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We’ve chosen the Nissan Navara as the latest candidate in our ‘range review’ series. As one of the market’s better-known pick-ups, it’s a car we field a lot of questions on – even if its monthly sales can’t compete with the hugely popular Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger.
Here, we’ll give you a rundown on three key rear-coil-sprung 4x4 dual-cab pickup variants, from the base grade aimed at building sites to the flagship designed as a surrogate SUV with a bigger boot. What does your money get you as you walk through the line-up?
The entry grade, fleet-focused Navara RX dual-cab pickup has a nominal list price of $42,990 before on-road costs with standard automatic transmission. Next is the popular Navara ST at $49,690, with the range topped out by the vaguely luxurious ST-X grade at $54,490.
The ST accounts for about 36 per cent of sales, while the ST-X grabs a further 30 per cent. Around 90 per cent of Navaras sold are dual-cabs, 80 per cent are 4x4 and 70 per cent sport auto transmissions.
We should add that there’s a Navara SL variant not featured here, which pairs the ST’s more powerful engine with much of the RX’s stripped-back vinyl-floored cabin, at $46,490.
All bar the RX can be had with a $2500 cheaper six-speed manual gearbox, though more and more tradies are going auto on account of constant stop/start traffic. Can’t blame them.
There are a few things to keep in mind. Namely, list pricing is something nobody in the commercial space takes all that seriously. All ute manufacturers offer retail discounts and fleet rates, plus an ABN gets you a discount right off the bat.
It’s not the absolute bargain the Mitsubishi Triton is, but the Navara is also generally a sharper buy than the Toyota or Ford, both of which demand premiums on account of their popularity.
One good thing about Nissan is its in-house finance arm, which means it offers one per cent interest rates over three-year terms with a 50 per cent balloon payment that look quite appealing.
The RX is the stripper of the range and built to work. You might call it ‘local council spec’. There are 16-inch steel wheels on skinny 205mm-wide tyres on the outside and vinyl floors inside.
It’s not without mod-cons entirely. The cloth driver’s seat has height adjustment as well as the usual slide/recline movements, plus cruise control, power windows, a small reversing camera display embedded in the rear-view mirror and auto on/off halogen headlights.
The head unit is right out of the 1990s, but then again, not everyone wants to run their dirty worksite hands over a touchscreen. There are also Bluetooth phone/audio and USB connections, plus three 12V inputs including one in the tray.
The basic safety features are the same across the range too. All get seven airbags, child-seat attachment points that allow ISOFIX-style seat bases, and five-star ANCAP crash ratings with a 2015 date stamp.
The wide-arched SL adds fatter 255/70 tyres, a colourised 5.0-inch display in the fascia with buttons, a bigger trip computer in the instruments with more info, such as fuel use, an electronically engaging rear diff lock, LED daytime running lights, full LED headlights (still not common in this segment), and side steps.
The ST adds further stuff such as alloy wheels inside the same tyres as the SL, 7.0-inch touchscreen with 3D mapping, a steering wheel coated in leather, carpet on the floor, an alloy sports bar, front fog lights, and heated side mirrors with chrome finish.
The flagship ST-X adds luxo bits such as digital climate control rather than manual AC, button start instead of a key, rear parking sensors, roof rails, LED indicators, 18-inch alloy wheels on lower-profile rubber, hill-descent control and load rails in the tub. There’s also a (grainy) 360-degree top-down camera display.
Finally, you can option a package with heated leather seats and a sunroof for $2500, or fit either separately for less apiece. Our tester had this.
Everything feels back-to-basics in the RX. To its credit, the Bluetooth re-pairs rapidly every time, and it’s all really well put together; no variance in panel gaps, and solid-feeling plastic trims that should cop a beating.
The ST adds a lot of nice stuff: carpet on the floor, softer cloth seats and a better, digital trip computer, and that touchscreen is car-like. The ST-X is just more of the same, especially if you go for the leather and sunroof.
On the downside, there’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, no modern active safety stuff like AEB or radar cruise control, and no telescopic adjustment on the steering column.
It may be pedantic, but the design of the wheel is also shortsighted. I have a habit of accidentally tooting the Navara’s horn when parking due to the cover’s positioning right near the outer rim, and I’m not alone.
One of the areas where the Navara trails some competitors is rear seat space, though there’s sufficient head room and leg room for two average adults. The short flip-up seat bases aren't overly supportive, but handles in the B-pillars help entry. Dig the opening rear window too…
A lot of buyers use the ST and ST-X as second family cars for weekends and school runs, and there’s little reason not to. The RX might be tasked with carrying burly builders or council workers, which is where that pokey rear may be most felt.
Above: RX top, ST-X follows. Click through to our gallery for many more photos.
All 4x4 dual-cab Navaras are rated to tow 3500kg loads, if trailer brakes are fitted.
Each grade has a GVM of 2910kg and a GCM (including trailer) of 5910kg. Payload varies from 1015kg for the RX to 931kg for the softer ST-X. The RX can also be had with a drop-side metal tray and leaf springs with a high payload rating of 1144kg.
The dual-cabs are 5255mm long, 1850mm wide (the RX is 60mm narrower), between 1800mm and 1855mm tall in ascending spec order, and have 3150mm wheelbases. Turning circles are 12.4m for all bar the RX, which does a 360 in 11.8m thanks to its skinnier wheel/tyre package.
All have 870mm front and 1235mm rear overhangs. Ground clearance measures 217mm for the RX, 236mm for the SL/ST, and 228mm for the ST-X. The tubs are 1503mm long, 474mm deep and measure 1130mm between the intrusive wheel arches. All get a 12V in the back and a pseudo table atop the tailgate. For a longer tray, consider the king cabs.
Two diesels are available, both of which are around the segment average for outputs.
The RX gets a 2.3-litre with a single turbocharger, and peak outputs of 120kW at 3750rpm and 403Nm between 1500 and 2500rpm. The SL, ST and ST-X get the same 2.3 but with two turbochargers, and subsequently higher outputs of 140kW at 3750rpm and 450Nm between 1500 and 2500rpm.
It’s not all that uncommon for brands to offer multiple engines. For example, the Toyota HiLux Workmate gets a 400cc smaller engine than the rest of the range.
The RX’s less powerful drivetrain is actually not a huge step down, though it’s a little coarser under load when graded on a curve. It’s still got more than 400Nm just off idle, so it’s hardly a slacker.
The twin-turbo sends some vibrations through the wheel and seat, but is pretty subdued from outside and in, with little clatter. It’s also got decent pick-up and feels suitably relaxed, hauling 650kg in the tray up hills or lugging a 1500kg car trailer with no fuss.
Despite offering more power and torque, the twin-turbo offers better fuel economy – 7.0L/100km claimed on the combined cycle, 7.1L/100km for the RX, dropping to 6.5L/100km with a manual. That’s lower than rival claims, which goes a long way to validating Nissan’s choice to go for a small displacement.
In terms of economy, I did a 400km route in the ST including city, highway and carrying a load in the tub, averaging out at 9.1L/100km. Pretty good overall.
All versions here have a seven-speed automatic transmission with a tall top ratio for highways and a manual mode.
In short, both engines do what’s required without much fuss. The Holden Colorado’s 500Nm punch puts it in the shade, but the Nissan is quieter and more efficient and still hauls well enough. If engine braking and over-engineered bulletproofing are your absolute priorities, the rough-around-the-edges, truck-engined Isuzu D-Max also holds appeal.
All Navaras here get a typical part-time 4x4 system that’s RWD on the road, but can be switched on-the-fly for high-range 4x4 when off-road, and which additionally offers a reduction gear/low-range. All bar the RX get a locking rear/centre diff.
Click through to our gallery for many more photos.
The most interesting aspect of the tubbed dual-cab Navara pick-up, one that differentiates it from all rivals bar the Mercedes-Benz X-Class that shares its basic architecture, is the fact it does not use leaf springs at the rear. Instead, it uses coils all round as part of a five-link rear set-up with shocks, and an independent double-wishbone front with stabiliser bar.
For the Series 3 updates on the SL, ST and ST-X – the third update in this generation, more or less showing that Nissan knows it didn't get the original model quite right – there have been changes, notably the adoption of a dual-rate spring that’s softer in the initial part of the stroke, and has a heavier rate in the second stage of compression to better support a heavy payload in the tray when needed.
The aim, according to Nissan, is improved posture, ride or towing in either laden or unladen states. Also integral to the five-link system is a dynamic rebound damper; a buffer designed to reduce lateral body movement (with the damper contacting the chassis rail) when the tray is laden.
Notice that higher rear stance on the ST and ST-X? The RX keeps the old set-up.
Engineers also retuned the hydraulically assisted steering for dual-cab SL, ST and ST-X versions, with a quicker steering rack ratio and fewer turning degrees lock-to-lock. The aim is for improved manoeuvrability on- and off-road and friendlier steering for parking.
These goals have been achieved.
The Series 1 Navara dropped notably at the rear and felt like it was riding its bump stops with 650kg in the tray, whereas the current ST and ST-X sit much flatter and impart more control by allowing the front tyres to maintain road contact.
That steering is also significantly less resistant than before and is now one of the better systems, though doesn’t have the ease of use that the Ranger or Colorado do. Utes don’t need to drive like tractors.
The RX without the revised rear suspension feels less settled at the rear, and the heavy steering feels ponderous below 60km/h, by comparison. It makes us think that if you wanted a friendly workhorse, the SL is probably a better bet. Depends on your fleet budget…
In terms of ride quality, the ST with its fatter sidewalls insulates you better from niggling bumps and corrugated gravel a touch better than the more fidgety ST-X.
Click through to our gallery for many more photos.
All Navaras get a modest three-year/100,000km warranty with round-the-clock roadside assist.
Nissan also offers excellent service intervals for high-milers, at 12 months or 20,000km. The current cost of the first six visits are respectively: $547, $571, $714, $571, $547 and $738. There’s an additional $32 impost for new brake fluid every second service.
As flagged before, the skinny-bodied and tyred RX with its heavier steering and stripped-out cabin doesn’t seem to play to the Navara’s sweet spot, though if the fleet rates are keen it’ll find deals. If you want a no-nonsense workhorse, the Navara SL is worth it. Wish we had it here…
The ST-X is clearly the Navara Nissan wants you to have, and the extra cabin tech and tough looks certainly make it the one many people who’d otherwise go for a SUV-and-trailer combination may consider.
But for us, the sweet spot is the ST. Plenty of equipment, the nicest ride, and Nissan’s knack for good pricing.
In Series 3 guise we’re now happy to recommend the Navara to most prospective dual-cab buyers with typical intentions, this version in particular.