun to watch on a trip like this where the road actually weaves in and out quite a lot. What’s more, this same feature has been carried over to the Mercedes-Benz X-Class, so you could now argue you have Mercedes tech in your Nissan, although you’d be stretching the truth just a little.
Generally, though, these are all very basic features that betray the Navara’s roots as a work truck, and the tech is well behind what you would find in a similar-priced SUV.
So, that’s my conclusion I guess. As far as utes go, I think this Navara ticks all the boxes you would expect. It certainly chewed up the kilometres on the road trip at a very reasonable average of 7.8L/100km and it provided space and ‘relative’ comfort. But in my opinion, for a long road trip like this, unless you are using the tray for its intended purpose, you’d be far more comfortable and your luggage would be safer in a wagon or an SUV.
UPDATE ONE, INTRODUCTION
Before it made the trip to Melbourne, the Navara was almost exclusively held by Benn Sykes in Sydney. Here's a wrap of his thoughts about the dual-cab which, like most modern utes, is focused more on lifestyle than hard work.
Benn: The Nissan is a fantastic family car, and I'd thoroughly recommend it. It's the most car-like of the dual-cabs I've driven, with a better ride than the HiLux. The coil suspension has caused problems when you're lugging a load around, but it makes for a pliant ride in the city, and the twin-turbo engine feels linear.
In keeping with the car-like theme, it's easy to park – thank the surround-view camera for that – and uses around 8.0L/100km on the commute to the city.
Unfortunately, the turning circle isn't great. It's still big, the Navara.
With rubber mats on the floor and tough cloth trim on the seats, it's well qualified to carry the children around, with room for surfboards in the tray on the weekend.
On the negative side of things, the infotainment system is very poor. It repeats your inputs on voice control, the graphics are basic, and downloading the Nissan app doesn't do much to help.
Oh, and it's pretty handsome, especially on black wheels like our car.