Australia's ute segment has continued its move upmarket, with Nissan Australia today revealing its new range-topping Navara N-Trek Warrior.
"What's truly special is... this is not just a cosmetic change, this has really been done from the ground up," Stephen Lester, Nissan Australia managing director, told media.
"It's been tested, validated, and proven here in Australia, under Australian conditions, and by Australians – and that local production, that local engineering story is something we're very proud of."
Developed by Premcar in Epping, Victoria, the Navara N-Trek Warrior has an all-new suspension, unique bodywork and wheels, and the high-spec interior from the N-Trek.
Gone are the standard springs, replaced with two-stage units that are softer in their initial travel than the stock units at both ends. The front spring rate has been dropped by six per cent, while the primary rear spring rate is down eight per cent – although the secondary rear spring rate is up 10 per cent.
"It may be counter-intuitive to some people, but what we've done is we've actually softened that initial front spring rate and rear spring rate. The reason we've done that is to improve the ride comfort of the vehicle, but also allow the wheels to move up and down in off-road driving," explained Bernie Quinn, engineering director at Premcar.
"Really, the whole idea was to keep the body of the car calm and stable while everything is happening under the vehicle... we've really hit the jackpot with improved handling over all conditions."
The new springs are backed by dampers with larger internals, designed to offer better off-road durability. They've been totally recalibrated compared to the stock units, especially when it comes to rebound damping, to balance off-road ability with on-road responsiveness.
The new 17-inch wheels are 1kg lighter, 1.1cm wider, and 1in smaller than the stock N-Trek wheels, wrapped in 275/70 Cooper AT3 Tyres. Although it's still narrower than the lane-busting Ranger Raptor, the Warrior also gets a 30mm wider track than standard.
Combined with the new suspension and lift kit, Premcar has liberated 268mm of ground clearance from the N-Trek Warrior – up 40mm on the stock model, and 17mm more than the HiLux Rugged X claims.
The Warrior's approach angle has improved by two degrees compared to the N-Trek, departure angle is one degree better, while the turning circle remains the same.
Braked towing capacity is unchanged at 3500kg, but the ute's payload has dropped to around 750kg with the reworked suspension. That's 130kg more than the Ranger Raptor offers, and essentially bang-on what the Rugged X will do.
Like the aforementioned Toyota, the Warrior is outfitted with a range of locally-developed add-ons to boost its off-road capability. There's a 3mm stainless steel bash plate up front, along with an Australian-developed steel bull bar housing an LED light bar, fog lights, and bronze styling elements.
The wheel arches have been extended with plastic guards, there are bronze-highlighted side steps, and the rear is home to a unique tow bar. Although the wheel and tyre combination is larger than stock, there's still a full-sized spare wheel housed under the tray.
"Our customers have been demanding more from us," said Matthew Baily, boss of Navara for Nissan Australia.
"They want these accessories fitted to the vehicle, but they want it done professionally, and they want peace of mind," he continued.
The LED light bar has been placed to maintain airflow to the engine, the bull bar doesn't undermine airbag operation, and the bull bar will be finished in grey, black or white depending on body colour.
Power still comes from the 2.3-litre twin-turbo diesel engine used in the regular Navara line-up, making the same 140kW and 450Nm. It's mated with a choice of six-speed manual transmission or seven-speed automatic.
Asked why the N-Trek Warrior didn't get a power boost, Baily said the engine is already "competitive" with its rivals.
"There's no issues with the performance of the engine," he said, "so there's no changes to that".
Also largely unchanged is the N-Trek interior. That means there's a new 8.0-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto in the dashboard (part of the Series 4 upgrade), and a smattering of orange highlights for the seats, doors and floor mats.
Initially, the Warrior will be limited to the Australian and New Zealand markets. Cars will be overhauled at the new Premcar facility in Epping at a rate of 10 per day, although the company could up that to 14 if demand dictates it.
Production starts next month, and the first cars will be on sale in December.
With parts from around 10 local suppliers it's a decidedly Australian product, but the Nissan Australia boss says the vehicle has already "got a tremendous amount of interest from a number of other markets".
It could also spawn more local-market specials with a harder off-road edge, starting with the Patrol.
It's easy to see why Nissan is nudging the Navara upmarket. According to figures quoted by the company, utes priced over $60k represented 22 per cent of 4x4 dual-cab sales in the year ending in August 2019, compared to just 16 per cent in the preceding 12 months.
The four-wheel drive ute market is down slightly in 2019, while four-wheel drive Navara sales have dropped 16 per cent.