THE TOP OF THE LINE

Stuart Martin drives the first of Nissan’s new Navara range, the ST-X

High hopes are held for the incoming Navara – both by fans of the breed and those within the halls of Nissan Australia.

It has been a long time coming and the light-commercial utility segment is one of growing volume and growing competition – Ford, Volkswagen and Toyota (the dominant force until recently) are all making good ground in the segment.

Nissan is wanting a larger chunk of the growing segment, which sees the contenders in the ute and cab/chassis market towing tools during the week and toys on the weekend, with the brood in the cabin.

Witness the introduction of the new Navara – first seen in flagship ST-X guise with lashings of exterior and interior chrome trim, leather in the cabin and the most family friendly of the range, as the remainder of the range waits in the wings until the final month of this year.

Priced from $51,990 in six-speed manual guise, the top-spec auto asks for $54,490, which brings with it a three-year/100,000 km warranty, roadside assistance and capped-price servicing for the first six scheduled services or 120,000 km (whichever occurs first).

The top-end model won’t be the workhorse of choice for those looking to load up the rear, but it will be the one chosen for dual duties (school runs and then site inspections), when the missus and/or kids will spend as much, if not more time, occupying the leather-clad seats than workmates will.Nissan_Navara_5

For a start, it’s payload of 930 kg has a cloud overhanging it – four occupants slice a fair chunk out of that, and the rear coil-sprung suspension doesn’t exactly hanker for a load, requiring extended bump stops to back up the springs and dampers within the multi-link rear end. Yes, it will carry the load, but, where other leaf-sprung opponents benefit from a half a tonne in the tray to settle the ride down, the Navara feels too close to the travel limit for comfort.

Lightly-laden behaviour is the other side of that coin, as the new Navara has a ride quality that’s up there with the segment’s best. It still chatters a little over the smaller road imperfections and the body-on-chassis wriggle remains, but for the most part ride quality is good.

Bigger bumps will still test the limits of the dampers more than anything else; it’s not difficult to see why aftermarket spring and damper outlets are doing a good trade in replacing the OE gear.

The flagship is powered by a twin-turbo, intercooled, common-rail, direct-injection, 2.3-litre four-cylinder, which it shares with the Renault side of the alliance where it serves under the snout of the Master.

While retaining the traditional thrum of a four-cylinder oil-burner, it is quieter and more distant in overall noise than others in the segment.

It produces 140 kW at 3750 rpm, with 450 Nm of torque on offer from 1500 through to 2500 rpm.

Teamed with a seven-speed auto, there is a manual change mode, with drive directed to the rear wheels – it’s not DSG quick between ratios, but it’s smooth enough and the narrow-gated manual isn’t good enough to make it first choice over the auto. The range can also be had in a single-turbo 120 kW/403 Nm 2.3-litre diesel, or the entry-level is offered in a 2.5-litre 122 kW/238 Nm petrol variant.

Fuel economy claims range from the low 6s in 4×2 manual guise to 7.0 litres per 100 km in the 4WD automatic. We had a trip computer showing 9.4 litres per 100 km after 400 km at an average speed of 34 km/h, which would suggest an 850 km range from the 80-litre tank.

Rear drive is the only option on the road, as the Navara doesn’t offer an open centre diff to allow all-wheel-drive on sealed surfaces. It does have a rear diff’ lock, 228 mm of ground clearance, a brake-derived limited-slip function, hill start and hill descent control, all of which complement the dual-range transfer case, so off-roading cred is there for weekend getaways or slippery work sites.Nissan_Navara_1

The safety features list for the five-star ANCAP rated ute includes stability and traction control, seven airbags (front, side, curtain and a driver’s knee bag), height-adjustable load-limited and pre-tensioner-equipped seatbelts, a reversing camera and rear sensors.

There are three child seat anchor points, but all feed into the one central loop; the fixing points are webbed material rather than metal, and, quite apart from the more difficult fitment method, don’t inspire as much confidence as an integrated metal tether point.

The rear backrest is fixed but the seat base cushion does flip up to reveal extra storage, which is just enough to fit a towbar tongue and keep it from being pinched or becoming a missile around the cabin interior in the event of a crash.

Cabin comfort and features are up with the best in the segment, with leather seat trim, power adjustment for the driver’s seat, two-stage front seat heaters, dual-zone climate control with rear vents, Bluetooth and USB connections for phone and music streaming, three in-cabin 12-volt outlets (including one atop the dash) in the cabin and one in the rear tray, automatic LED headlights, as well as LEDs for tail lights and daytime running lights, plus more than half a dozen cupholders, although the rear floor-mounted set-up does look vulnerable to damage.

Among the other features highlights are keyless entry and ignition, 18-inch alloy wheels, power-folding adjustable and heated exterior mirrors, an auto-dimming centre mirror with compass readout, touchscreen-controlled infotainment with a decent six-speaker sound system and sat/nav.

Tilt-only steering adjustment is something that no longer afflicts some of its opposition, and the stylish leather-wrapped helm’s bottom spoke is prone to accidental horn blasts when twirling the wheel, something of which you’ll be doing a lot, with the wide turning circle and nearly four turns lock-to-lock.

The features list misses out on automatic wipers, and there’s no digital speed readout in the centre display (but it does do average fuel use, range and average speed) to compliment the instrument dials, but the cabin has some neat touches.

Among those is the small sliding rear window, which is a boon for quick cabin ventilation or staying in touch with the faithful hound in the rear tray; the Triton used to have a similar window but Mitsubishi has chosen to drop it in the new model.

When the pooch isn’t in residence the rear tray is a reasonable size – not wide enough between the wheel arches for a pallet, but the adjustable tie-down points make for a useful loadspace.

Almost 5.3 m in length and nearly 1.9 m wide and tall, the Navara is anything but undersized. The tray measures 1.5 m long and wide, dropping back to 1.1 m between the wheel arches, and just under 0.5 m deep, with a rear tailgate opening of 1.3 m. Both hard and soft tonneau covers are on offer as accessories.

The near two-tonnes ute has front disc and rear drum brakes (something many still do in this segment) and is rated for 750 kg unbraked and 3.5-tonne braked towing (once you’ve added the $915 option), with ball download ranging up to 300 kg depending on the vehicle’s on-board load.

There’s little doubt the Navara has the grunt to make the most of this load rating when it comes to towing, but questions over the ball download and tray load aspects of the rear suspension remain.

Pricing is sharp in comparison to the segment leaders, and its road manners will put it in the ballpark for many, but the load-lugging leaf-sprung opposition that have managed to offer a decent ride will make life tough for this particular Navara, leaving the heavier work to the remainder of the Navara fleet, which will launch with a leaf spring rear suspension.

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