That the new Nissan Navara is better than the old one goes without saying. But the old Navara was already a pretty good truck. Good handling, powerful motors, a spacious cabin, and Nissan's traditionally excellent air-conditioning made it one smooth operator. So much so that even motoring journalists were buying them.
But the general market is a bit more fickle than motoring enthusiasts, and the Navara never quite matched the runaway sales success of its prime competitors, despite being arguably superior in many areas. This new Navara thus has everything to play for in a fast-maturing and crowded pickup market. And with a retuned engine and a first-in-class coil-sprung rear axle, the Navara's got a lot going for it. Let's break down the differences.
The Navara's tough-looking exterior combines traditional elements, such as the strong grille and the boxy silhouette, with modern Nissan style signatures such as the muscular front shoulder line, those sculpted flanks and that swoopy greenhouse. The result is a truck that stands out in a crowd, especially in the orange paint worn by our 4x4 VL unit. Beyond that, big 18-inch wheels and a funky integrated tailgate spoiler make the Navara the sportiest-looking truck around. It certainly has enough decals to qualify as a racer, with big, bold graphics detailing a laundry list of technological goodies plastered across its flanks.
From the X-Trail to the Altima to the Navara, Nissan has this "Zero-G" seat thing down. The front buckets are comfortably supportive on both long trips and dirt trail runs. The cabin has always been big, but this bigness is now wrapped in a modern car-like cabin with car-like ergonomics and interior materials. The only real nit here is the oversized center pad on the steering wheel. Accidentally honking the horn during parking maneuvers happened to us quite a lot over the course of the week. Beyond that, there are few trucks in this class that look and feel this good inside.
The retuned YD25DDTI boasts 187hp and 450Nm, the most of any 2.5-liter model in the class. While it takes a moment or two to catch its breath, acceleration feels great, with the same appetite for revs as the old motor--nearly 5,000rpm on the dial--but without the on-off boost of the old turbo. The wider powerband finally makes the Navara quicker than that other 2.5-liter dragster, the Strada. The seven-speed gearbox shuffles along nicely, too, keeping revs tame on the highway and actually kicking down when you want to overtake. The manual shift mode feels almost superfluous here. Fuel economy is rather typical of a big, powerful 4x4 pickup, at 6-7km/L in traffic and around 16km/L on the highway. We expect it to get better as the engine breaks in.
RIDE AND HANDLING
Much has been said about the Navara's new coil-spring rear suspension setup. While there's no disguising that those springs are still attached to a live axle, ride comfort takes a huge step up. Well-matched dampers and bushings absorb wheel judder in stride, and any errant body motion that still reaches the cabin is nullified by those Zero-G seats. There does seem to be more body roll than before, but the rear axle no longer skips or hops through bumpy turns.
The Navara does have one serious Achilles heel, however: parking. The otherwise light steering feels unconscionably heavy and long-geared at low speeds, and the turning circle is gigantic. The curvy hood also makes judging the front corners a bit tricky. Thank goodness for the rear-view camera. This is a truck that you will want to back up into every parking space!
The Navara does lack a few niceties. Leather is not on the menu, sorry. There's also no bedliner or bin liner under the rear seats. On the bright side, it does have steering audio and phone controls, mutliple full-color digital infotainment displays, as well as that parking camera. You also get electronic stability control, hill assist and electronic limited slip functionality to aid you off the road. The full suite of LED lighting, including LED projector headlights, is also a pretty groovy touch.
I'd like to declare the new Navara a runaway winner, but I can't. The competition in this field is just that tight. But you'd be hard-pressed to find a better city slicker with a bed, and this big boy certainly has the chops to go toe to toe with the American 200hp club in terms of outright grunt. Beyond that, it pushes the technology envelope for the pickup class, and for an incredibly reasonable price, too. Only a few missing features keep it from being perfect. So maybe it's not a runaway winner, but it's a toss-up as to where in the top two slots it falls into in this crowded field. Whatever truck you put it up against, it will know it's been in a bloody fight. Now, how about that seven-seat version, Nissan?
SPECS: NISSAN NAVARA 4x4 VL AT
Engine: 2.5-liter common-rail turbodiesel
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
Power: 187hp @ 3,600rpm
Torque: 450Nm @ 2,000rpm
Drive layout: 4WD
Photos by Niky Tamayo