Imitation is sometimes the sincerest form of flattery. When the Australian buying public is snapping up as much dual-cab ute as they can afford, to then continue spending significant dollars on serious modification, the vehicle manufacturers are going to start paying attention.
And when they act on that attention, they come up with something like this: the 2020 Nissan Navara N-Trek Warrior. It’s got a sticker price starting from $62,990 as a manual or $65,490 as an automatic, both currently running as a drive-away offer.
The Warrior competes in a newfound field of factory-fettled 4WDs: think Ford Ranger Raptor ($76,290), Holden Colorado Z71 Xtreme ($69,990), HSV Colorado SportsCat V ($64,690) and Toyota HiLux Rugged X ($64,490), all in matching auto spec where available and before on-road costs.
The Australian 4WD aftermarket industry is one of the biggest, busiest and most innovative in the world. Many of the top brands were born here, citing the harsh conditions that can be found within our 7,692,000km² as a crucial ingredient of development. And when you drive around the cities, suburbs, back roads and bush tracks, you see many of these examples kicking about.
Modified 4WDs use almost exclusively aftermarket gear, such as upgraded suspension, bigger and better rolling stock, improved clearance and beefed-up suspension. It’s worth noting that vehicle manufacturers and the aftermarket industry don’t always see eye-to-eye.
Nissan hasn’t reinvented the wheel with the Navara N-Trek Warrior, and nor should it. Using engineering firm Premcar, Nissan has taken the simple measure of looking at what people like doing to their 4x4 utes and offering up something similar, but factory-backed and with a promise to deliver good results.
You can quickly flame up an argument over whether modified vehicles are built-for-purpose machines tailored to their owners' special requirements with thought-out mods, or poser-mobiles and mall-crawlers that barely pop up a gutter before they get Mr-Sheened to within an inch of their life.
I’m sure a bit of that kind of predilection will get bandied about in the comments section below. Pointing out the obvious, I’m all for modification. But, there is a caveat: the modifications need to have actual benefit.
In other words, you can keep your 20-inch wheels, six-inch spring lifts and ‘builds’ with more light bars than locking diffs. I like modifications that make a 4WD better at being a 4WD.
First things first, let’s look at this Warrior’s suspension. The Navara is one of the few dual-cab utes these days that already has a coil-sprung rear end, which uses a Panhard rod five-link set-up. Upper and lower control arms are relatively long, and the progressive-rate coil springs give good ability for the suspension to flex and cycle off-road.
The front coils are non-progressive, taller and softer than the standard offering. Both ends benefit from a larger-diameter shock absorber – 35mm piston and twin-tube design for the tech-heads out there. They’re made by the same mob that does the ‘normal’ Navara suspension, Tenneco. You might not have heard of Tenneco, but you may know of Monroe and Rancho Suspension, as well as Lukey exhausts. They are owned (along with a lot of other brands) by Tenneco.
A 35mm piston is a generous size, and will go a long way in terms of durability and resistance to fade. Many aftermarket shocks use a similar size and construction.
The updated suspension accounts for 20mm of the 42mm total ‘lift’. Numbers aside for a moment, the best thing about this suspension is the way it’s tuned. Premcar went to the effort of developing and testing a shock absorber tune that suits the ride height, weight and spring rate of the Navara N-Trek Warrior. It’s no small feat, meaning there were many days out in the bush with some rough tracks and a shock dynamometer in a horse float.
The Premcar team assembled, tested, rebuilt and retested a variety of different damper tunes, varying the amount and composition of shim stacks within the shock absorber to find something that feels just right. It needs to be soft, soaking up movements without restriction, but at the same time not losing control of suspension (and body) movement. It’s a balancing act of bump and rebound tuning at different parts of the damper’s stroke.
Unlike some aftermarket kits that give more overall suspension lift, the N-Trek Warrior doesn’t need any fettling with swaybar links and mounts, nor control arms.
The end results are worth the effort. While the standard-fare Navara is nice (in the current D23 generation's 'Series 4' iteration), there’s a newfound suppleness and planted feel to the Warrior. On-road, it’s the second-best-riding 4x4 ute in my opinion (behind the Ranger Raptor). Also, the steering feels tighter and more responsive, making the Warrior a more engaging and fun overall driver.
Off-road, the improved ground clearance gives an obvious benefit. When you’re doing more than a slow crawl, the Navara’s improved control lets you drive much faster and with more confidence. It handles bumps, whoops and rough surfaces much better than a standard Navara, and is (dare I say) reminiscent of the benchmark Ranger Raptor.
There are a couple of extra little details to list off here. Firstly, the wheel track has been widened by 30mm courtesy of the model-specific Rosta 17-inch alloys. That lowers the centre of gravity and gives more stability.
The front bump stops are bigger and softer now, giving a more progressive take-up before you bottom out. End result: more control and composure when the suspension hits maximum compression.
Another big element to all of this is the selection of rubber. As part of its testing, Premcar went through a variety of aftermarket all-terrain tyres, and chose the Cooper Discoverer AT3 LTs for the Warrior. Premcar was looking for the right balance on on-road and off-road driving, and ended up with a size of 275/70R17. That’s 32.2 inches in diameter, accounting for 22mm worth of lift.
These tyres are a big improvement for the off-road side of the coin – being taller and wider for an increased footprint gives you more grip. The tread pattern, with a much deeper tread depth and wider voids between the tread blocks, gives you more traction and adds to that feeling of confidence behind the wheel.
Add into the equation Nissan’s locking rear differential and decent off-road traction control (which work together), you have yourself a 4x4 ute that is undoubtedly more capable off-road than the standard fare, and with enough prowess to accommodate some seriously challenging conditions. It was only in slippery clay ruts that we were able to get the Navara bogged.
Another point worth mentioning here is the tyres’ LT designation, denoting light truck construction. This means the tyre is heavier, and heavier duty, as well. Extra plies of steel, rubber and polyester in the carcass make for a tyre that is more puncture- and heat-resistant, which is what you want for hard off-roading and long periods of low-pressure driving.
There are certainly more aggressive all-terrain tyres out there, but the Coopers don’t completely throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. They are respectably quiet, and hold the road reasonably well. Just watch out when it’s raining on the blacktop. Like the Ranger Raptor, it doesn’t take much for the Warrior’s rear end to lose grip and desire overtaking the nose. Traction control is fast to respond, however, and is up to the job of keeping it in check.
Another couple of small on-road-based criticisms: there are no front parking sensors; and the top tether points are at the top of the seat, which makes it difficult to tightly secure down some baby and booster seats.
It's also worth noting the Navara N-Trek Warrior benefits from Nissan's new 8.0-inch infotainment display, which has Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and native navigation, but no digital radio. The operating system and user interface are easy to use, and a solid improvement for the ute.
There is a drop-in tub liner for the business end of the Warrior ute, along with load rails, four tie-down points, and a 12V plug that looks pretty weatherproof. I’ve also noted previously that the flat-topped design of that tailgate is handy for putting stuff on when you’re camping or working out of the vehicle.
The rear bumper is steel, so it's much more durable than the chrome and plastic bits usually found at the extremities of the modern-day 4WD. Good riddance, as well, because ours took a bit of a knock off-road.
The front bullbar, a Nissan genuine unit sans hoops, improves ground clearance and protection, as well as being more durable for tricky and challenging off-roading. From the driver’s seat, you’re much better able to spot sharp approach angles and tight ruts. The bullbar isn’t winch-compatible, however.
The Navara N-Trek Warrior also gets a Hella 470mm light bar mounted up front, which draws 35W across 12 diodes. It’s an improvement over the standard high-beam offering at night, but it wouldn’t be my choice. That 35W is on the meagre side in terms of power, and it doesn’t take much digging to find something similarly sized and priced with around 100W and good optics.
The Navara N-Trek Warrior keeps its 3.5-tonne towing capacity, although previous testing has noted that the twin-turbo 2.3-litre diesel four-cylinder (which hasn’t changed), making 140kW at 3750rpm and 450Nm at 1500–2500rpm through a seven-speed automatic gearbox, can struggle a little when towing close to that limit.
In our time of testing, we averaged 10.0L/100km. That reads high compared to the claimed combined number of 7.0L/100km for the Navara N-Trek Warrior, but don't forget we also did a lot of off-roading in our time.
All of these modifications make for a heavier vehicle, as the Warrior’s kerb weight grows from 1993kg (in the regular N-Trek model) to 2186kg. That 193kg comes off your potential payload, going down from 917kg to 724kg.
The $64,000 question: is this Navara Warrior worth it? It’s undoubtedly an improvement over the standard Navara, in terms of on-road and off-road ride comfort, as well as raw off-road ability. It stacks up as good value, too. Adding a good suspension kit, quality wheels, tyres and a bullbar would likely cost more than the $6500 outlay asked here. Additionally, it's all factory-backed stuff without potential implications. It’s just a shame the bullbar isn’t winch-compatible (for those who want that), and the LED light bar is underdone. Also, watch out for those wet-bitumen traction issues.
For some food for thought, check out this modified Nissan Navara. It would cost more overall to do, and hasn’t got the complete factory backing of the Warrior, but has a higher degree of modification. The Ironman 4x4 bullbar and rear bar offer more protection, the Bushranger driving lights offer much more lighting performance, and there’s a winch if you get properly stuck.
Along with improved off-road ability and enjoyment behind the wheel, one of the best things about the Warrior is how it rides. The tuning job is top-notch, adding to that sense of engagement and confidence. While it will inevitably be compared to the Ranger Raptor, one needs to remember this Navara is more than $10,000 cheaper in terms of asking price. In that sort of company, it can keep its head up high. In its own way, that is high praise.