What a difference a few little cosmetic enhancements can make. The rather earnest Nissan Navara ST has always struck the right balance of equipment and capability for the price, but couldn’t ever match the glitzier ST-X on aesthetic appeal.
The ST always looked like a workhorse, whereas the ST-X was better dressed and seemed to more comfortably fit its positioning. For the 2020 model year that changes, with an on-trend black-pack appearance overhaul for the ST that does wonders for kerb appeal, and helps put some distance between it and the cheaper Navara SL.
Proper hard-workers continue, the fleet-special RX dual-cab still on Nissan’s order list, but for private buyers the more powerful ST hits all the right notes.
Priced from $51,250 plus on-road costs, the ST 4x4 auto dual-cab isn’t exactly a budget battler, though depending on what you’re after, the same spec can be had for $2500 less if you’re prepared to change gears yourself, or a $6700 saving if two-wheel drive is all you need.
While lesser Navara models run a modest single-turbo 2.3-litre diesel engine rated at 120kW and 403Nm (powering DX, and RX variants), the ST steps up to 140kW at 3750rpm and 450Nm from 1500–2500rpm (as do SL, ST-X, N-Trek, and N-Trek Warrior).
New for the 2020 model year, the Navara ST dual-cab swaps out its 16-inch alloys for a set of 18-inch wheels in a two-tone finish, shod in 255/60R18 Toyo A25 Open Country rubber. There are also new blacked-out headlight internals, a black grille and fog light surrounds, and a lick of black for the door mirrors and rear sports bar.
If the recipe sounds familiar, most of those parts appeared on the ST Black Edition of 2018, although the older accessory pack also added a bonnet protector, nudge bar, front light bar, wheel arch flares, and a soft tonneau cover, so you’re not quite getting the full value-add treatment this time around.
Nothing under the bonnet has changed, nor has Nissan’s seven-speed torque converter automatic or shift-on-the-fly 4x4 system. There’s been a ‘Series 4’ upgrade from late 2019, but it mostly concerns the infotainment system.
On that front, there’s an 8.0-inch touchscreen display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility baked in, plus factory navigation, AM/FM radio and Bluetooth connectivity. The factory interface is a little busy, but it’s simpler than the unit it replaces once you get familiar.
If you get the impression Nissan’s tweaked most of the areas that come in for immediate aftermarket adjustment, you’d be just about spot-on.
All MY20 dual-cab Nissans also throw in an acoustic windscreen, extra sound-deadening on the firewall and transmission tunnel, and a new sound-damping engine cover. Compared to older Navara models, which were coarse most of the time, the new version is an improvement, even if it doesn't hit best-in-class status.
Alongside the newest spec changes, other Navara ST equipment carries over, including a soft-knit cloth seat trim, carpet flooring, power windows with electric-opening rear windscreen, manual air-conditioning, cruise control, side steps, rear differential lock plus limited-slip-diff-by-brake functionality, and LED headlights.
Navara’s safety suite ticks off boxes like seven airbags, a reverse camera, height-adjustable front seatbelts with load-limiting pretensioners, auto headlights, plus two ISOFIX and three top-tether child seat mounts.
For now, Australian-delivered Navaras miss out on autonomous emergency braking, despite the tech being offered in overseas markets. ANCAP awarded the Navara range a five-star safety score in 2015, though the lack of collision-avoidance tech would make it ineligible for the same score if tested in 2020.
At its core, the Series 4 Navara hasn’t changed from the Series 3 before it, with that update bringing a more load-capable suspension and slightly sharper steering. That’s not bad news, though.
Nissan’s ute has become the go-to for a 4x4 dual-cab that can straddle the demands of hard work and urban friendliness. It’s smoother and more settled around town thanks to a coil-sprung rear end, which is hardly the norm for the class.
On the flipside, coil-sprung models (in the Navara range that’s any dual-cab fitted with a factory tub) just don’t have what it takes to haul heavy cargo. The maximum payload for the ST automatic is listed as 968kg, but the rear will sag readily, long before you get to two-thirds of that amount. Towing is rated to a maximum of 3500kg.
For light to mid-duty work, though, there’s not much wrong with the Navara’s factory set-up. It’s still a bit bouncy and skittish in the rear with nothing aboard, but put 150kg or so in the tray and the Navara finds its groove. The rear settles nicely, there’s less bouncing and bucking, and stability is all the more predictable.
While the 2.3-litre engine might be at the low end for capacity in its class, the twin-turbo engine provides competitive output figures. And though it may not have the outright brawn of the 3.2-litre five-cylinder Ford Ranger or 3.0-litre V6 Volkswagen Amarok, it feels flexible enough on the go – though it can feel a touch underdone just above idle until boost builds.
Nissan’s seven-speed automatic is about as good as you can hope for, in that you don’t notice it most of the time. It does its job smoothly enough, with the smarts to select the right gear and nothing abrupt or indecisive about how it operates.
Working together, engine and transmission provide smooth progress around town, enough in reserve for highway overtaking, and mostly quiet operation. Although, it can’t fully avoid some vibration at idle and clatter if you push hard.
Steering is quick and light enough around town to make the Navara feel a touch more nimble and less ponderous, too. That cements its urban-centric position to give it a more approachable crossover appeal for buyers who might be stepping out of an SUV into a ute for the first time.
Inside, the cabin is less commercial vehicle and a touch more car-like in appearance. It’s still work-ready with robust plastics forming most surfaces and providing decent resistance to scrapes and scratches, but avoids the brutalist look of the HiLux interior.
The seats are more plush than the usual ute fit-out, though adjustment only covers the bare minimum. The same goes for the steering, which has tilt but no reach adjustment, and continues to frustrate with a horn pad that extends to the wheel rim, making it all too easy to tap as you twirl from side to side in close quarters.
Interior width is impressive and three adults can fit across the rear without an issue, though the front-to-rear space isn’t as plentiful, so long-legged travellers will find less to like in the back seat, along with the short seat bases that feel undersized for adults and a limited amount of rear head room. Rear air vents in the console are sure to be appreciated on warm days.
Nissan spaces service intervals out at a longer than average 20,000km, which will be handy for big-distance drivers, but no more than 12 months, reducing the advantage in normal-use cases. Warranty coverage is five years/unlimited kilometres and includes five years' roadside assist.
With capped-price servicing you’ll pay $526, $563, $727, $585 and $570 for the first five scheduled services respectively. That makes the Navara more expensive than the Ranger or D-Max, but less than the HiLux (which also requires six-month/10,000km servicing) to the five-year/100,000km mark.
Fuel consumption is a claimed 6.9 litres per 100km, but on test with a varied mix of light loads, passengers and city to country driving, the Navara ST returned 8.7L/100km.
There’s no doubt the latest changes to the Navara ST are nothing more than window dressing. The core vehicle underneath is the same as it ever was – and that’s really no bad thing.
Nissan’s dual-cab ute range offers a more palatable, gentrified take on what a 4x4 ute can be. Still useful enough for weekends off-road, and able to run from worksite to school drop-off duty without feeling out of place in either situation.
Now, though, the 2020 Navara ST comes ready to roll from the showroom, without the need to dip into the accessory catalogue or go aftermarket to make it look its fifty-grand’s worth.