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Driven: New Navara's soft in the right places

Latest launches

Cape Town - With South Africa’s leisure bakkie market already chock-a-block with choice – Hilux, Ranger, Amarok, KB, Triton, Fullback and BT-50 just to mention a few – Nissan’s all-new Navara has softly landed into this battlefield offering a unique selling point: five-link coil spring rear suspension.

The rear wheels are still connected by a solid rear axle instead of SUV-like independent suspension, but coils are designed to deliver a more comfortable ride than the bouncy leaf springs used in bakkies since Noah was a lad.

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Does it work? Yes, quite effectively. On this week’s media launch in the Cape I drove Nissan’s new doublecab on rutted gravel roads, smooth highways, sand dunes and almost everything in between; and compared to leaf-sprung bakkies the Navara’s ride rocks the Richter scale to a lesser degree. The load bay will probably require some weight to bring the ride quite up to SUV levels, but even with an empty cargo box this Nissan is less kidney-shaking than the average bakkie.

Arriving initially in a trio of premium doublecab 4x4 models, the Navara range will by the end of this year be expanded with 4x2 versions, and next year with singlecab and cab-and-a-half derivatives. The long running, locally built NP 300 Hardbody will continue to sell alongside the Navara for the time being as a budget focussed offering, but there’s a good chance the imported Navara will also start being assembled at Nissan’s Rosslyn plant in the near future.

The new 2.3-litre turbodiesel engine powering this smoother-cruising Navara has plenty of hustle, with 140kW and 450Nm of easygoing grunt that made it equally adept at climbing steep sand dunes or whipping past long trucks. In the battle of the muscles the twin-turbo engine stacks up well against turbodiesel competitors like the 2.8-litre Hilux (130kW/450Nm), 3.2-litre Ford Ranger (147kW/470Nm), and 2.4-litre Triton (133kW/430Nm), while the new Navara’s 176kg lighter than its predecessor which gives it added spring in its step.

Nissan claims a fuel consumption of 6.5 and 7.0 litres for respectively the manual and auto; the vehicles I drove at the launch returned figures of 9.6 and 9.9.

It’s a rather gruff-sounding engine when the revs rise, but wind and road noise are well suppressed and Nissan has done a good job with this vehicle’s overall refinement.

The cabin moves closer to the SUV realms with its upmarket trimmings, even more so with the heated and power operated leather seats optionally available with the flagship LE model of the Navara (cloth seats come standard). The cabin’s impressively roomy and both the SE and LE derivatives are packed with modern features like navigation, cruise control, a touchscreen infotainment system, front and rear air vents, and a unique feature in the market segment: an electrically operated sliding window between the rear cabin and the load bay.

Seven airbags, ABS brakes and stability control are also common to both versions. The LE in addition comes with climate control instead of regular aircon, along with push-button engine start, roof rails, and 18” alloy wheels vs the SE’s 16” versions, amongst a handful of other extra features.

It’s a high level of spec that places the new Navara at the pricier end of the premium doublecab market (see prices below).

Underpinning all this luxury is a solid-feeling bakkie sitting atop a ladder-frame chassis that feels ready to do an honest day’s work lugging cargo and towing. At between 961kg and 1002kg depending on derivative the enlarged load bay can carry 200kg more than the old Navara, and it can pull a braked trailer weighing 3500kg.

Power’s sent to the wheels via either a six-speed manual or seven-speed automatic transmission, both of which snicked through their gears unobtrusively.

All-wheel drive can be selected on the fly by a simple twist of a knob. The same knob engages low range, while the Navara’s offroad-tackling arsenal also includes a limited-slip differential that actively manages power delivery and wheel braking between the front and rear axles and between the left and right of the vehicle. The rear diff can also be locked. There were no axle-twisters or rock climbs on the launch route to test it all properly, but a trip through the inland sand dunes near Lambert’s Bay did show off the bakkie’s improved approach and departure angles (33 and 27.9 degrees respectively), and lofty 229mm ground clearance.

Hill start assist and hill descent control (in the LE version only) are also part of a package that make this the most offroad-capable Navara yet.

The Nissan has a best-in-class turning circle of 12.4 metres, a welcome feature in such a big vehicle, while a reversing camera further reduces the chances of nudging something on an offroad trail or in a parking lot.

The new Navara has laid down its marker with a class-beating ride quality, and signifies the next step in the evolution of double cabs from workhorses to work-capable luxury vehicles. The age of bakkie coil springs has arrived.

NISSAN NAVARA PRICES

2.3 DDTT 4x4 SE Double Cab manual – R514 900

2.3 DDTT 4x4 LE Double Cab manual – R565 900

2.3 DDT 4x4 LE Double Cab auto – R597 900

Includes 6-year/150 000km warranty and 3-year/90 000km service plan.

Follow me on twitter @DenisDroppa


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