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Nissan Navara 2021 review: SL GVM test

In MY21 guise, the Navara has a bold new look.

Daily driver score

4.4/5

Tradies score

4.5/5

The NP300 Nissan Navara (aka D23) has been on sale in Australia since 2015 and although it has never posed a threat to the dominant Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger in 4x4 ute sales, it has benefitted from gradual styling and engineering refinements.

In MY21 guise, the Navara has a bold new look, significant increases in standard safety headlined by Intelligent Emergency Braking (aka AEB), minimum one-tonne payload capacity/increased load tub volume across the dual-cab range and more.

These improvements are most noticeable in the lowest-priced work-focused models, which are traditionally starved of creature comforts and safety features. So, we recently put an entry-level Navara to the test and discovered a refined and competent hard-worker that has clearly benefitted from years of product improvement.

Price and Features – Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

Our test vehicle is the 4x4 dual-cab ute in base-grade SL specification. Standard issue is the torquey 2.3-litre twin-turbocharged four-cylinder diesel and six-speed manual transmission for a tempting $47,990 driveaway, or $49,490 with the seven-speed torque converter automatic as fitted to our example (less for ABN holders).

It's also fitted with a selection of items from Nissan’s genuine accessories range including hooped steel bull-bar, ST sports bar, front/rear ladder racks, towing kit, tub-liner, soft tonneau cover and all-weather floor mats, which combined add more than RRP$8000 to the price.

Our test vehicle was fitted with front and rear ladder racks. Our test vehicle was fitted with front and rear ladder racks.

Larger 17-inch diameter steel wheels (up from the previous 15-inch) with big 255/65 R17 tyres and a full-size spare portray the SL’s work focus, but there’s also plenty of useful standard kit for a hard-working truck like automatic headlights with halogen daytime running lights, tailgate assist, rear bumper step, reversing camera and rear diff lock.

The Navara SL wears 17-inch steel wheels. The Navara SL wears 17-inch steel wheels.

The vinyl-floored cabin offers four USB ports, two 12-volt accessory outlets, 7.0-inch instrument cluster display with digital speedo and an infotainment system featuring an 8.0-inch touchscreen with multiple connectivity including Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and more.

Inside is an 8.0-inch touchscreen. Inside is an 8.0-inch touchscreen.

Design – is there anything interesting about its design?

The Navara’s latest design language is inspired by Nissan’s Titan full-size US pick-up, particularly the bold new grille design which can’t be appreciated on our test vehicle due to the substantial bull-bar.

The Navara has 220mm of ground clearance. The Navara has 220mm of ground clearance.

However, the frontal styling changes are extensive including grille, headlights, lower fascia, bonnet and front wheel arches; the latter enlarged to provide extra clearance for the 17-inch wheels and tyres. The load tub is also deeper plus there’s new taillights, a stepped rear bumper and new tailgate styling with ‘Navara’ stamped into the lower panel.

The brakes and coil-spring live rear axle have been upgraded in line with the higher minimum one-tonne payload rating across the dual cab range. Off-road credentials include a 12.5-metre turning circle, 220mm ground clearance, 600mm wading depth and 32 degrees approach, 22.9 degrees ramp break-over and 26 degrees departure angles.

The 2021 Navara scores new taillights. The 2021 Navara scores new taillights.

Base-grade ute interiors are looking more upmarket these days and the Navara SL is no exception, offering a visually-pleasing and practical blend of contrasting chrome, satin chrome and textured hard surfaces combined with two-tone upholstery. 

Although the seats are supportive and comfortable, tall people might find the driver’s seat a tad too high. Even on its lowest setting, it can feel like you’re sitting more over the steering wheel than behind it. A more prominent and defined left footrest would also be welcome here.

Rear seat head-room and shoulder-room are marginal for three adults, particularly in the higher centre position with feet either side of the transmission hump, knees squeezed together between the front seat backrests and head pressing into the roof lining. However, knee-room is acceptable for the two outer positions, thanks largely to the concave shape of the front seat backrests. 

Rear seat head-room and shoulder-room are marginal for three adults. Rear seat head-room and shoulder-room are marginal for three adults.

The adjustable A/C vents in the rear of the centre console boost rear passenger comfort, although most of the airflow is blocked by the centre passenger’s legs if travelling three-abreast. Needless to say, the Navara (like most dual cabs) works much better as a four-seater.

Engine and transmission – What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

The 2.3-litre YS23DDTT four-cylinder turbo-diesel is a gem, with two-stage inline turbochargers that provide excellent lag-free response either when accessing its ample 450Nm of peak torque between 1500-2500rpm, or 140kW of maximum power at 3750rpm.

The intelligent torque converter automatic offers near-seamless shifting between its seven close ratios and quickly downshifts under deceleration to ensure you’re always in the right gear when you accelerate again. The overdriven sixth and seventh cogs provide good economy for highway driving and a manual sequential-shift function allows more direct engine control, which is particularly useful on steep declines (which we tested) or when hauling heavy loads in hilly terrain (ditto).

The 2.3-litre turbo-diesel produces 140kW/450Nm. The 2.3-litre turbo-diesel produces 140kW/450Nm.

Its 4x4 transmission is dual-range part-time controlled by a rotary dial on the dash, with shift-on-the fly electronic 4x4 engagement up to 100km/h and 2.7:1 low-range reduction. The electronic rear diff lock is controlled by a dashboard switch.

Fuel consumption – How much fuel does it consume?

The twin-turbo Navara engine has consistently delivered sub-10L/100km economy in our tests, albeit never as low as Nissan’s official figure of 7.9L/100km. So, we weren’t surprised to see a combined average of 9.2 on the dash display when we stopped to refuel after 314km, which included about a third of that distance hauling a maximum payload.

Our own figure measured at the pump came in at 9.8, which is still sub-10L and impressive given its robust performance.

Based on our figure you could expect a driving range of around 800km from its 80-litre tank.

Practicality – How practical is the space inside?

The Navara SL has gained 105kg since we last reviewed this model in 2018. Although it now has a heftier 2033kg kerb weight, its 3150kg GVM also allows for a higher one-tonne-plus payload rating of 1117kg. 

It’s also rated to tow up to the class-benchmark 3500kg of braked trailer. However, to do that while staying on the legal side of its 5910kg GCM (or how much you can carry and tow at the same time) would require a massive 740kg reduction in payload. And that would leave only 377kg of legal payload capacity, which could easily be used up by a crew of four without luggage.

A more practical compromise for potential owners would be to base the towing limit on the Navara’s 3150kg GVM instead, which would reduce the maximum tow rating from 3500kg to 2760kg (which is still a sizeable trailer) but maintain the Navara’s big one-tonne-plus payload rating. 

The load tub floor’s 1509mm length is slightly shorter than its 1560mm width and its total load volume has grown thanks to a 45mm depth increase. However, with 1134mm between the rear wheel housings, it won’t fit a standard Aussie or Euro pallet (like most dual cab utes).

Cabin storage includes a large-bottle holder and storage bin in each front door plus a single glove-box and overhead glasses holder. The centre console offers an open storage cubby at the front, two small-bottle/cup holders in the centre and a small lidded box at the back.

There's a large-bottle holder and storage bin in each front door. There's a large-bottle holder and storage bin in each front door.

Rear seat passengers also get a large-bottle holder and smaller storage bin in each door plus a fold-down centre armrest with two small-bottle/cup holders. The rear seat’s base cushion can also swing upwards through 90 degrees and be stored vertically for more internal cargo space. 

Back seat passengers get bottle holders in the doors. Back seat passengers get bottle holders in the doors.

What’s it like as a daily driver?

It’s not hard to find a comfortable driving position, the four-coil unladen ride quality is excellent and it has impressively low engine and tyre noise up to 110km/h. Our only gripe is that the driver’s seat base cushion feels too short for proper under-thigh support.

The most noticeable improvement is the steering, which we suspect is related to the switch to larger 17-inch wheels as Nissan makes no reference to it. The heavy, lifeless feel since its 2015 launch has finally been replaced with steering that’s nicely-weighted, easier to turn and feels more connected to the front wheels.

The twin-turbo diesel engine has ample performance, with its sizeable 450Nm of torque making light work of city and suburban driving. At highway speeds it requires only 1750rpm to maintain 100km/h and 2000rpm at 110km/h, which is also right in the middle of its peak torque band where throttle response is at its best.

What’s it like for tradie use?

The accessories fitted to our test vehicle weighed a total of 162kg, which increased the kerb weight to 2195kg and lowered the payload rating by the same amount to 955kg. So, we loaded 830kg into the load tub, which with driver equalled a 930kg payload that was only 25kg under the legal limit.

On previous Navara tests with full payloads, the coil-spring rear suspension has used up all of its travel just sitting still, relying heavily on the rubber bump-stops to support the load when driving. However, the latest version is noticeably improved and competent at hauling one-tonne payloads. 

Although the rear suspension compressed more than 80mm, it maintained about 35mm of static bump-stop clearance which was more than enough to ensure this load was fully supported by the coil springs. It didn’t bottom-out at the usual places on our test route and only once did we feel a thud when crossing a particularly sharp speedhump.

We loaded 830kg into the Navara's tub. We loaded 830kg into the Navara's tub.

The engine’s ample 450Nm of torque cleaned-up our 13 per cent gradient, 2.0km long set climb at 60km/h. It hauled this load uphill so effortlessly, in fourth gear at 2000rpm, that acceleration was easily delivered when requested. Fact is, it hardly noticed the sizeable weight it was hauling.

Engine-braking on the way down was equally robust. In a manually-selected second gear, it stayed below the 60km/h speed limit without us having to apply the brakes and did not reach its 4500rpm soft redline on overrun, which was mighty impressive for a four-cylinder engine with only 2.3 litres displacement. 

Safety – What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

Has a maximum five-star ANCAP rating awarded in 2015. The MY21 version includes AEB, forward collision warning, trailer-sway control and seven airbags as standard equipment and that’s in addition to a swag of other features including hill-start assist, hill descent control and more. The rear seat has three top-tether and two ISOFIX child seat anchorage points.

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

We’re pleased to say this is the best Navara we’ve tested, since the NP300’s launch in 2015. Although it’s taken a few years, Nissan has finally delivered what this Navara should have been from the start. It’s worthy of serious consideration by sub-$50K dual cab ute buyers looking for a competent 4x4 workhorse that offers the right combination of refinement, safety, performance, fuel economy and load-carrying ability.

$47,600

Based on new car retail price

VIEW PRICING & SPECS

Daily driver score

4.4/5

Tradies score

4.5/5
Disclaimer: The pricing information shown in the editorial content (Review Prices) is to be used as a guide only and is based on information provided to Carsguide Autotrader Media Solutions Pty Ltd (Carsguide) both by third party sources and the car manufacturer at the time of publication. The Review Prices were correct at the time of publication.  Carsguide does not warrant or represent that the information is accurate, reliable, complete, current or suitable for any particular purpose. You should not use or rely upon this information without conducting an independent assessment and valuation of the vehicle.