My family’s decision to opt for the base automatic variant of the Nissan Navara three years ago was born of budget constraints more than anything. At the time, this option was called the EL 4x2 AT. Priced at around P1.1 million, it was just within our budget.
All we needed was a ride we could take up to the farm in Bataan every now and then, and one with an automatic transmission so that the senior members of the household wouldn’t have to toil away in traffic. Our EL served its purpose and continues to do so presently.
Fast-forward to 2021 and the Japanese carmaker has done away with a slushbox for the EL altogether. Now, you’ll have to shell out at least P1.459 million for the VE Calibre 4x2 AT if you need an automatic—which is fine, so as long as Nissan Philippines has packaged it in a way that will make the jump an easier pill to swallow.
It’s clear that Nissan has put a lot of work into updating the Navara’s design. The front end of the truck has been beefed up considerably thanks to a much more rugged face that features a new grille reminiscent of the full-size Titan from the US. The four-projector headlamps with daytime running lights are arguably the best-looking set of eyes in the segment now, too.
A lot has changed toward the rear as well. There’s a new bumper that not only looks burlier, but also provides better access to the bed. The tailgate gets embossed ‘Navara’ lettering, and the taillights flaunt a boxy new look. I wish a bedliner were included at this price point, though.
Other bits worth noting are the new 17-inch wheels and rugged step boards. We have to mention, too, that it’s hard to tell this unit apart from the pre-refresh ones when viewed from the side.
Sitting inside this unit makes me wish our family had spent a little extra several years ago to go for the midlevel variant. The new fabric seats feel much nicer than the previous ones, and the extra soft-touch materials give this cabin a slightly more premium vibe.
The overall design of the dashboard is the same, but Nissan has made a couple of changes that will strike buyers in a big way. The steering wheel, for one, is new and a hell of a lot nicer to hold than the previous tiller. Drivers are also faced with a redesigned instrument cluster that features a clean, easy-to-read information screen. The startup animation is also a nice touch, and we’re happy to report that there’s a USB charging port tucked underneath the rear A/C vents.
I do have one gripe here: I kind of wish Nissan had stuck with dials for the A/C controls, as tactile feel is something I greatly appreciate while behind the wheel. This is really me picking nits, though.
One of the first things I noticed when I first started this test unit was that the engine is noticeably quieter now. After opening the hood for a closer look, I was pleased to find that Nissan has added more insulation. Other than this, the setup is carried over from the pre-refresh version: a 2.5-liter turbodiesel in-line-four with 187hp at 3,600rpm and up to 450Nm of torque at 2,000rpm.
Those figures aren’t the most impressive in the segment, but the VE’s performance is as reliable as ever. There’s more than enough pull for almost every application, whether it be driving on the highway with four passengers on board or transporting large appliances from one point to another. The seven-speed automatic transmission is also a smooth shifter, with no noticeable turbo lag occurring during our test period.
No reinvention of the wheel here—just a much-appreciated polish for a tried-and-tested formula. What Nissan has played around with we’ll get to in a bit.
Ride and handling
There’s a new steering rack that improves the truck’s handling, Nissan claims, though I’m not really noticing much of a difference here compared with the pre-refresh unit. No biggie as I’ve always considered the Navara to be the best-handling option in its segment, and this still remains the case. What has changed, though, is the ride.
There’s a new suspension setup that features dual-rate coil springs at the rear now. The main benefit of this alteration is that the vehicle’s payload capacity has been increased to 1,043kg. I’ve also noticed that the ride is softer now, though there’s a tendency to wallow about a bit after running over larger bumps, and body roll seems to be slightly more noticeable.
Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility comes standard with the eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system, and the six-speaker sound setup is pretty good. You also get a rear parking camera, a drop-down armrest with cupholders in the second row, automatic headlights, and automatic climate control. Parking sensors? You’ll have to shell out for a higher variant if you want Nissan’s advanced Intelligent Mobility safety tech, and features like speed-sensing door locks and parking sensors are a strange omission.
It’s best to look at the Navara 4x2 VE AT as a midlevel variant rather than the model’s base automatic option. At P1.459 million, it’s considerably pricier than base automatic offerings like the Mitsubishi Strada 2.4 GLS 2WD AT, the Toyota Hilux 2.4 G 4x2 AT, and the Ford Ranger 2.2 XLS 4x2 AT, and this could be seen as a glaring hole in Nissan’s lineup.
We’re not here to judge what Nissan doesn’t have, though. The Navara 4x2 VE AT is still the best-handling truck out there, and the changes the brand has made give the truck a level of polish and performance that fits its price tag.
SPECS: 2021 Nissan Navara 4x2 VE Calibre AT
Engine: 2.5-liter turbodiesel I4
Power: 187hp @ 3,600rpm
Torque: 450Nm @ 2,000rpm
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
Drive layout: RWD
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