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Nissan Navara

Once upon a time, the pick-up was the kind of car only farmers drove. Not any more. Demand for US-style high-spec models with big wheels and butch looks has never been stronger - and Nissan, as with Mitsubishi and Toyota, has seen sales shoot up.

With its macho looks, powerful engine and SUV-like driving experience, the Navara ticks the right boxes for the new breed of image-conscious pick-up buyers. Only the slightly unsettled ride deserves any criticism, but this is more than made up for by its excellent load carrying ability, high-quality cabin and equipment levels.

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Once upon a time, the pick-up was the kind of car only farmers drove. Not any more. Demand for US-style high-spec models with big wheels and butch looks has never been stronger - and Nissan, as with Mitsubishi and Toyota, has seen sales shoot up.

The trouble is, European pick-ups have never really offered the refined, SUV-like driving experience vital for convincing drivers that a move to a pick-up is a sensible proposition.

However, Nissan's new Navara promises to be different. The first of a new wave of upmarket pick-ups, it uses the Pathfinder SUV as its base and it is much more car-like as a result.

From the front doors forward, the Navara and Pathfinder are identical, sharing the same styling and 175bhp 2.5-litre diesel engine. Inside, the front of the cabin is exactly the same, too. The big difference is at the rear, where there is now a load bay with a drop-down tailgate and tougher suspension designed to cope with heavy payloads.

The transmission system is simplified too, with 2WD, 4WD and low-range all selected via a dashboard switch. Gearboxes are the same as in the Pathfinder, with either a six-speed manual or five-speed auto on offer.

Two bodystyles are available: King Cab and Double Cab. Offering slightly less load space, but with seating for five, the Double Cab is expected to be the big seller. It is priced from £18,465, and comes in base, SE, Outlaw and luxury Aventura specification. The King Cab comes in the first two trims only.

Bigger than the outgoing Navara, both bodystyles offer a larger bed area than competitors, while around a tonne can be carried in the back and 2.7 tonnes can be towed. The engine copes with these loads well. It may be a little noisy at idle, but it is easily the most powerful in its class, even trumping the new Toyota Hilux by more than 70bhp.

In town, the Navara certainly feels big, but it is surprisingly easy to drive, with accurate steering and composed handling. The ride is fidgety, but that's a consequence of the stiff suspension. Off-road, the Navara has no problems.

Equipment levels are excellent. SE models come with climate control and 17-inch alloy wheels, while Outlaw versions add a six-disc CD changer and rain-sensing windscreen wipers. Top-spec Aventura models also gain leather trim, heated seats and a Bluetooth phone connection. Factor in the competitive price, and the Navara is sure to be popular with both lifestyle buy-ers and farmers alike.

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