Nissan Philippines president and managing director Antonio “Toti” Zara said it all when he unveiled the new NP300 Navara, “Let the truck wars begin!” Those are fighting words there, sir, and anyone who would dare to utter such a challenge had better be up for a fight.
Well, like the saying goes: Never bring a knife to a gunfight. In Nissan’s case, the new Navara is a pretty big gun. An evolution of the Frontier Navara, the NP300 packs more power, features and engineering, while holding the line on price. Better yet, the new truck holds an edge in the area of refinement and comfort, two factors that have traditionally been given short shrift in this work-oriented segment.
Over a very long day in Ilocos testing the Navara on both road and off-road conditions, even the most jaded critic came away impressed with the new truck. Personally, while I don’t go out of my way to take the helm of a truck when other, more comfortable, options are available, I have to say that the Navara is a revelation in the ride-and-comfort category. Ladies and gentlemen, this is arguably the first truck that will not beat you up during a long drive.
The suspension engineers at Nissan have done a magnificent job of taming the bone-jarring ride of the average pickup truck, even surpassing the (reasonably) tame ride of the previous Navara. With multilink coil spring suspension at the rear and meticulous tuning for jounce and rebound, the NP300 practically rides like a dream. Even then, the NP300 is still rated for 1,000kg payload and 3,500kg towing capacity.
Imagine a soft-roader like Nissan’s own X-Trail, already one of the creamiest rides in the market, then firm up the ride around 10-20%. That’s the ride of the new truck. Besides the all-day ride comfort, the suspension has very little of the axle hop that plagues stiff, leaf-sprung rear suspensions, giving you more control on uneven surfaces. In a bit of irony, even the Navara’s steering has excellent feel and effort. It’s light enough for effortless low-speed maneuvers, but still has enough heft for reassuring stability at speed. (If only the Sylphy and the X-Trail had the same kind of steering quality!) You don’t have to manhandle this truck to get it to hustle, yet at the same time you still feel very much attuned to what the four contact patches are going through.
Several years ago, the Frontier Navara was the benchmark for power, comfort and rigidity, before finally ceding the King of the Hill throne to the Ford Ranger.
Taking that lesson to heart, Nissan made the NP300’s eight-crossmember chassis stiffer than ever, reducing the typical ladder-frame judder over rough pavement to virtually nil. Power delivery feels immediate and very smooth, with the 2.5-liter turbo running cleanly and quietly up the tach. The seven-speed automatic enables even smoother acceleration over the old Navara’s five-speed slushbox. As before, four-wheel-drive modes are enabled with a simple dial on the dashboard. The six-speed stick is still available for manual fans, and it’s still one of the better manuals around: light clutch action, just slightly notchy shift gate with short throws.
My all-day stint was at the wheel of the 4x4 automatic, which at the current introductory price of just P1.49 million makes it a very tempting proposition. The 4x4 gets the high-output, 187hp 2.5-liter CRDi; a seven-speed automatic transmission; push-button engine start; cruise control; and a host of other goodies. Lightly loaded with three other passengers, the Navara has brisk acceleration while being thrifty at the pump. Over the course of 140km, we averaged 15.9km/L, cruising at just under 80kph on the highways of Ilocos. There’s not much torque below 2,000rpm, though, so you need to get the revs up to take full advantage of the boost.
Apart from the upright position of the rear seatback--something that will always be present in a pickup truck--nobody had much to complain about with the cabin. There are head- and legroom aplenty, and the front bucket Zero Gravity seats are amply padded and very comfortable.
The dashboard is an artful marriage of functionality and SUV fashion with gloss-black accents, a multi-info LCD screen, bright instrumentation, and trays and cupholders galore. I particularly like the slide-out cupholders at the outboard A/C vents, and the tray atop the dash with an auxiliary power point. I suppose this is the closest most Filipinos will ever get to experiencing the US-market Titan, which we can’t have anyway.
In typical Nissan fashion, all the switches and buttons have a silken movement that adds a little bit of luxury to the tactile experience. I’m personally not wild about the chiseled exterior styling with all the chrome, since I prefer a more low-key “classic” look like the Ranger’s, but it does have presence. Again, like a 3/4-scale Titan.
On the sand dunes of Laoag, Nissan let us loose on the standard off-road track that tour operators drive their highly modified vehicles on. With loose sand, off-camber turns, and steep embankments, it was a course that would have challenged any light truck and made a soft-roader cry for mommy.
Down a steep slope (around 30 degrees by my estimate), we tried out the hill-descent control, which, to be perfectly honest, takes out the idiocy from off-road descending. The system modulates the brakes so you can have a controlled descent, and all you have to do is steer. Great stuff for 4WD noobs like myself.
On the sand, my instructor told me to leave it in 4WD-High, and be aggressive with the throttle to avoid getting bogged down. The stock street tires were set to just 10psi, and I had no problems at all living out my Baja 1000 fantasy. One thing I would have liked to see was if the Navara could climb up the steep slope as easily as we descended it. Off-road guru Beeboy Bargas assured me that it could be done, but with an expert driver at the wheel.
With prices starting at P898,000 for the base 4x2 MT--and going up to the top-of-the-line P1.490-million 4x4 VL High with the automatic gearbox, stability control, dual airbags, ABS, six-speaker stereo, and even a rear tailgate spoiler with backing-up camera--the NP300 Navara has got practically all bases covered.
This truck has the goodies to entice our feature-obsessed buyers, but it also has a lot of real substance under the sheet metal to keep them happy on the road or off it. Everyone will love how it rides and spoils the passengers, while entrepreneurs will appreciate that it can still earn its keep out in the field as a true pickup should.
The truck wars are going to get very ugly for the next few years.
Photos by Andy Leuterio