While it took Nissan three cracks at getting the Navara's ride and handling tune right, the 2018 Nissan Navara Series III builds on what is an already impressive platform that needed some minor tweaks.
We've driven and reviewed the Navara previously, but how does it perform as an off-road lifestyle utility? We hit the road to see how it stacks up when the going gets tough.
Instead of just belting the Navara through the bush, we wanted to use a set of tests designed to examine the four-wheel-drive system at its limits, and that we can later replicate with other dual-cab utes. The tests are:
This course is designed to lift diagonal wheels off the ground, which forces the traction-control system to try and distribute torque evenly. We'll start this test in two-wheel drive, and then progressively work our way through the settings until we are in low-range with all available differentials locked.
Part of the weekend getaway can sometimes include crossing rivers or ponds. This test will see how well the Navara copes with a 550mm pond crossing with a rocky floor (the Navara has a 600mm wading depth limit). It'll test water sealing, plus the engine's ability to push through water without surges in torque.
Another part of getting away can sometimes include crossing over sharp and jagged rocks. We will evaluate the Navara's rock-crawling ability and see how comfortable the ride is when the car is thrown around by uneven surfaces.
Hill ascent and descent:
Finally, it's the steep hill ascent and subsequent descent. The climb will test the Navara's torque delivery and traction under throttle, while the descent will evaluate how effective the hill descent control system is.
We are using the 2018 Nissan Navara ST-X for this test. It's the top-specification Navara model and is priced from $51,990 (plus on-road costs) for the six-speed manual and $54,490 (plus on-road costs) for the seven-speed automatic.
Under the bonnet is a 2.3-litre twin-turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine that produces 140kW of power and 450Nm of torque. And, it consumes 7.0 litres of fuel per 100km on the combined cycle.
In terms of four-wheel-drive equipment, it's a two-wheel drive (rear wheels driven) on sealed surfaces and can be switched to high-range four-wheel drive on unsealed surfaces, while a low-range transfer case can also be selected. There's a rear differential lock and hill descent control, but it's worth noting that the rear differential lock can't be used in high-range and that the hill descent control speed can't be varied.
We attacked the offset mogul first. In two-wheel-drive mode, the wheel spins before traction control intervenes – it takes a bit of effort, but it finally manages to free itself of the rut it's stuck in. But, it takes a lot of work and puts a lot of stress on the systems used to get the car moving.
In high-range four-wheel drive, the traction-control systems are working again to limit wheel slip, but with an extra two tyres available to take advantage of the traction on offer, it manages to clamber through with less effort than two-wheel drive.
But, the easiest way to attack this is in low-range with the rear differential locked. In this mode, you can see the car literally crawl over the terrain with next to no limitations. In the video, you can see the rear wheel in the air moving at the same speed as the rest of the wheels, which is indicative of the rear differential lock operating.
Driving through water can be good fun, but ensuring the car can make it through needs to be at the top of your list. If you're doing this in the 'real world', you need to check the depth and what is beneath the surface. On top of that, you need to be sure how deep your car can go.
The Navara will wade up to 600mm of depth, so our 550mm pond crossing is the perfect test for its wading ability.
After making sure we were in four-wheel drive, we dropped the car in while ensuring we stayed with the bow of the wave, which gives you a bit more depth around the air box.
While there was a bit of resistance, the Navara happily cruised through the pond crossing and had no issues with water coming into the cabin or affecting engine performance.
Rocks and road-biased tyres generally don't mix. Depending on how sharp the rocks are, it's worth slightly dropping tyre pressures to avoid piercing the tyres with sharp rocks.
It's also worth using low-range to avoid surges of torque as the car rocks over the rocks. Sometimes you can tap the throttle, which causes the car to move forward quickly and can make you hit rocks at a higher speed than you want to.
The Navara's new ride and handling tune works a charm over rocks. While it does move the cabin around a bit, the impacts are soft and don't throw you around too much.
Hill ascent and descent:
We found a whopper hill to test the Navara's hill-climbing ability. It features loose rocks and a soft surface beneath, which is the ultimate barrier for traction and momentum.
You always want to be in the correct four-wheel-drive mode before you set off, so we dropped the Navara into low-range and engaged the rear differential lock.
It started off well, but we found that it would change up a gear and then need to drop back down, which affected momentum. An easy way around this is to manually select the gear before setting off.
We made it to the top, but it was scrabbling for traction as we neared the summit. That's partly due to the road-biased tyres fitted to the car. You would want to look at chunkier tyres if you're doing some more serious off-roading.
Going down the hill was fairly easy. After engaging hill descent control, the Navara manages the descent speed nicely. But, we found that it was incredibly noisy – you could hear the brakes and actuator continuously working and there was no way to vary the speed, which can be done in utes like the Ford Ranger.
Overall, the Navara did a stellar job of off-roading. When I say off-roading, I'm talking about the basic type of four-wheel driving that people will do on a weekend away.
These tests are a good demonstration of an off-road car's ability and the Navara passed with flying colours, but it does have its negatives.
We found that it was sometimes hard to engage four-wheel drive. It took a while to click in, and on occasion the rear differential lock was painfully slow to engage.
It's also disappointing that there's no variability on the hill descent control system or an ability to engage the rear differential without being in low-range.
These things aside, the Navara offers a nicely calibrated traction-control system and the engine offers plenty of torque to get up steep hills.