Fifth time's a charm for the 2021 Nissan Navara, which has just been at the receiving end of a major midlife facelift. And to see how good it is off-road, we’ve jumped behind the wheel of an ST-X and headed straight for the bush.
Priced from $58,270 before on-road costs with an automatic transmission, our test vehicle has been kitted out with some factory accessories: bullbar, electric winch, fender flares, and an LED light bar are the most notable.
First thing to cover in this instance is that although the look of this new Navara has changed substantially, updates below the sheetmetal are a little more nuanced.
Firstly, the powertrain remains unchanged. While a single-turbo variant of the 2.3-litre turbo diesel engine clings to only one variant (4x2 SL manual), the vast majority of Navaras will share the twin-turbo variant, which makes 140kW at 3750rpm and 450Nm at 1500–2500rpm.
This runs through either a six-speed manual transmission or – in our case – a seven-speed automatic transmission, along with a low-range transfer case and shift-on-the-fly 4x4 engagement.
If you’ve got a manual-geared Navara, you might like to know that the gearbox case is cast locally in Dandenong, Victoria, using a die-casting process. This is amongst other components for Nissan’s Leaf and Note (which we don’t get in Australia).
In terms of suspension, it’s mostly a carryover affair with this new Navara. Most of the changes, in fact, came through with the pre-facelifted Series 4 Navara.
|2021 Nissan Navara ST-X 4x4|
|Engine||2.3-litre twin-turbo four-cylinder diesel|
|Power||140kW @ 3750rpm|
|Torque||450Nm @ 1500-2500rpm|
|Transmission||Seven-speed torque converter automatic|
|Drive type||Four-wheel drive (including low-range)|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||7.9/100km|
|ANCAP rating||Five-star (tested 2015) - ANCAP report|
|Warranty||Five years/unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Ford Ranger | Mitsubishi Triton | Toyota HiLux|
The X-Class-inspired progressive-rate coil springs are a great change, which have gone a long way to improve the performance of the Navara without sacrificing ride quality.
Being one of the few four-wheel-drive utes with a coil-sprung rear end helps differentiate the Navara from the leaf-spring brigade, but it doesn’t necessarily make it a superior option straight off the bat. The Isuzu D-Max is much improved, with the Mazda BT-50 following suit. Toyota’s HiLux and Ford’s Ranger have also benefited from constant improvement and fettling over their lifetime.
While the Navara didn’t exactly hit the nail on the head when the ‘NP300’ Navara debuted back in 2015, the new platform (now in its fifth iteration) has solved many of the initial problems. And the benefits of coils – a nice ride, good articulation, less weight and generally better ground clearance – are all there for the taking.
Along with getting a stronger rear differential design to help facilitate a higher payload, Nissan has redesigned the front disc brakes and increased the rear drum brakes (25mm more diameter) in this new model.
The rear axle load capacity has increased to 1850kg; a healthy increase from 1700–1750kg (spec dependent). The front axle load has also been increased from 1320kg to 1490kg. This allows the GVM to creep up from 2910kg to 3150kg. Comparing the same automatic Navara double-cab in ST-X trim, the effective payload in the newer (and slightly heavier) models increases from 932kg to 1004kg.
Some extra details for the anoraks out there: adding leather seat trimming increases the kerb weight by 5kg, while the sunroof option pack has an 11kg weight penalty.
Although I haven’t been able to confirm it yet, it looks like the improved front bump stop design that came through the N-Trek Warrior program has filtered down into this new facelift as well.
The Navara’s new look follows in the footsteps of the full-size Titan: more square and bluff than the previous model, with a definite American flavour going on.
Models from ST and upwards also get a new projector LED headlight assembly, which improves the experience of night driving markedly. High beam in particular has a strong and wide beam pattern that fills in darkness nicely. There are also new distinctive LED daytime running lights, as well as tail-lights combining both LED and good old fashioned incandescent globes.
The powertrain – unchanged from the previous model – feels punchy and responsive off the mark. Torque is amply available early in the rev range thanks to two (sequential) turbochargers. However, the engine can feel a little breathless at the higher end of the rev range in comparison to other utes in the segment.
The engine feeds a six-speed manual or (in our case) a seven-speed automatic gearbox, along with a part-time 4x4 system and low-range transfer case. A nod of off-road intent is evident in the Nissan, including a locking rear differential on all four-wheel-drive models.
An important factor in this facelift also includes key safety updates. Things like forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking and driver-attention assist are enabled through the square-shaped sensor on the front of the car. Because this sensor is mounted relatively low below the logo, things like bullbars and winches (like our example) need to go around the sensor. Although, a good look underneath will show that the Navara’s cooling package sits low already, which also requires protection.
The bullbar we have fitted to our test car improves ground clearance – particularly around the wheels – and adds in a bit of solid protection as well. However, the new look does preclude barwork from sitting up as high and concise as the previous model.
If mechanical changes are very slim in comparison to the previous generation, then off-road performance shouldn’t change a lot either. However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because this Navara proved to be quite adept at overcoming off-road obstacles.
Maybe because of its more pronounced shortcomings at the start of the life cycle, the Navara has struggled to shake off those initial impressions. What doesn’t help is a broader segment that continues to improve and accelerate, in terms of both on-road and off-road performance.
However, a straight test on some hard tracks showed that the Navara walks the walk – noticeably better than others in the segment – where off-road ability is concerned.
Coil springs offer decent articulation at the rear, and the Navara feels supple and stable from behind the wheel. Low gearing, particularly the 44.6:1 crawl ratio, works well off-road and allows good low-speed control. I just wish the gearbox would allow gearshifts – particularly second to first – more readily.
Ground clearance is on par for the segment, with side steps being the first thing to run adrift off-road. And additionally, underbody protection is decent for a factory offering.
Traction control, which works in conjunction with the locking rear differential, is one of the better examples you can have. There is some expediency to its reaction times, allowing you to cling onto precious momentum through ruts as it brakes the right wheels at the right time. It might not be as outright good as a system from Toyota or Land Rover, but it’s noticeably better than the likes of Isuzu and Mitsubishi.
And because you can use your rear locker at the same time (unlike a Toyota), the Navara can maintain good control stability, particularly up steep and rutted climbs.
So while on-road demeanour is particularly car-like, Nissan has done a great job of walking the tightrope of good off-road ability at the same time. That coil-sprung rear end is paying off.
The Navara’s carryover infotainment is good, carrying all of the mod-cons that the competition has: Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, native navigation, digital radio (ST upwards) and a volume knob for easy control. And in this specification, the 360-degree camera system works well.
I have to say, the new steering wheel is a welcome change. I found with the old steering wheel, I would often bump the horn when turning from lock-to-lock, and then get angry or puzzled stares from carpark bystanders. This one doesn’t do that. It also looks much better, and has the standard range of buttons and controls for the driver.
The seating position of the Navara feels high relative to the dashboard and steering wheel. It would be nicer if the seat base had a bit more rake in it for long-drive comfort, and rake adjustment in the steering column wouldn’t go astray either.
The extra inclusions around safety technology – facilitated by the facelift – help the Navara keep up with the Joneses of the 4x4 ute world. Autonomous emergency braking works on a stationary car up to 80km/h, and seven interior airbags include full-length curtain and driver's knee airbags. There is also driver-attention alert and lane-departure warning, but no lane-keep assist. Unlike the Ranger, D-Max and BT-50, the Navara has retained a hydraulic power-steering system.
While Nissan hasn't been able to emulate the outright sales success of the D40 generation with this new model, this update should refresh interest in this coil-sprung ute. Never mind the fact that the first so-called NP300 missed the mark somewhat. This ute is well sorted across the board, and proved to be one of the better off-roaders in the segment during our test.
The new Navara is well worth consideration, and a quick test drive to see if it tickles your fancy.