IN THE BLACK | Ute Review-Nissan Navara Black Edition

Navara increases its options- Words by Warren Caves, Images by Torque it Up

There’s no arguing that the 4×4 dual cab ute market is one of the hottest contested markets for new vehicle sales in Australia, making up nearly half of all vehicles sold.

With such fierce competition, vehicle manufactures are constantly looking for a sales edge by offering incentives and value-added deals.

To this end, Nissan has followed  up the successful 2017 release of the ST-X-N-Sport, which was released in limited edition numbers of 500 units,  with the Series 3 ST Black Edition.

With added value said to be in the vicinity of $10,000 worth of accessories and styling enhancements, Nissan has toughened the look of its popular, mid-spec ST variant in a bid to sway potential buyers.

Black is the new black, and as the title gives away, there’s a whole bunch of black stuff themed into the vehicle.

Up front, a black grille sits behind a black nudge bar with matching coloured bumperettes, with the nudge bar providing a perfect mounting platform for the LED light bar. The fog lamp surrounds also receive the black treatment with a smoke bonnet protector continuing the theme, as do the black sports bars on the rear. Included in the Black Edition offering is a soft tonneau cover, tub liner and 12- volt power outlet in the tub.

To compliment the five colour choices of Polar White, Brilliant Silver, Cosmic Black, Slate Grey and Burning Red, the Black Edition features unique black decals adorning the sides and tailgate, announcing to any who may have not noticed that this is indeed a limited edition car (900 units).

Apart from the decals, the boldest addition to the Black Edition’s styling is the black bolt-on wheel arch flares and the 255/60/R18 all-terrain tyres on 18-inch black alloys.

While the flares impose a more aggressive stance, I feel the tyre and wheel package could have been more complimentary to the bold body styling. For me, the look would be improved with a slightly taller tyre on the current 18-inch alloys and a little more outward offset on the rims to fill the flares a bit more. While not a deal breaker, in my opinion it looks more like a gym-going ute that keeps skipping ’leg day’.

In a smart move by Nissan, the ST Black Edition leverages the popularity of the mid-spec ST model, in what I believe is a package tailored to attract a more youthful customer as well as tradies keen to ’out-ute’ their workmates. For the standard ST price, the ST Black Edition adds a whole lot of extra punch in terms of the type of value-add extras that ST buyers may well have ended up adding to their utes anyway.

Buyers are treated to the standard ST interior, with the exception of a handy mobile device holder adjacent to the forward cupholder in the centre console. With my phone in place, this did not affect the ability to use the cupholder.

The ST interior is well laid-out, with hard-wearing, extremely comfortable cloth seats and plenty of leg room for taller drivers. The rear seats are − as with most of the competition in this sector − just OK for short trips or kids. Leg room is adequate yet limited, and the back rest is quite upright. Refreshingly, though, rear seat passengers are treated to aircon vents located in the rear of the centre console.

The centre console and glovebox compartment provide reasonable storage, as does the small tray on the dash-top that includes a 12-volt power socket.

As mentioned previously, there are two cupholders in the centre console, accompanied by two slide-out cupholders in front of the side aircon vents. I’m a big fan of these, as they do a great job of keeping drinks cold, particularly with aluminium cans. There are also door bottle storage pockets.

The seven-inch infotainment system features USB and Bluetooth connectivity as well as satnav as standard, but misses out on Apple Car Play/Android Auto features. The sound system’s audio performance was not what I would call premium, and the digital radio reception dropped in and out in my local area, only about an hour from Sydney.

On the road, the Series 3 D23 Navara performs well and benefits from improved steering geometry and suspension tweaks over its predecessor. Handling and surefootedness are excellent, with good road feedback from the rack-and-pinion steering and the five-link coil spring rear suspension. Good roadholding and manners from the rear end promote a sense of security even when pushed into gravel road corners, where the locally developed suspension with dual rate coils and fine-tuned shock absorbers seem on-point, resulting in good ride quality.

The Navara’s traction control system is effective even on wet roads, stabilising the rear end and providing controlled directional stability under power.

The drivetrain remains unchanged, with Nissan’s 2.3-litre bi-turbo intercooled diesel powerplant producing 140 kW of power and 450 Nm of torque. Our test vehicle was fitted with the seven-speed automatic transmission but there is also a six-speed manual transmission available.

Activating the 4×4 is an electronic dial affair with shift-on-the-fly operation and high/low range gearing options. With the sensible and practical addition of General Grabber all-terrain tyres, the Black Edition gains improved off-road capability straight out of the box from Nissan.

On the performance front, the 2.3-litre engine pulls strongly and confidently from quite low in the rev range, thanks to the twin-turbo set-up. Power delivery is smooth and effortless when unladen and the seven-speed auto makes sensible choices − although I felt sometimes that downshift points could have held off a bit to utilise the low-rpm torque availability, perhaps also to the benefit of fuel economy. The sports auto mode allows just this to be done, and I found that the engine was more than capable of pulling the unladen ute up small inclines at low revs without downshifting. The sports auto mode also provides optimal gear selection when used off-road.

A rear electronic locking deferential is standard fare and provides some peace of mind when extricating the Navara from precarious off-road situations.

Frontal illumination comes via the projector LED headlights, giving a good general light pattern. This light performance is dutifully backed up by the Black Edition’s LED light bar, giving great all-round vision and spread, although distance lighting waned a bit short for my liking. A reverse camera is a standard feature and the display shown within the infotainment system adds an overhead view of the immediate surroundings, further enhancing safety when reversing.

I spent one week each in the ST Black Edition and the ST-X,  to gain a genuine back-to-back evaluation. This gave a valuable insight into the differences of the two vehicles.

As both vehicles were identical in driveline,  driving evaluation and impressions are essentially the same. The only exception is the small increase in tyre noise from the all-terrain tyres that equip the Black Edition and of course, the improved off-road ability they bring.

As one might expect, both grades of Navara have identical maximum braked trailer towing limits of up to 3500 kg. With a GCM of 5910 kg, a quick calculation of a typical towing scenario of a big caravan with two adults and 100 kg of gear in the vehicle would see the tow mark legally pulled up at about the 3300kg mark.

The test period did not include any tow test opportunity, but in my opinion the Navara’s 2.3-litre engine has enough power and capability for general towing and periodic heavy towing without complaint.

The familiarity of Australian buyers with larger displacement engines might cause some to question the potential longevity of an engine with a relatively small capacity when required to pull heavy loads for extended periods. A smaller engine displacement equates to smaller components and smaller surface areas in bearings, bushes and crankshafts to carry the burden of high engine power outputs. Although the seven-speed transmission offsets some of these concerns, if the intention is to tow a 3500 kg trailer over a long-term period, an engine of larger capacity than 2.3 litres might be warranted.

The average fuel economy for the test vehicle showed 9.0L/100km over the week in a mix of freeway driving up to 110km/h, as well as city traffic and rural roads. This is quite a bit short of the claimed average combined cycle of 7.0L/100km.

With the ST-X − Nissan’s flagship dual cab ute − retailing at $51,990, only a couple of thousand more than the ST Black Edition, some may say, why not just go for the ST-X?  However, the differences need to be weighed up.

Leather seats, downhill descent control, reverse parking sensors, dual-zone climate control, sturdy adjustable tub tie-down points, push-button start, and true keyless entry are all ST-X features missing from the Black Edition.

Essentially, apart from the above mentioned features, the Black Edition and the ST-X are very similar in performance and practicality. It comes down to matters of personal taste and intended usage. If price is your main influencing factor, you would swap the highway terrain tyres fitted to the ST-X at the time of purchase for some all- terrain tyres, at which point the comparative price gap starts to expand.

The Black Edition automatic, as tested, still comes in under the $50K mark at a retail price of $49,690 and is off-road ready with a generous assortment of add-ons.

The Nissan Navara ST Black Edition is a really appealing product, as is the ST-X. The more car-like on-road presence of the coil spring suspension and improved articulation off-road, combined with a rear diff lock, makes for a practical all-round performer − whichever option you choose.

With some dealers offering run-out pricing on 2018-plated stock, there could still be keen pricing levels around from those wanting to clear the decks ready for 2019 models. Look around your neighbourhood dealerships for further bargains.

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