While many will tell you a load-lugging ute needs leaf springs under its tray, forward-thinking companies such as Land Rover have proven otherwise, opting for coils and links on the rear axle. Nissan became the first to apply this to a mainstream one-tonne ute when it released the coil-sprung NP300 double-cab models, though the single and king cabs retain leaf springs.
Nissan also used the new model to release a new high-tech diesel engine. It’s a relatively small 2.3-litre unit with a pair of turbochargers that boost power and torque numbers to competitive heights. The Navara at 4X4OTY was a top-of-the-range STX double cab, equipped with the seven-speed auto transmission.
With Navara’s coiled-for-comfort-and-compliance rear end, it’s a smoother tourer than most other one-tonne utes. The coils ride over bumps better and grant more control of the rear axle over uneven road surfaces and corrugations. Axle tramp when accelerating out of corners is more controlled than it is in leaf springs, but the improvement is not the huge a leap forward you might expect.
Nissan still had to spring the coils stiff enough to carry loads and hasn’t reduced its payload capacity. But, from our experience, the coiled Navaras don’t like half a tonne in the tray.
The little 2.3-litre mill powers along thanks to 450Nm, which is enough to compete with the bigger engines in the class. The four-cylinder engine is a bit harsh and noisy when you ask it to deliver its best performance, but this is a light truck after all. It’s well-assisted by the seven-speed automatic transmission, which is far better calibrated than the last seven-speeder in Nissan’s old Navara TDV6 550. This one will hold the gears you manually select, but it’s not always happy to select the ratios you want.
11.7 litres of sweet diesel fuel went through the Nissan mill for every 100km, making it one of the more frugal cars along for the ride. The official figure sits at 7.0L/100km.
A plus for touring in the STX is its spacious, well-appointed interior, which was a favourite with all of our judges.
The Navara is probably the lowest ute in its class and was the first to bump and grind over rocks and ruts on this drive. It’s certainly a contender for a suspension lift if you’re going to take it off-road regularly.
We also found the front end to be noisy when cornering on gravel roads. The low height is also a concern for water crossings; Nissan only quotes a 450mm wading depth, as opposed to 800mm for the class leader.
The engine and transmission work well on hilly terrain, holding the gears as mentioned, and the vehicle always has enough power on tap thanks to the complex bi-turbo set-up.
SET-PIECE HILL CLIMB
Ground clearance was again the demon when it came to the rutted hill climb: the Navara scraped its undercarriage more than any other car.
The STX comes with a rear diff lock, which keeps the ETC active even when the RDL is engaged. It needed it, too, because, even with the diff lock in, it scrambled and struggled to make it up. There was no chance of it going up without the RD, as the ETC couldn’t keep up.
The NP300 is better suited to all road touring than heavy-duty off-road driving.
CABIN, EQUIPMENT AND ACCOMMODATION
The strong point of the STX is its cabin. Comfortable, spacious, well-appointed – it’s what you expect of a top-of-the-range model. The lounge-like, heated, power-adjustable leather front seats are just the tip of the iceberg, as there’s also sat-nav, climate control and more – it even has a power-opening rear window to the cargo tray, which some of our judges reckon is a good thing.
Lack of reach adjustment for the steering column is an oversight in any new vehicle, but the Nissan tiller feels nice in your hands.
Despite its big feel, the rear seat doesn’t work so well for three passengers across, although it does fold up nicely for extra flat stowage space.
Navara passengers have to make do with just one 12-volt outlet and one USB power outlet.
A boon for previous STX Navara owners was the car’s unique ‘Utili-Track’ adjustable cargo restraint system in the tub. Utili-Track rails used to be on both the sides of the tub and on the tub floor, giving the best factory tie-down points on offer. Unfortunately, the floor rails are now left out and the side rails are up high on the sides, so you can’t tie anything down in the tub. The tub is still big and does come with a protective liner.
The STX wears 255/60-R18 rubber; has two tie-down/tow points at the front but none at the rear; and the air intake breathes above the headlight, which doesn’t help the relatively low wading depth. There’s no space to easily fit a second battery in the engine bay.
“Small motor, big heart, even bigger cabin,” is what John Rooth said about the STX. “The Navvy is a tad soft off-road but so well thought-out in the detailed stuff that it’ll make heaps of friends in the real world.”
That’s it – the Navara is well-appointed and goes alright, but when the going gets tough it is let down, whether by its ground clearance or its ability to carry a heavy load in the tub. The steering feel was also criticised, as it is heavy and unwieldy – it feels like you have two flat front tyres.
Full marks to Nissan for thinking outside the square; unfortunately, the execution isn’t quite what it could and should be.
Engine: 2.3 litre 4-cyl bi-turbo- diesel
Max power/torque: 140kW/450Nm
Gearbox: seven-speed automatic
4X4 system: dual-range part-time
Kerb weight: 1865kg
Towing capacity: 3500kg
Fuel tank capacity: 80 litres
ADR fuel cons: 7.0 litres/100km
PRICE: $54,490 (inc auto)
* Automatic bi-turbo 4x4 Dual-Cab Pick-Ups only. Manual saves $2500.
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