Nissan Navara pick-up review
The Nissan Navara 4x4 pick-up delivers the most refined drive in its sector, we're told. We put the claim to the test...
The one-tonne 4x4 pick-up wars are hotting up, with new model launches from key players and everyone looking for a slice of that extra showroom appeal from trucks oozing with custom touches and a glamorous lifestyle feel.
But a glamorous working truck will be laughed off the building site if it can't hack it when up to its axles in mud, and as Nissan has been building pick-up trucks for over 80 years it has undoubted expertise in this area. Its more recent successes have been in the passenger car realm with road-biased crossover SUVs like the X-Trail, Qashqai and Juke. The new Nissan NP300 Navara pick-up is said to be a combination of these two knowledge bases: a tough, off-roading, working truck with the refined road manners of a crossover. That’s the plan anyway.
The new Navara needs to be good. The likes of Mitsubishi’s L200, Ford’s Ranger and the Toyota HiLux offer stiff competition, and we’ll soon see the Fiat Fullback joining the fray, along with the Renault Alaskan, which is based on the same platform at the Navara. Even Mercedes-Benz is poised to sell a pick-up in the UK, and has done a deal to share Navara tech. Buyers are not short of choice and the options are growing.
The Navara is offered in King-Cab or Double-Cab form, although there’s also a chassis cab option to take specialist modifications. Both versions offer rear seats, but while the Double-Cab has a traditional bench in the back and four proper doors, the King-Cab has two cinema-style folding rear seats and small back doors hinged on the rearmost edge.
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Nissan expects 95 per cent of UK buyers to choose the Double-Cab, and the reasons why they would extend beyond the added cabin space. The Double-Cab models get a completely different rear suspension set-up with a fully-independent multi-link design. It’s far more advanced than the leaf springs on the back of the King-Cab pick-ups.
While the Navara King-Cab is only offered in entry-level Visia and Acenta trims, the Double-Cab is also available in plusher Acenta+, N-Connecta and Tekna grades. The King-Cab can also be had as a front-wheel-drive-only model, whereas all the Double-Cabs are all-wheel drive.
In the engine bay, the Navara employs a 2.3-litre diesel engine that’s in widespread use across the Renault and Nissan van ranges. It comes in entry-level 158bhp guise or with twin-turbos boosting the output to 187bhp. A six-speed manual is the standard gearbox, but there’s a 7-speed auto that’s predicted to be popular in the higher-spec versions.
Specification levels vary widely depending on which of the trim levels you choose, but N-Connecta and Tekna versions get the NissanConnect 7” touchscreen sat-nav. All models also come with seven airbags and Nissan’s Forward Emergency Braking autonomous braking tech, which helps the Navara achieve low insurance groupings.
MPG and Running Costs
The best Navara for fuel economy is the 2WD King-Cab with a 44.9mpg combined cycle showing, but you could throw a blanket over the whole range as even the 4x4 Double-Cab with the dCi 190 (187bhp) engine manages 44.1mpg and 169g/km of CO2. The 7-speed auto does blunt economy, although 40.3mpg and 183g/km with this gearbox fitted is hardly a disaster for a two-tonne pick-up truck.
Elsewhere, Nissan has paid particular attention to keeping costs low. All Navara models get the excellent 5-year/100,000-mile warranty that applies right across the brand's commercial vehicle range and is fully transferable to the next owner. There’s also an generous level of safety kit, including Nissan’s autonomous emergency braking technology that helps lower insurance premiums.
An attractive feature of the new Navara is the optional hard-top for the pick-up bed. You may think it's designed with form ahead of function - it has a pretty low roofline for starters - but it's great from a security point of view with remote locking that's hooked up to the central locking system. You can also secure the load bay with a (pricey) aluminium tonneau cover, and there's a lockable plastic toolbox option, too.
Trim levels from Acenta up feature Nissan's Intelligent Key system, while all models feature a Nissan approved alarm, anti-theft immobiliser, central locking, locking wheel nuts and a spare wheel lock.
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Load Space and Practicality
The choice between the Double-Cab and King-Cab models comes down to the kind of usage buyers have in store for their Navara. The King-Cab is purely a working vehicle with its less sophisticated suspension and lower specifications, but it’s £1,000 cheaper and making do with front-wheel drive knocks another £1,000 off the asking price.
By choosing the King-Cab you gain a little bit of load length with 1,750mm on offer compared to 1,537mm in the Double-Cab, but you lose the ability to take adult-sized rear-seat passengers in anything approaching comfort. The neat half-size rear suicide doors on the King-Cab open to reveal two cinema-style folding seats that you can just about squeeze an adult into. It’s more likely that the space will be used as a secure area to carry tools or other items, with the seats kept for emergencies.
That brings us to the Double-Cab that 95 per cent of UK buyers choose. Rear seat accommodation is surprisingly good for a pick-up with enough space for a six-foot adult to sit behind a six-foot driver in some comfort. The rear bench could take a third passenger in the middle, but space will be tight and there is a transmission tunnel that gets in the way of your feet.
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The payload penalty for choosing the Navara Double-Cab is non-existent, with the 4x4 model rated at 1,062kg and the King-Cab able to carry only slightly less, at 1,054kg. The best load-carrying Navara, however, is the 2WD King-Cab model: this can cope with 1,136kg.
The load bay itself is lined with tough plastic and the tailgate feels nice and solid. The space is 67mm longer than the previous-generation Navara's, and Nissan offers a wide range of options for buyers to tailor it to their own requirements. The C-Channel load securing system is included on higher-spec versions and brings movable tie-down points to help secure loads in the back.
Whatever can’t be accommodated in the rear of the Navara can go on a trailer, and the 3,500kg towing capacity is as good as you’ll find in the pick-up segment.
Reliability and Safety
The tough box frame chassis and 4x4 system used on the Navara are carried over from the previous-generation model, so they’re proven to stand up to tough usage. It’s a similar story with the engine – although it’s new to the Navara, the 2.3-litre diesel unit has been fitted to over 300,000 Renault and Nissan vans.
On the safety front, even base Visia models get 7 airbags, stability control and Nissan’s FEB Forward Emergency Braking tech. This system detects impending collisions and puts the brakes on to lessen the impact or prevent one happening altogether. There are also ISOFIX child seat mounting points in the rear and LED daytime running lights as standard.
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The selectable all-wheel-drive system with low-range mode and electronic limited-slip differential should give the Navara more than enough off-road ability for most. As we’ve said, it’s the same set-up carried over from the old Navara, but the electronic diff, Hill descent Control and Hill Start Assist have been added to beef up its capabilities.
Rear parking sensors are fitted as standard to help avoid parking knocks, while Acenta+ variants and above get a parking camera. Where it’s fitted, the image from this is displayed on the dashboard’s 7-inch screen, but other versions have a small screen built into the rear view mirror. Top-spec Tekna models get the Around View Monitor system – a series of cameras that give a clear view all round the car. It’s particularly useful for off-roading, allowing you to check your proximity to obstacles without leaving the vehicle, but it should make the Navara almost impossible to scrape in the supermarket car park.
Driving and Performance
The way you spec your Nissan Navara has a huge impact on how it drives. The King-Cab models use old-fashioned leaf springs at the rear, and the result is a driving experience that’s in line with the majority of UK market pick-up trucks, which use a similar set-up. The ride is unsettled, the steering vague and the body pitches and rolls into corners. The Navara King-Cab is still among the better-handling trucks we’ve tested, particularly as none of the vehicles we tried had weight in the rear to settle the ride, but the introduction of the 5-link independent suspension on the Double-Cab is transformative.
Get in the Nissan Navara Double-Cab and you can’t fail to notice the difference. Small bumps are ironed out far more effectively and the floating feeling over sudden undulations is much better suppressed. Better still, the steering is more responsive, making the truck easier to control at speed and cornering is much more composed. We need to insert a caveat here because although the Nissan Navara rides and handles very well for a pick-up truck, those used to large passenger SUVs will still notice the occasional shudder from the suspension and the weighty feel of the truck on the road. It’s no car, but if being car-like was the aim, Nissan has done a fine job.
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The other area to give careful consideration to when specifying your Nissan Navara is the gearbox. The 6-speed manual is a bit of a letdown given the on-road polish displayed by the rest of the package. It’s notchy and has a long throw, and isn't as nice to use as the shifter in the Mitsubishi L200 for example. On the other hand, the 7-speed automatic seems a very nice fit in the Navara. It isn’t the most responsive of autos, taking a while to drop a gear when you put your foot down, but it’s extremely smooth and suits the plush feel of the high-end Navara models. Buyers just need to ask themselves whether this justifies the price and fuel economy penalty of choosing the auto.
The engine itself is smooth and refined. On a steady motorway cruise, wind around the big door mirrors is the prominent noise as the engine only kicks out a low, background thrum. The downside is that even the twin-turbo 187bhp unit can’t fire the weighty Navara up the road with any real vigour. Flexibility is fine, with 450Nm of torque on offer in the range-topping unit and 403Nm in the 158bhp base model, but at the top end both seem a little lacking.
Cab and Interior
The somewhat agricultural feel many pick-up trucks have on the road is often replicated in the cabin, but Nissan has gone to great lengths to make the Navara feel like a passenger car inside – and this has paid off.
To a great extent, the interior fixtures and fittings from the X-Trail passenger car seem to have been dropped into the Navara’s interior. Build quality is strong as you’d need it to be in a working vehicle, but the higher-spec models get some shiny trim finishes that do much to raise the tone. Some will feel there’s an over-reliance on piano black trim on the Tekna models, but Nissan has generally done a very good job.
Highlights include the clear information display at the centre of the instrument cluster and the NissanConnect touchscreen navigation system, which is well integrated and seems easy to use.
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The cabin isn’t over endowed with storage space, but that’s often the way with pick-ups. You get a deep bin between the seats, a couple of cup holders, a very small glovebox and decent-sized door pockets, but larger items will inevitably end up slung on the Double-Cab’s rear seats.
The driving position is comfortable and special praise should go to the front seats, which Nissan says were designed with the aid of research from NASA. The bulges at either side of the bonnet are a styling device that the company claims also provide reference points, making the truck easier to place on the road. On our test drive, however, they seemed more of a hindrance than a help, blocking your view of the Navara’s extremities.
Load area dimensions