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Nissan Navara SL 2017 review

Hard yakka: If you're going to use your Navara more for work than play, the SL could be the variant you're looking for.

Daily driver score

4.1/5

Tradies score

4.1/5

Australia's increasingly competitive 4x4 dual cab ute market has prompted some manufacturers to offer additional models that fill gaps between entry-level, mid-range or top-shelf grades. These ‘in-betweeners' are usually created in response to feedback from customers for whom the traditional three-tier model structure doesn't quite fit requirements.

A prime example is the Navara SL, which was introduced as part of the revised Series 2 range launched in late 2016. Aimed primarily at tradesmen and fleet customers, it's designed to bridge a gap between the entry-level RX and mid-range ST, by offering numerous ST features without compromising the RX's work-focused practicality.

So, is this the Navara you've been looking for?

Is there anything interesting about its design?

The SL shares the same 3150mm wheelbase, 5255mm length and 1850mm width of the RX it's based on but with its bigger tyres it shares the ST's larger 12.4 metre turning circle. It also sticks with the coil-spring live rear axle common to all Navara dual cab utes.

The interior offers a tasteful mix of piano black, grey vinyl and satin chrome highlights with contrasting white stitching on the dark grey cloth seat trim, which is in stark contrast to the hose-me-out grey vinyl floor. Front occupant comfort is good overall, with a big grab handle on the window pillar making easy entry for the front passenger. However, driver comfort would be improved with some rake adjustment on the driver's seat base cushion.

The interior offers a tasteful mix of piano black, grey vinyl and satin chrome highlights with contrasting white stitching on the dark grey cloth seat trim. The interior offers a tasteful mix of piano black, grey vinyl and satin chrome highlights with contrasting white stitching on the dark grey cloth seat trim.

Large grab handles on both B pillars assist entry for rear-seat passengers. However, for taller adults the low base cushion height relative to the floor results in raised knees and upper thighs, which can become uncomfortable on longer journeys. Rear-seat headroom for tall adults is marginal and there's plenty of shoulder and elbow rubbing if you're carrying three back there. Realistically, like most of today's dual-cab utes, the Navara is a four-seater that can carry five on shorter trips.

Our only major gripe is the warning chime if the driver's door is opened with the key in the ignition - even if the engine has been switched off. Having to remove the key before you open the door each time, just to avoid setting off this chime, is annoying and unnecessary in these days of remote entry.

16-inch steel wheels with larger tyres in a unique 225/70R16 7J size come as standard. 16-inch steel wheels with larger tyres in a unique 225/70R16 7J size come as standard.

How practical is the space inside?

The SL auto's relatively light 1928kg kerb weight and 2910kg GVM amounts to a 982kg payload. The lined cargo tub's load floor is 1503mm long, 1560mm wide and 474mm deep with 1130mm between the wheel arches. That's not quite wide enough to swallow a standard 1160mm-square Aussie pallet, but there's more than 1.1 cubic metres of load volume available with four sturdy tie-down points for securing loads. There's also a handy 12-volt socket with a protective lid.

The SL is rated to tow up to the class-maximum 3500kg of braked trailer, but to do that you would have to reduce the 982kg maximum payload by a whopping 500kg (or half a tonne) to keep within the 5910kg GCM. And that would leave a payload of only 482kg. So, in the ‘real world’ of towing, it would be more practical to set your towing limit based on the Navara’s 2910kg GVM, resulting in a 3000kg trailer limit with an extra 500kg of payload.

The lined cargo tub's load floor is 1503mm long, 1560mm wide and 474mm deep with 1130mm between the wheel arches. The lined cargo tub's load floor is 1503mm long, 1560mm wide and 474mm deep with 1130mm between the wheel arches.

Cabin-storage options include a bottle holder and storage pocket in each front door, plus pull-out cup holders on each side of the dashboard, an open storage tray with 12-volt socket set into the top of the dash-pad, a single glovebox and an overhead sunglasses holder.

Narrow open storage pockets on either side of the console are handy for small items, plus there's a larger open cubby in front of the gearshift, two cup holders in the centre of the console and a small lidded box at the rear with another 12-volt socket inside.

There are two more lidded storage compartments hidden beneath the rear seat, which can be accessed by raising the base cushion. This can also be swung up through 90 degrees and held in place vertically by two straps to allow more cargo-carrying floor space if required. Rear passengers also get a bottle holder and storage pocket in the base of each door.

Rear-seat headroom for tall adults is marginal and there's plenty of shoulder and elbow rubbing if you're carrying three back there. Rear-seat headroom for tall adults is marginal and there's plenty of shoulder and elbow rubbing if you're carrying three back there.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

The Navara SL 4x4 dual cab ute is available with a choice of standard six-speed manual transmission or optional seven-speed automatic, like our test vehicle ($46,490). As you'd expect, this pricing slots in neatly between the $42,490 RX auto and $49,490 ST auto. It also looks razor sharp against rival in-betweeners including Ford's Ranger XLS auto ($50,290), Holden's Colorado LT auto ($49,190), Isuzu's D-MAX LS-M auto ($48,500) and Toyota's Hilux SR auto ($48,560).

Cabin-storage options include a bottle holder and storage pocket in each front door. Cabin-storage options include a bottle holder and storage pocket in each front door.

The extra $4,000 you pay for an SL over an RX brings some significant upgrades, including the ST's superb twin-turbo version of the 2.3-litre four-cylinder diesel (RX is only single turbo) with an extra 20kW of power, 47Nm of torque and 46kg of kerb weight compared to the RX. The SL buyer also gets full-length side steps, 16-inch steel wheels with larger tyres in a unique 225/70R16 7J size, full cargo tub liner, reversing camera, LED headlamps with daytime running lights and NissanConnect smartphone integration.

The SL comes with a full-size spare. The SL comes with a full-size spare.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

The twin-turbo diesel is one of the SL's strong points. The 2.3-litre YS23DDTT common rail four cylinder features two-stage inline turbochargers that provide excellent lag-free throttle response across the rev range, either when tapping into its ample 450Nm of torque, between 1500-2500rpm, or its 140kW of peak power at 3750rpm.

The twin-turbo diesel is one of the SL's strong points. The twin-turbo diesel is one of the SL's strong points.

The intelligent and refined automatic transmission, with its seamless spread of seven close-ratio gears, is also a jewel in the SL's crown. It enthusiastically starts downshifting under deceleration to ensure you're always in the right gear when you accelerate again and the overdriven sixth and seventh ratios provide good economy for highway driving. A manual sequential-shift function allows more direct engine control, which is particularly handy on steep declines or when hauling heavy loads in hilly terrain.

The 4x4 transmission is dual-range part-time, with shift-on-the fly electronic engagement up to 100km/h and an active brake limited-slip diff, but there's no rear diff locker at this grade.

How much fuel does it consume?

Nissan claims a combined figure of 7.0L/100km but at the end of our test the trip meter and fuel bowser readings worked out at 9.4L/100km. Any dual cab 4x4 diesel ute that can sneak under 10.0L/100km when subjected to our variety of ‘real world' driving gets a big thumbs-up. At that rate you could expect a driving range of around 850km from its 80-litre tank.

What's it like to drive?

The Navara SL is easy to live with when carting up to four occupants in typical suburban, city and rural driving. The twin-turbo's 450Nm of torque and sweet-shifting seven-speed auto provide lively response at all speeds and good fuel economy, aided by the relatively light 1928kg kerb weight.

The only negative here is the heavy, lifeless feel of the steering, which lacks the precise and clearly defined changes in turning weight (light at lower speeds, firm at higher speeds) shared by the benchmark Ford Ranger and VW Amarok.

Its load-carrying capacity is also satisfactory for light to medium loads up to 500kg, but the coil-spring rear suspension exposes its only major shortcoming under maximum GVM loading. We secured 770kg in the cargo bed, which, with our two-man crew equalled a 940kg payload, or about 40kg under its maximum 982kg rating.

The nose rose 9mm and the rear compressed 81mm, which is an improvement on the ST with the same 16-inch wheel diameter we tested in 2016, which compressed 120mm with about 140kg less payload. Even so, a quick look under the tail revealed that, like its predecessor, the rear coils had compressed to a point where the load was largely being supported by the solid rubber cones which sit outboard of the coils on each side of the axle housing.

The Navara's excellent engine-transmission combination made light work of hauling this 940kg payload up our 2km 13 per cent gradient set climb.

Although these are designed to progressively engage with the chassis rails as a second stage of damping under such heavy loads, it is still in effect like riding on extended bump stops. It feels that way, too, particularly on bumpy roads.

Even so, the Navara's excellent engine-transmission combination made light work of hauling this 940kg payload up our 2km 13 per cent gradient set climb, easily maintaining the 60km/h speed limit in fourth gear at 2000rpm with the right foot barely touching the throttle pedal.

Engine braking on the way down, using the manual shift function to lock in second gear, was impressive for such a small cubic capacity engine. With close to a tonne on board, it maintained the 60km/h speed limit on over-run, with only one prod of the brake pedal required at the steepest point to avoid the engine reaching its 4500rpm soft redline.

Highway cruising is relaxed with only 1800rpm at 100km/h and 2000rpm at 110km/h. These figures are also smack bang in the middle of its peak torque zone between 1500-2500rpm, which shows the overdriven top gear ratio has been finely tailored for this task.

Engine noise and tyre roar are negligible at these speeds, with the loudest noise being some minor wind whistle around the big door mirrors. Ride quality and grip with the four-coil spring suspension is good on a variety of road surfaces, from smooth bitumen freeways to patchwork back roads and loose gravel tracks.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

The Navara gets the maximum five star ANCAP rating and a suite of passive and active safety features, including driver and front passenger front and side airbags, driver's knee airbag and full-length side-curtain airbags. The rear seat has a trio of top-tether child seat anchorage points (but no ISOFIX) and three full lap-sash belts, but there's no headrest for the centre passenger.

The electronic stability control menu includes brake force distribution (EDB) but no trailer sway control or AEB. The SL grade gets a reversing camera and LED headlights with DRLs.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?

This Nissan comes with a three year/100,000km warranty plus three-year 24 Hour Roadside Assistance Program. Servicing is every 12 months or 20,000km, whichever comes first. Capped-price servicing applies to the  first six scheduled services up to 120,000km with costs varying between $547.00 (minimum) and $738.00 (maximum) per service.

The Navara SL is primarily aimed at tradie and commercial fleet buyers and in that context it hits the target, provided extreme GVM loadings are not a regular requirement. However, for recreational buyers wanting similar practicality, the steel-wheeled, vinyl-floored, cargo-tub-lined SL could also hit the bullseye. Either way, given its keen pricing, which undercuts most entry-to-mid-level ‘in-betweeners', this no-nonsense yet well-equipped all-rounder is a lot of 4x4 dual cab ute for the money.

Does the Navara SL's price and specification appeal to more than just tradie and fleet buyers? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

$36,490 - $43,490

Based on 4 car listings in the last 6 months

VIEW PRICING & SPECS

Daily driver score

4.1/5

Tradies score

4.1/5
Price Guide

$36,490 - $43,490

Based on 4 car listings in the last 6 months