2015 Nissan Navara review | first drive

UPDATE: Read Joshua's first drive on Australian soil here.

 

Joshua Dowling road tests and reviews the new Nissan Navara at international launch in Thailand, and finds it's not as big a step forward as other recent arrivals.

Forearms like Popeye the sailor. That’s what Nissan designers think the large bulges on the bonnet of the new tough-as-guts Navara ute resemble.

Presumably they have a vision of muscular men standing in front of the mirror, doing their best impression of a heavyweight wrestler as they lean forward, bow their arms, and clench their fists downwards.

I’m not sure I follow Nissan’s analogy, but it reminded me I need to go to the gym more. Well, at all, if I’m honest.

Nissan can probably be excused for getting a little excited about its new Navara as it’s the first all-new model in 10 years. Solar eclipses happen more often.

The Navara has also been the top selling Nissan in Australia for the past nine years. And you thought it was the Pulsar…

No wonder they’re excited. Or should that be a touch nervous?

Thanks to some unfortunate timing, the Nissan Navara is one of the last of the top-selling utes to get a complete makeover.

The Ford Ranger and Volkswagen Amarok reset the benchmark when they arrived three years ago.

Other utes released since then (we’re looking at you, Holden Colorado) have failed to match their high standards.

Given that Nissan has had all that time to respond and make changes to its new Navara, as the one of the last in, it better be best dressed.

VALUE

Hard to gauge right now because Nissan will not announce prices until the new Navara goes on sale in Australia in the first three months of 2015.

UPDATE: Full NP300 Navara dual cab price and spec details

But you can be sure it won’t be discounted to current levels; Nissan had to do that to keep the current model moving off the showroom floor against a backdrop of newer competition.

One thing Nissan does need to work on, though, is its capped price servicing prices. The current Navara costs more than $2500 to maintain over three years -- double the average and more triple the cheapest in the ute class.

DESIGN

Aside from the bulging forearms in the bonnet (I promise I am not making this up, if my audio recording is good enough I will upload the presentation on the web) the new Nissan Navara has muscular lines along its flanks and plenty of chrome on its nose.

It’s a smart execution and looks more upmarket than before. That’s a good thing because modern utes are increasingly doubling as family transport and business vehicles. They need to look as good on the driveway of a flash hotel as they do on a worksite.

Meanwhile, a couple of points of interest under the skin for the Navara geeks. The ‘ladder frame’ chassis and front suspension are carryover from the old model (even though the wheelbase is shorter to improve the turning circle slightly) as are parts of the cabin floor.

But the rest of the body and ute tray are all new.

Nissan’s clever, adjustable tie-down hook system in the ute tray is carried over; Nissan is trying to find a way to enable the system to be fitted when a plastic tray liner is added.

All-around visibility from the driver’s seat is good and the cabin has a passenger-car like feel. Headroom is marginally less than before but I couldn’t pick the difference.

The back seat is comfortable enough, although it is still more upright than the best-in-class Mitsubishi Triton and not as roomy as a VW Amarok.

There are three 12V power sockets and one USB port (an extra USB port would be nice), decent sized door pockets and six cup holders (not bad for a five-seater), and air-conditioning vents at the rear of the centre console, for back seat passengers.

Other neat touches: the centre section of the back window slides opens at the press of a button in case you need to yell instructions (or take them?) when backing up to a trailer.

And the back seat flips up (as with the current Navara) so you can stow some decent-sized cargo in the safety and security of the cabin. Two small hidden storage areas remain under the back seat.

ENGINE / TRANMSISSION

Contrary to other reports and what is available in other countries, in Australia two new 2.3-litre turbo diesel four-cylinder engines have replaced the previous 2.5-litre turbo diesel four-cylinder engines.

The outputs are almost the same as before, despite being smaller in capacity -- a 120kW/403Nm version and a 140kW/450Nm version.

The high-powered version has two turbo-chargers, the low-powered version has a single turbo-charger.

Fuel consumption figures are yet to be published but Nissan claims there are savings of up to 20 per cent.

The highly regarded 550Nm twin turbo V6 turbo diesel sourced from Renault has been dropped from the new line-up due to emissions requirements.

Nissan is working on a larger capacity four-cylinder turbo diesel to replace the 550Nm V6, but it will be added to the line-up some time later.

It means that, in the meantime, the Navara will go from having the most torque among its peers to trailing the Holden Colorado (500Nm) and the Ford Ranger and Mazda BT50 twins (470Nm).

Both 2.3-litre turbo diesel engines are backed by either a six-speed manual or a seven-speed automatic transmission, with shift-on-the-fly up to 100km/h on 4WD models. However, the 4WD still will not operate on tarmac as do selected Mitsubishi Triton and Volkswagen Amarok utes.

Nissan says the weight of the new Navara's body and chassis have been trimmed by a total of 70kg, bringing the vehicle’s mass to between 1905kg and 1960kg for the dual cab models.

Meanwhile, the all-new Nissan Navara will finally match the rest of the competition with a 3.5-tonne towing capacity and a one-tonne payload, according to the chief engineer on the media preview drive. Nissan Australia won’t confirm it until closer to the local launch.

The new Navara also promises car-like driving characteristics, with a multi-link rear suspension system on selected dual-cab models, and a leaf-spring rear end on the workhorses in the range. However testing in Australia in May 2015 found that the coil spring rear end did not deliver the same level of on-road or off-road stability as the VW Amarok and Ford Ranger.

Other technology highlights: hill descent control, hill hold assist (for inclines) and an integrated rear-view camera and a touchscreen navigation system on selected models.

Notable by its absence however, are technologies such as radar cruise control, blind-spot monitoring and crash mitigation systems which will be avalable on the updated Ford Ranger from late July 2015 and the all-new Toyota HiLux due in October 2015. 

Nissan says the wade depth of the new Navara is a modest 450mm (barely a puddle compared to the class-leading Ranger and BT-50 with 800mm). Approach and departure angles have improved, though, to 31 degrees and 25.6 degrees respectively. (Ramp over angle wasn’t available).

SAFETY

The new Nissan Navara is likely to get a five-star ANCAP safety rating thanks to the fitment of seven airbags (including one for the driver’s knee), and an all-new body over a modified version of the previous model's chassis. A five star rating would put it back on the eligibility lists for the many government departments, mining companies and big business fleets that insist on top safety scores for work vehicles.

Conspicuous by its absence though is a rear view camera on most models. The base model DX dual cab does not even get rear parking sensors.

The vehicle is yet to be independently tested by ANCAP but the chief engineer told CarsGuide that it had an internal target to achieve an occupant protection score higher than 12.5 out of 16 in the severe 64km/h offset frontal crash test, which would make it eligible for a five-star ANCAP rating under the current guidelines.

All five seats on the cars tested had lap-sash seatbelts, but a headrest was missing from the centre back seating position. If this is the case for vehicles sold in Australia, this would be a glaring safety anomaly.

The Navara will also be one of the few new vehicles on sale in Australia without the latest, ISOFIX child restraint anchoring system. 

DRIVING

The new twin-turbo 2.3-litre diesel engine is a sweety, with plenty of urge from low revs and with a light push of the throttle. However, it is much noisier than the current crop of diesel powered utes. 

Matched with the seven-speed auto, it’s a smooth operator and feels like it has more power than the brochure suggests, easily slipping into the right gear to make sure you don’t lose momentum.

The multi-link, coil spring rear end definitely makes the new Navara more comfortable over bumps (we didn’t get to sample the leaf spring model), although it was a little choppy at low speeds on what looked like relatively smooth surfaces.

(Update:Testing in Australia has since found the ride is choppy at low and high speeds, and does not deliver the improvements in roadholding that it ought to)

Dislikes? The steering has way too many turns lock to lock (3.75 turns lock to the lock on the high-grade models and 4.25 on lower grade models with skinny tyres), even by ute standards. Translated: you need to turn the wheel much more simply to take a gentle curve. And parking? You make so many turns it feels like you’re trying to steer a ship.

Which is ironic because Nissan says it deliberately reduced the footprint of the new Navara simply to shave 0.4 of a metre off the turning circle (from 12.8 to 12.4 metres).

Further to that, the steering feel is not as good as the Amarok and Ranger which are both several years old. Why Nissan hasn't used these cars as a benchmark when it had ample time to do so is a mystery.

There is no doubt the new Nissan Navara is an improvement compared with the current model, and it will likely power Nissan to a record year of sales just on its looks alone but, based on a fairly extensive preview drive, the Ford Ranger and Volkswagen Amarok are still the benchmarks for the class in terms of driving dynamics.

Verdict 

First impressions of the new Navara is that Nissan hasn't gone far enough with the improvements to bring it up to the best in class. 

Fast facts: 2015 Nissan Navara
Prices: TBA closer to launch in early 2015
Engines: Single turbo 2.3-litre diesel, twin turbo 2.3-litre diesel
Power: 118kW/403Nm and 140kW/450Nm
Economy: TBA closer to launch in early 2015
Transmissions: Six-speed manual and seven-speed automatic
Payload: 1 tonne on selected models
Towing capacity: 3.5-tonne on selected models
Turning circle: 12.4 metres (down from 12.8 metres)
Length/width/height/wheelbase: 5255/1850/1820/3150mm (dual cab 4WD)
Approach angle: 31 degrees
Departure angle: 25.6 degrees
Ramp over angle: TBA closer to launch in early 2015
Wade depth: 600mm
Weight: 1905 to 1960kg

Technology highlights:
-- Hill descent control on selected models
-- Hill hold on selected models
-- Seven-inch touchscreen navigation and rear view camera on selected models
-- Seven airbags (including one for the driver’s knee)
-- Three body styles: single cab, extra cab, dual cab
-- Rear air-conditioning vents on selected dual cab models
-- Sensor key on top models
-- Multi-link rear suspension on high-grade dual cab models

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