Dare to be different
In the guise of its Navara dual cab ute, Nissan has attempted to distance itself from the cookie cutter image of the ute category with some different suspension engineering.
The dual cab ute sector has become Australia’s highest selling vehicle category. At last count, buyers had 14 brands to consider, with more to come. The established Japanese and Thai players face competition from Europeans at the upper end of the market, and Chinese and Korean manufacturers at the lower.
The Nissan Navara may be shorter than a Ford Ranger, and longer than a Toyota HiLux, but what sets it apart is its coil-spring rear suspension.
First introduced to the Australian market in 2015, Nissan upgraded the ute’s suspension 12 months later to incorporate a five-link location set up.
The latest model features stiffer rear coils and revised shock absorber valving, delivering a more solid feel on and off road. Nissan fitted the coil/five-link suspension to all Navara models, except the more utilitarian cab chassis variants, which have stuck with a traditional leaf-spring rear suspension. Front suspension of coils with double wishbones produces a solid feel to steering, without any hint of wandering at freeway speed.
It’s challenging for manufacturers to engineer suspensions that perform over a wide range of load and road conditions. However, the Navara delivers a great ride even when unladen, an impressive feat when combined with the ability to carry a sizable load. Rubber cones installed as a secondary suspension do a good job of preventing the rear end from bottoming out when loaded. The rear suspension also offers a great arc of wheel articulation for those who are serious about going off road.
The 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine supersedes the three-litre V6 that powered the Navara prior to 2015. Thanks to its dual turbochargers, the more efficient, smaller capacity engine pumps 140kW and maximum torque of 450Nm between 1,500 and 2,500 rpm. The benefit of the torque is maximised by the seven-speed automatic transmission, which provides passenger car smoothness with light-truck toughness. For the die-hard manual fans, a six-speed manual option is also available.
The four-cylinder engine produces more mechanical noises than its six-cylinder predecessor, and the idle may not be as smooth, but the improvements in fuel efficiency more than offset these side effects. On the range-topping ST-X test model, the premium sound system cancels out exterior noises anyway.
Changing from two- to four-wheel drive is as easy as twisting a knob located on the dash up to speeds of 100km/h, but it’s advised to be at a standstill when selecting the low range.
The rear tub is deep, but slightly too narrow to accommodate a standard pallet between the wheel arches. The ST-X gets the benefits of set-adjustable, track-mounted sliding-anchor points that complement the tub liner.
The interior of the ST-X is loaded with all of the luxury features now expected, including leather upholstery and heated front seats. The driver’s seat can be power-adjusted eight different ways, and the rear passengers are looked after with reasonable seat back angles and plenty of leg and head room, thanks to relatively low seat squabs. They also get their own rear air conditioning vents and an electrically-operated sliding rear window gives access to check the tub at the back.
The Navara has a five-star ANCAP safety rating, and comes with seven airbags: dual front, front side impact, full-length curtain airbags and driver’s knee airbag. It also boasts electronic stability and traction control, ABS with electronic brake force distribution and emergency brake assist, and front seatbelt pretensioners. A reverse view camera is standard on the ST model and above, while the ST-X adds rear parking sensors, hill start assist and hill descent control.
In addition to the seven-inch touch screen incorporating satellite navigation and the view from the reversing camera, the ST-X has a digital compass readout within the rear view mirror that may help when travelling in remote areas where no tracks are evident.
Global vehicle manufacturers are cooperating more these days, and the Navara’s chassis and suspension will be the fundamental underpinnings for the X-Class Mercedes-Benz dual cab ute that is slated for arrival in Australia in 2018.
As the competition looks ready to intensify in the Australian ute market, the Navara already has the appropriate ride, load carrying, comfort and steering response expected of a premium European utility vehicle.
The Nissan Navara has a 3,500kg braked towing capacity, combined with a 300kg ball weight.