“This Nissan’s selling point has always been its comfort, ride, and handling”
In 2015, then Nissan Philippines president Toti Zara made a bold announcement when the Japanese carmaker launched the current generation of the Navara. “Let the truck wars begin!” was his battle cry.
It was a daring challenge to the Navara’s competitors at the time, many of which were also relatively new to the market. The Toyota Hilux and the Ford Ranger were still shiny and fresh, and eager to do battle with a resurgent Nissan.
These diesel-powered midsize trucks clashed in the ensuing years, with competition heating up thanks to a more conducive tax atmosphere courtesy of the TRAIN law. The Navara did well in the market, settling at sales of around 1,000 units per month before the pandemic hit.
As 2021 arrived with much uncertainty, there’s at least one thing we’re sure of: We now have Truck Wars 2.0. This month alone saw the introduction of the all-new Isuzu D-Max and the Ford Ranger FX4 Max. Late last year, the refreshed Toyota Hilux landed. And now that the new D-Max is here, expect its Mazda BT-50 twin to not be far behind.
In 2021, the Navara sports a daring new look that evokes the mighty Titan pickup sold in the US market. You can’t miss the larger grille with ‘Navara’ spelled out on top in large letters, but since the font is the same color as the grille, you don’t see it right away and so it doesn’t look too aggressive. Also grabbing attention are new quad projector LED headlights, a design element we only used to see in pricey European cars.
The big news is a new range-topping variant called the Pro-4X, and it comes in a hip new color called Stealth Pearl Gray. The new red Nissan logo is noticeable because of the pop of color it provides. Black wheels, orange body accents, and gloss-black door handles and roof racks are also new this year, but only on this variant.
Off the bat, I can tell you that despite its angas stance, the Navara Pro-4X is not competing with the Ranger Raptor (I think the normal-looking tires are a giveaway). The main mechanical improvement it has is an updated rear suspension with dual-rate coil springs. That means it’s not as powerful as the 2.8-liter Hilux and the bi-turbo Rangers, nor does it have the Ranger FX4 Max’s upgraded Fox shocks.
Does this mean the Navara’s improvements are mere window dressing? If you’re a glass-half-empty person, you might see it that way. But that perspective will detract from what makes this pickup so good compared with the rest of its class. To me, this Nissan’s selling point has always been its comfort, ride, and, oddly enough, handling.
But let’s backtrack to the design for a bit, because this refresh is really good. I like how neat the Navara still looks despite a drastic change in its appearance. This Stealth Pearl Gray hue is one of those colors that’s hard to describe: It looks like a mixture of blue and cement, and it attracts attention without screaming its presence. The touches of color complement the overall look, as do the black wheels and side mirrors. Nissan’s design division knocked it out of the ballpark this time.
To remind us of what the Navara can do, Nissan Philippines pulled off a logistical feat by bringing media and vloggers all the way to Ilocos Norte. This was so we could try the new truck on long drives and on the sand dunes of Paoay. The trip was also done in cooperation with the Department of Tourism for its Safe Trips campaign to promote safe tourism. You might think this is a reckless invitation to venture out during a pandemic, but the safety protocols were very thorough. All participants had to do an RT-PCR test at the Philippine Red Cross two days prior to departure. At the hotels, our rooms weren’t cleaned during our whole stay to reduce human interaction.
On the long drive from Metro Manila, the Navara’s cabin was as comfortable as ever. The updates have given it a more modern feel. The steering wheel now has a more ergonomic button layout, highlighted by the red Nissan logo in the center. The display between the gauges has a new opening animation, and it pumps you up a little every time you enter and start the engine.
The infotainment screen grows to eight inches from seven, and it’s a beautiful display that gives you helpful information about your navigation details and music playlist. Nissan was one of the first major automotive brands to have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on its models, and the integration has never been more seamless. For those who want to see what song is being played and don’t want to switch away from the map display, you can still see your music info on the digital display in the instrument panel. This is an admirable level of integration that not all carmakers can or bother to pull off.
Finally, under the new leather seats with Pro-4X stitching is an unseen but very important feature in this Nissan: Zero Gravity seats. This isn’t new, and the Terra also has them. But they’re a godsend on long drives. I’ve now driven to Baguio and Ilocos Norte in the Terra and the Navara, respectively, on separate occasions, and the most noticeable fatigue I felt was on my right leg from all the prolonged braking and accelerating. I was actually able to drive from Metro Manila to Ilocos Norte by myself for this event, on just a few hours of sleep and a lunch break.
The suspension is the same reliable and comfortable setup that I’ve grown to like with this pickup. It can actually tame EDSA’s infamous pockmarked surface to a certain degree. I don’t know if the new dual-rate coil springs have improved the ride; they could be designed to improve the cargo-handling capability of the Navara. I’m happy to report that the fun handling is still here. On some B-roads in Ilocos, I was able to stretch the Navara’s legs. What a joy.
But the best part of the experience was letting loose on the sand dunes of Paoay. We drove in batches of five pickups, and as anyone who has driven on sand knows, momentum is key. The Paoay sand comes from the sea, and it’s very soft and fine. Just walking on it will cause your shoes to sink in with every step.
In this environment, we were able to try the Navara 4x4’s off-road features. We switched to 4x4 High mode, turned off traction control, and in some instances used hill-descent control. Sometimes, I felt the wheels digging and spinning for a few moments, but the 17-inch tires always found traction somehow. There was never a time when I felt I needed more power, as the reliable 2.5-liter turbodiesel with its 187hp and 450Nm of torque gave me more than what I needed to maintain crucial momentum on the sand.
So, that’s the 2021 Navara in Pro-4X guise. It’s not the strongest under the hood, it doesn’t have the brawniest suspension, and it doesn’t have beefy off-road tires. But do you need the biggest and baddest pickup available on the market? The Navara transports you and your cargo safely and comfortably, and does so wrapped in a visually pleasing package. Several times I was approached by strangers, including one armed soldier at a checkpoint, asking how much the Navara Pro-4X is (we’ll know in a few days’ time) and when it was launched. Let’s face it: When it comes to the Filipino motorist’s preference, the most important battleground is how a car looks.
The battle for truck supremacy is well underway once more. The Nissan Navara brings what it does best to the table: style, comfort, performance, and (I assume since prices are not official yet) value. From what we saw and felt during our week-long driving event, Nissan’s improvements will keep the Navara competitive for years to come.