Pre-production 2021 Nissan Navara
Pre-production 2021 Nissan Navara

DRIVEN: 2021 Nissan Navara takes things to a whole new level

By Willem van de Putte Time of article published May 27, 2021

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JOHANNESBURG - The bakkie war is going to be a lot more interesting in the next few months once Nissan launches its new locally produced Navara.

We had the opportunity to spend time with one recently and drive it back to back with the previous generation, as part of what Nissan calls Pika Pika, a Japanese term referring to the improvements, adjustments and enhancements made during product life cycles.

We were hosted by Nissan engineer Karel Jansen van Vuuren, who was part of the local team that assisted the head office in Japan in engineering and adapting the Navara to local and sub-Saharan conditions.

Pre-production 2021 Nissan Navara

Challenges such as potholes, speed bumps, dirt roads, dust and prevailing traffic conditions had to be taken into account and the vehicle specifications adapted accordingly.

As a result, the chassis has been strengthened significantly including a fifth crossmember to improve durability. It has the added advantage of increasing crash performance.

The steering has also been tweaked and is 15 % lighter than the outgoing model. It retains the coil sprung rear axle, now with dual-rated springs strengthened to improve unloaded ride quality and also eliminate rear sag when loaded. The rear bed size is also increased and the load capacity is 100kg more.

Pre-production 2021 Nissan Navara

Under the bonnet, the trusted YD25 does duty, the 2.5-litre turbo diesel replacing the current 2.3-litre mill. It’s coupled to either a six-speed manual gearbox or a seven-speed automatic transmission.

We were also privy to Nissan’s R&D workshop where vehicles are stripped and components tested to see whether they meet technical specifications as quoted by the manufacturer, including their own.

In the flesh, the new Navara is dominated by the grille and unique headlights, each with a cluster of four LED lamps. Side by side, the new Navara is a lot more imposing than its predecessor and looks the leisure-vehicle part.

Pre-production 2021 Nissan Navara

Inside, there’s a 20cm infotainment touch screen system and a 14cm TFT screen dominates the area between the speedometer and rev counter.

Safety is taken care of with forward collision warning, driver alert warning, emergency braking, lane departure warning, blind spot detection, cross traffic alert and trailer sway control.

My first drive was in a new mid-specced 4x2 manual Navara and then a previous generation 4x4 automatic but for the sake of comparison, I’ll mention the older one first.

Pre-production 2021 Nissan Navara

The motor feels up to scratch although gear changes were a bit sluggish and cabin noise not insignificant. Handling and steering felt fine for a car that’s almost 11 years old. The suspension handled potholed roads and bumps well but at speed on dirt with some serious corrugations, you had to keep your wits about you, with it tending to oversteer around corners.

Climbing into the pre-production new Navara the difference is significant. Build quality feels a lot better and the dashboard modern and sophisticated.

The change to the steering adds a whole new dimension to the drivability and ease of manoeuvring the vehicle with the change to the gear ratios allowing the torque to spread over a broader range.

Pre-production 2021 Nissan Navara

On dirt, though, the new model could not be more apart. The suspension and chassis make an enormous difference to its handling characteristics. I had to swing the steering wheel to get the back to slide out before the electrics pulled me back on course.

Thanks to a substantial improvement to its acoustic isolation NVH levels are better than some more expensive SUVs which a colleague also commented on when we swopped cars.

Pre-production 2021 Nissan Navara

A short drive with the 4x4 automatic showed the improvements over the one it replaces. It has less lag and quicker down changes that will make it easier in traffic and passing slower vehicles on the road.

Since the R3 billion upgrade to the plant in 2019, to allow it to manufacture the Navara in Rosslyn, there’s been a lot said and written about it and with an aggressive design, reliable engine, competitive pricing and a host of handling, safety and technological improvements. Nissan has made its bakkie intentions clear.

Pre-production 2021 Nissan Navara

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