4x4s with less technology enhance driver engagement

Nissan D22 Navara front

THE other day I waved goodbye to my Navara, and even though it didn’t quite sell for what I was hoping for, I did okay in the end.

In the four years I had it, the Navara proved to be one of the most versatile, reliable and economical vehicles I’d ever owned. It’s little wonder dual-cab utes are so popular.

Before I fitted the canopy, I used it to haul dirt bikes, take loads of rubbish to the tip, and shuffle furniture for mates (in exchange for beer). It was also pretty handy off-road, with decent ground clearance and low-range reduction, as well as a very effective limited-slip diff. And, after I’d fitted the canopy, some drawers and a fridge slide, it was transformed into a great family tourer.

Nissan D22 Navara sideSure, it was a lot smaller and far less refined than today’s breed of 4x4 utes, but for our little family of three it worked a treat. Mechanically, the Navara never missed a beat, and services were always sub-$300. As for fuel consumption, the 2.5 CRD D22 averaged a tad over 11.0L/100km.

When I decide to offload a vehicle, I never look back until funds have exchanged hands, but then I occasionally experience regret when said vehicle disappears over the horizon.

Many years ago I almost shed a tear watching my Series IIA Landy being towed away; it had a cracked gearbox and various other faults, and at the time I simply didn’t have the cash to repair it. I was similarly upset several years later when I sold my Series III Landy, despite making a tidy profit on the ex-army beast after an enjoyable three years of ownership. It’s not just Landies.

I felt a pang of regret when I sold a well set-up Nissan Pathfinder many years ago called ‘Pathie’, and even when I offloaded a Toyota Townace I had imaginatively dubbed ‘Towny’.

Nissan D22 NavaraBut with the Navara? Nothing. The young bloke who took it off my hands was a diesel mechanic and, after a close inspection and drive around the block, he said it was exactly what he was after and he was happy to pay the agreed price.

There was no haggling, no pointing out of minor faults and no further negotiations. He just handed me an envelope full of cash in exchange for the keys and the signed rego papers, and off he went.

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I didn’t bother to hang around and watch the Navara disappear into the distance. I just turned my back and walked away, thinking how strange it was that this very competent and cost-effective all-rounder failed to at all stir my emotions.

In retrospect, this was the very reason I sold it; basically, I was bored with it. Like a fridge that keeps beer refrigerated, a toaster that toasts bread, or a washing machine that washes clothes, the Navara did everything it said on the box, but in such a way there simply wasn’t any excitement. This problem isn’t exclusive to my Navara; I have driven plenty of modern 4x4s that are brilliant in many ways, yet they fail to excite.

Nissan D22 Navara LED headlightsConsider this: you jump in your new Toyota/Ford/Nissan/VW/Isuzu or whatever, turn the key, check the climate control is set to 22.5°C, and you’re on your merry, comfortable way.

Chances are it’ll have an electronically controlled auto ’box so you won’t have to shift gears, stability control so you won’t bin it in the wet, 200 per cent better NVH suppression than the previous model so you won’t have to hear or feel it, and smartphone connectivity so you can chat to your mates.

Cocooned in your modern 4x4, safe from all the other ‘crazy’ road users, you’re in your own little ‘safe’ world. But the problem is there’s no engagement between you and the vehicle or you and your surroundings.

The very things you used to like about driving are now gone – no more gear changes, no more engine sounds, no more requirements for mechanical sympathy, no more focus on your surroundings.

Nissan Navara D22 rearSure, everyone wants a vehicle that’s going to start when you want it to, and one that’s going to go the distance when you need it to. And if it’s also cheap to operate, that’s an added bonus. But if you consider yourself a motoring enthusiast, then you’re going to want more than just practicality, reliability and affordability to keep you happy.

If you consider yourself a 4WD enthusiast, then you’re going to want to escape the automotive cocoon and see, feel and breathe in your surroundings.

That’s why I prefer rattly old vehicles to new ones; the kind where you have to shift gears yourself, take it easy in the wet so you don’t crash, put up with a deafening mechanical soundtrack and outrageous NVH levels, wipe the windscreen with a cloth when the demister fails to fulfil its stated function, put on a jumper when it’s cold, and crack open a window or a flap when it’s hot.

Of course, I wouldn’t mind a new Rangie too… for the missus.

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