NISSAN NAVARA

The 12th Generation Nissan ute is about to launch into Australia. Delivery Magazine sneaks a preview in its manufacturing home of Thailand.

In the world of light commercials, the launch of a new ute is something to shout about, as it occurs far less frequently than upgrades and new releases in the car market.

For Nissan, the launch of the Navara NP300 sees the culmination of four years ongoing development, backed up by over 1,000,000 test and development kilometres. Prototypes have put in the hard yards of discovery and durability testing in the mountains of Chile at altitudes reaching 4,000 metres, as well as thumping through the more remote areas of Thai jungles in tropical heat.

With a probable life expectancy of up to seven years, or perhaps longer, before replacement, the new Navara NP300 replaces the two different versions currently available in Australia – the D40 and the older D22.

As the highest sales volume performer in the Nissan Australia range, this newbie will have to show its credentials clearly and honestly, especially as next year sees the release of a new Triton from Mitsubishi, adding to the competition at this upper end of the ute market that also includes Ford’s Ranger, Mazda’s BT50, Volkswagen’s Amarok and Isuzu’s D-MAX.

There is good reason for proving out the durability of the NP300 in Thailand, rather than perhaps the jungles of Borneo or Colombia. The “Land of Smiles” is not only the home to Navara manufacturing, the country also boasts the largest global market for utes, with Australia coming in at number two.

Nissan’s manufacturing in Thailand started back in 1963, with the company building just four cars a day with 120 employees. Things have expanded since, with total Thai production now having exceeded 2.2 million vehicles. The commission of a brand-new factory in June of this year, near Bangkok, will add further impetus to production as the company ramps up to export this global product to over 40 countries.

The replacement of the current two different Navara alternatives is frankly well overdue, with their co-standing in the market difficult to quantify, given that the D40 was a much more recent development than the now aged D22. Ride and handling, together with inbuilt safety and efficiency, were also poles apart by comparison.

As the world moves forwards in terms of tighter emissions controls we see more evidence of closer product sharing between manufacturers, especially with Nissan being part of the Renault Alliance.

While product ranges may differ (and Renault does not produce a ute), the French carmaker does produce its own engines for its light commercial range. It’s from Renault that Nissan will source its next engine for the Navara, a 2.3-litre, common rail, direct injection diesel with two-stage turbocharging plus intercooling that doubles up for duty with different power and torque outputs in the Renault Master van range. For those preferring petrol power there is a redeveloped version of the previous 2.5-litre four-cylinder available that again offers improved fuel economy by comparison to the earlier unit.

Nissan-Navara_9Called the YS23, this 2.3-litre replaces the previous YD25 and comes into our market with Euro 5 emissions compliance, thanks to the inclusion of a Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF). According to Takashi Fukui, the chief vehicle engineer in charge of NP300 development, when the time comes to step up to Euro 6 levels this engine only needs to include AdBlue (Diesel Exhaust Fluid) to make the grade. The outgoing YD25 engine is not capable of development past Euro 4 standards.

Weighing in some 20 kg lighter, the YS25 boasts a fuel economy improvement of 19 percent aligned with better low to mid-range torque and an expanded maximum torque output of 450 Nm ranging between 1,500 and 2,500 rpm. Running with a 2000 MPa injector system, the two-stage turbocharger improves engine pick-up at low revs and expands the torque availability, providing a much better driving experience than the outgoing 2.5-litre engine. Maximum power of 140 kW is produced at 3,750 rpm.

Not all buyers of the NP300 will get to sample the two-stage turbocharging, as this inclusion is only available with 4×4 versions. Buyers of 4×2 models will find a similar engine but only a single turbocharger with wastegate control under the bonnet. The maximum power output for this engine is 118 kW with 403 Nm of torque.

Also providing a point of difference across the 4×2 and 4×4 models is the rear suspension. Single-cab, king-cab and dual-cab/chassis tray back 4×2 and 4×4 Navaras will run with a conventional semi-elliptical, leaf sprung rear suspension. Buyers of the 4×4 ute double-cab shift up a notch in terms of sophistication and improved ride comfort as they gain a five-link “MultiLink” rear suspension to locate the live rear axle.

There is good reason for including the development of the MultiLink rear suspension in the NP300 engineering programme, as Nissan has plans to introduce an SUV version using the NP300 chassis and driveline within the next 12 months timeframe. This is aimed at rivalling the success of the Isuzu MU-X and, to a lesser extent, Holden’s Colorado 7.

If the inclusion of a MultiLink rear suspension isn’t enough to tempt your interest, try adding the option of a seven-speed automatic transmission to the standard six-speed manual gearbox.Nissan-Navara_8

Nissan’s seven-speed auto is a double overdrive transmission that’s smooth and offers seamless ratio swaps right through the range. Also impressive is the matching of the transmission to the engine performance and how it maintains good engine retardation performance in manual mode, so valuable to those intending to couple up to caravans and horse floats.

If there is an Achilles heal to this model it is the relatively large turning circle of 11.8 – 12.4 metres (dependent on model), something of a disappointment considering the independent front suspension design that should conceivably be capable of providing a sharper wheel cut. Whilst reversing may take a little more concentration and a larger area, the reverse camera display (courtesy of a seven-inch screen) is a huge safety benefit.

As a way of reducing weight and tightening the turning circle, the wheelbase is actually 50 mm shorter than the D40. While the chassis is largely a replica of the previous model (albeit shorter), all the sheet metal work is new. The 4×2 and 4×4 share identical track measurements, but the overall width reduces on the 4×2 through the removal of wheel arch extensions that are standard on the 4×4.

Interior trim levels are rather subjective to personal taste, but we found everything easy to view and operate. A check of the brochure explains all the various items that one comes to expect in a high-end SUV, but worthy of specific mention is the front seat comfort.

Nissan is using a derivative of what it calls its “Zero Gravity” seat that features in some of its passenger vehicle range, such as the Altima. After spending hours in the seat, Delivery believes it can certainly rank as one of the best, if not the best, on the market. Another benefit is the availability of a glass sunroof and a powered sliding rear window section, through which the latter enables your dog to sit in the tray and slobber onto the back seats.

Space in the rear seat is adeNissan-Navara_6quate for large people, but the floor height to seat squab measurement is relatively short. For adult passengers this could be a disadvantage, but it does mean that children will usually be able to keep their feet on the floor rather than have their legs dangling.

It’s early days to have a crash safety rating, but Nissan is undoubtedly expecting a five-star compliance, thanks to the inclusion of dual front airbags, side and curtain airbags extending into the rear compartment, and, in some markets, a knee airbag. There’s a new energy absorbing steering column to match the same descriptor for the bonnet assembly, and the doors have side impact beam reinforcement.

For driver support there are active and passive safety activities such as Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC), Active Brake Limited Stop (ABLS), Hill Descent Control (HDC), Limited Slip Differential (LSD), plus the option of a selectable locking rear differential. We specifically like the inclusion of a rear reverse camera and, for the first time, the fitment of LED headlamps.

There are undoubtedly memorable times that occur when previewing a new vehicle, and the invitation to drive the new Navara through the northern parts of Thailand with off-road sections that meandered alongside spectacular scenery and fast flowing rivers was sensational.

It’s not everyday that rounding a corner brings you a face-to-face meeting with a herd of elephants, albeit tame ones, but that soon became common, together with the occasional water buffalo. Local dogs also seem to rely on the Buddhist principle that all life is sacred and they are somehow protected from mishap, even when they sleep in the middle of a road.

The engine is responsive and works well with either the seven-speed automatic or the six-speed manual. Time and vehicle availability prevented the opportunity of driving any model other than the dual-cab 4×4, so Delivery cannot at this stage comment on how the MultiLink rear suspension compares to a standard leaf spring. Neither did we have the chance to drive the 4×2 version, which has slightly less power and torque through having a single turbocharger in place of the two-stage of the 4×4 versions.

At first sight, the 12th Generation Nissan Navara NP300 looks like it is going to substantially rejuvenate buyer interest in the new models when they launch in to Australia early next year. The MultiLink rear end is certainly more compliant than a leaf sprung alternative, and, with the front spring and damper settings being softer than the current model, the result is a comfortable but safe and predictable drive.Nissan-Navara_7

Particularly impressive was the ride comfort, thanks in part to the front seat design, plus the gearshift quality, the matching of the engine and transmission and the apparent high level of build quality. Interior noise levels are noticeably less than many of its competitors.

It remains to be seen how well the fuel consumption figures stack up, and for that we will probably have to wait until Navara arrives on Australian roads. There are indications from Nissan that due to an improvement in aerodynamics of 11 percents, and a reduction in CD value from 0.41 down to 0.37, it may well substantiate the claim by the manufacturer for an improvement of 19 percent over the 2.5-litre outgoing diesel engine it replaces.

For those looking to head off-road, the wading depth is set at 600 mm and the maximum towing capability with a braked trailer is 3,500 kg. According to Takashi Fukui, although trailer sway control is not yet available, it is on the agenda for development in the near future.

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