Nissan’s Navara N-Trek Warrior is the latest of a new breed: high-specification 4x4 utes with tweaked and modified components aimed at improved ride, handling and off-road ability.
It’s not the first of its breed, however. The Nissan enters an establishment of utes already vying for the top of the market.
We’ve got two direct competitors for the Nissan to lock horns with: Ford’s Ranger Raptor and Holden Special Vehicles’s Colorado SportsCat.
Price and features
Take one Navara N-Trek, which is a sticker-pack enhancement of the ST-X, but commission engineering team Premcar (formerly ProDrive, formerly Tickford Vehicle Engineering) to bolster it up with new suspension, steering, wheels and tyres aimed at improved off-road ability and enjoyment.
Nissan’s Navara N-Trek Warrior (with an automatic gearbox) has a list price of $65,490, making it $6500 more expensive than the N-Trek specification below it. However, at the time of writing, Nissan was listing the N-Trek Warrior at $65,490 drive-away.
Ford’s Ranger Raptor, which has been around since mid-2018, barely needs an introduction. Take one Ford Ranger and extensively rework it in the pursuit of better off-road ability.
In particular, high-speed off-road chops. That means wholesale changes to the suspension and chassis, but nothing done to the driveline.
Although it’s missing some of the tech that the Ranger Wildtrak ($65,190) has, all of that off-road goodness carries a hefty premium: $76,290 is the Ranger Raptor list price, $11,100 over the Wildtrak. That makes it the most expensive ute in this comparison by a significant margin.
In a quest for better performance on-road and off-road, the HSV SportsCat has updated steering, new suspension, better brakes and a special wheel/tyre package.
The HSV SportsCat SV (with an automatic gearbox) costs $68,990, although the optional sail plane ($1300) and tub liner ($300) bump that up to $70,590.
Our test vehicle doesn’t have the optional Supashock suspension ($2990), and it’s also worth mentioning the SportsCat range starts at $62,490 for the lower SportsCat V specification and a six-speed manual gearbox.
Engine and driveline
While it’s the smallest motor in terms of capacity, Ford’s 2.0-litre diesel tells you to take those two-litre milk and juice references and shove ’em.
Using vast quantities of compressed air from two turbochargers, it’s got the best figures in terms of power, and equal-best torque in this trio: there’s 157kW at 3750rpm and 500Nm at 1750–2000rpm running through a 10-speed automatic gearbox.
Second in line is the HSV SportsCat, which makes 147kW at 3600rpm and 500Nm at 2000rpm coming from 2.8 litres, four cylinders and a single turbocharger. Behind that is a six-speed automatic transmission, optional over the standard six-speed manual offering.
The least powerful on both counts is Nissan’s 2.3-litre, twin-turbocharged four-cylinder diesel. There is 140kW at 3750rpm and 450Nm available between 1500–2500rpm.
While a six-speed manual gearbox is standard, the optional seven-speed automatic gearbox like we have here will likely be the most popular choice.
All three utes have a part-time 4x4 system, with turn-dial shift-on-the-fly 4x4 engagement, and a low-range transfer case. Both the Ranger and the Navara share a 2.717:1 reduction in the transfer case, while the Holden is slightly less deep: 2.62:1.
Add in first gear and differential (final drive) ratios, and you’ll get a crawl ratio of which the Ranger Raptor is the lowest: 47.601:1. The Navara is second with 44.565:1, and trailing the pack is the HSV SportsCat with 36.379:1.
Both the Navara Warrior and Ranger Raptor have forward-facing air intakes that are more liable to draw in water when wading, while the HSV has a more traditional (and protected) set-up taking air from the inner guard.
Wheels and tyres
The HSV Colorado has the smallest tyres on the biggest wheels: 285/60-ratio rubber on 18-inch wheels making a 31.5-inch tyre in the old money. Cooper Zeon LTZ Pros are employed with a passenger tyre construction.
Next biggest is the new kid on the block, the Navara N-Trek Warrior. It also uses Cooper tyres, but Premcar opted for AT3s with a light-truck construction and 275/70 on a 17-inch wheel. That’s 32.2 inches of diameter.
Last and biggest is the Ford Ranger Raptor. The most aggressive tyre is used (BFGoodrich KO2) when you look at tread patterns, blocks and voids, with a 285/70 size on 17-inch wheels. That equates to 32.7 inches, just shy of that 33-inch benchmark.
Suspension and clearance
Two of these utes have coil springs in the rear end – something of a rarity for the segment. While the Navara has them as a factory fitment (with a five-link and Panhard rod set-up), the Raptor adopts a Watt's linkage and coilover-style geometry.
That leaves the HSV SportsCat as the only ute that still rocks leaf springs in the rear end.
Conversely, the Ranger Raptor is the only ute of this trio to fit disc brakes to the rear, with the Colorado SportsCat SV and Navara N-Trek Warrior both sticking with the drum brakes of their lower-spec siblings.
The Nissan Navara uses twin-tube shocks, made by Tenneco and employing a 35mm piston, giving bigger internals and more oil capacity than a normal Navara. The springs are taller and softer in the Warrior, as well, with redesigned progressive bump stops in the front.
Combined with the taller tyres, 20mm worth of suspension lift makes for a total raise of 42mm over the standard offering.
What’s important here is that the Warrior’s suspension has been locally developed and tuned, as mentioned, by Premcar.
The SportsCat has a new suspension set-up, as well, with HSV engineers responsible for the changes. Different springs give a 25mm increase in ride height, which totals 45mm when combined with the taller tyres.
While our test model doesn’t have the optional remote-reservoir, Aussie-made ‘SupaShock’ dampers, the standard SportsCat shocks are bigger than regular Colorado fare.
The SportsCat’s best party trick comes in the form of a rear swaybar disconnect. There are also 362mm, four-piston AP Racing brakes up front and a non-functional bonnet bulge.
Ford’s Ranger Raptor has the most work done in the suspension department. The chassis is reworked to accept the rear coil springs, and the wheel track is 150mm wider by using bespoke suspension and driveline components.
Like the F-150 Raptor, the Ranger Raptor uses Fox shocks – a popular aftermarket and off-road-racing option with a stellar reputation. They are big: a 2.5-inch (63mm) body with internal fluid bypassing for better high-speed performance, as well as an internal floating piston to keep gas and oil separate. While they aren’t remote-reservoir, the rear shocks do have a piggyback reservoir.
Listed clearance on these 4WDs needs to be taken with a grain of salt, but is a decent guide at the same time: Ranger Raptor 283mm; Navara Warrior 268mm; Colorado SportsCat 251mm.
The reason why I say that ground clearance is tricky, is because it can be measured from different places in the vehicle, not necessarily the lowest point of the body, chassis or suspension. Some manufacturers use terms like ‘running clearance’ to further muddy the waters.
When you think about the live-axle rear end of these 4x4 utes, only a taller tyre will lift the suspension and driveline components away from the ground; suspension lifts only affect the chassis and body.
But on the independent front end, it’s a different story. Increasing your ride height via taller suspension does yield better clearance, especially the underbelly around the differential. This does come with complications surrounding CV joint angles, suspension travel and geometry.
It's safe to say that a crawl underneath each vehicle tells you that the Ranger Raptor does have the best overall clearance and underbody design, with the lowest points being the big and sturdy lower shock mounts on the back side.
Protection is mostly good for the Raptor underneath, although we’d like to see those side steps mounted with a bit more conviction for off-roading. Special mention goes to the bespoke cast and forged aluminium control arms.
The Navara’s aluminium front bash plate looks the part, and can walk the walk with 3mm of thickness. And when combined with the front bumper that completely replaces the factory bodywork below the headlights, clearance is good.
The SportsCat is lacking the same kind of protection firepower as the Raptor and Navara, but it’s still decent enough. There’s some protection around the engine, and the fuel tank gets some ribbed metal shielding, as well.
Traction aids, low-range gearing
One thing that all of these 4x4 utes have in common is an off-road traction-control system that works to limit wheel spin in low-range, which goes a long way to improving overall off-road capability.
All vehicles have a hill descent control function, but the Ranger Raptor is the only example out of these three with specific driving modes for different terrains. It’s the sharpest-tuned system, as well, needing the least amount of wheel spin before kicking in.
Both the Ranger Raptor and the Navara N-Trek Warrior have a locking rear differential, and both of these work in concert with traction control. It’s a great combination, and makes for serious tractive capability off-road.
The HSV SportsCat, on the other hand, makes do with a limited-slip rear differential. This is better than a traditional open differential, but cannot compare to a locking diff when wheels leave the ground and momentum is in arrears.
As previously mentioned, Ford’s Ranger Raptor continues to impress with the best crawl ratio in first-gear low-range of 47.601:1. That’s followed by the Nissan Navara N-Trek Warrior with a largest possible reduction of 44.565:1, and lastly the HSV SportsCat with 36.379:1.
The scene was set: Ourimbah State Forest, around one hour’s drive north of Sydney’s CBD. It’s home to some steep and rutted tracks that meander through forests of young gum, rainforest and sclerophyll.
To make things better, just about all of the eastern seaboard was in the middle of a massive downpour when we did the day of driving.
While the video teams watch the time slip by with furrowed brows, rain bucketing down and precious little filming happening, I spent some time driving around to find some suitable tracks.
All of that rain meant that producing the associated video for this three-way comparison became a bit of a challenge. We all got very drenched and a little muddy as we ran around in between heavy showers, making do in a constant drizzle.
It also meant the four-wheel driving got noticeably more interesting. Traction becomes the big player in the wet.
And when you’re slipping into and out of muddy bogholes, washouts and ruts, clearance and articulation also become crucially important. Perfect, then, for seeing which ute met tough conditions the best.
Firstly, all three of these utes are a big improvement as off-roaders when compared to their more sedate, fettered stablemates.
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve said good aftermarket tyres can improve the off-road ability of a 4WD, I’d probably have enough money for a nice set of mud terrains. And in testing these vehicles, that opinion is validated. The compromise you get is a tyre that is a little noisier and less grippy on-road, with the latter becoming conspicuous in the wet.
Off-road, however, the benefits are fulsome. Tyres continue to grip in these trying conditions, finding forward progress despite clawing at slippery clay and mud. Being bigger, both in terms of diameter and width, means there is more available footprint, too. More footprint = more traction.
Having some additional suspension clearance also pays an obvious dividend, but here is where the pack starts to separate. Firstly, Ford’s Ranger Raptor is a magical drive off-road. Although it’s much taller, the Raptor is also wider, making it feel assuredly stable off-road. Furthermore, the suspension is sublime.
While you do enjoy that bump-soaking ride on-road, it’s absolutely at home on rough and rutted tracks. All of those technical terms, numbers and acronyms in the shock absorbers aren’t gimmicks: the faster and harder you go, the better they seemingly perform.
The Nissan Navara N-Trek Warrior does a similar job, but not to the same extent. It’s lacking the same hardcore firepower of the Raptor, but the improved off-road ride and capability are testament to the fine work that Premcar has done getting so much improvement out of the Navara.
The standard Navara (now in its fourth iteration of the current generation) is a good thing, but the Warrior raises the bar firmly and noticeably. What’s more, it’s much better on-road, as well – a big tip of the hat to the project.
HSV’s Colorado SportsCat doesn’t take to the rough tracks so swimmingly as the other utes here. On-road, you can feel that stiffer front end and uprated swaybars leave the SportsCat feeling taut and responsive. Off-road, it’s just too stiff.
Rough tracks leave it feeling uncomfortable, even a bit jarring when compared to the other two utes. When you engage low-range, that rear swaybar disconnects and helps the SportsCat flex through the ruts. However, those front springs (10 per cent stiffer) don’t offer much articulation at all.
That lack of a locking differential is also telling in the SportsCat. Cross-axled on a wet track (taking a hard line and looking for trouble), it struggled the most without any magic button. It still managed to clamber up the track, traction-control system working overtime, but it struggled the most.
Both the Navara Warrior and Ranger Raptor had an easier time using the rear diff lock to minimise wheel spin. Both crawled up with little fanfare, but from the driver’s seat, the Ranger Raptor felt a little better. Having an extra 110mm of wheel track leaves it feeling more stable overall, but both were impressive.
Looking for more trouble, I found something wetter, steeper and more rutted. Water rushed down the middle of the track like a small-scale canyon, clearly responsible for its deteriorated condition.
It’s a perfect test, however. Traction will be in even shorter supply, and the steep, deep ruts will test out clearance and articulation. It’s always good to find the limits, and this track might just do the trick.
Last one through the previous challenge is first one through this next obstacle: the Ranger Raptor. It breezed through, suspension straddling the big ruts as the body sat relatively flat. The tyres didn’t miss a beat either, with the rear locker engaged.
Perhaps this gave me a false sense of security, as I followed suit in the other two utes. Going down was easy, but they both fell into the same trap going up.
Once into the rut, the Navara Warrior and Colorado SportsCat both refused to climb out. Wheels churned forwards and backwards, and we eventually bottomed out. Bogged.
To ensure the test was fair, we reattempted the climb with the Ranger Raptor. Twice. And both times it was a clear result.
The verdict is pretty straightforward. With bigger tyres, a more aggressive tread pattern, more off-road-focussed suspension and traction aids, the Ranger Raptor proved in this comparison that it isn’t all fluff and bravado.
All of that extensive work Ford has done to the Raptor pays dividends in terms of raw off-road ability, whether that is high-speed driving or technical crawling.
The Raptor is the most expensive ute here by a fair margin, and also has the lowest towing capacity on test. But that’s the compromise you have to pay for a 4x4 ute so adept off-road.
In this company, the Nissan Navara N-Trek Warrior’s first hit-out is positive. It’s an undoubted improvement across the board for the Navara breed, scoring a better on-road nature and off-road ability thanks to specially tuned suspension and updated rubber. Along with being better overall, it’s also more engaging to drive.
Third place in this comparison is the HSV SportsCat, which does seem harsh. Something has to come last, and the HSV is up against two utes that take off-roading in their stride much easier. You could spend some extra money on the optional SupaShock suspension, however our experience is that it's also firmly damped and more suited on-road than off-road.
There are definite improvements over a Holden Colorado, but the stiff suspension leaves it feeling uncomfortable off-road. Soften that suspension up, throw in a rear locker, and it would be a different story.
Note: since this story was written, the news of Holden's departure from the Australian motoring scene has direct implications for the HSV SportsCat. The future of the Colorado-based SportsCat is bleak and unclear, and heavy discounting of the Holden Colorado will have a knock-on effect for the SportsCat. We suggest SportsCat pricing on the showroom floor will also come down a long way.