READY FOR ANYTHING | Ute Review – Nissan Navara

Nissan’s Navara N-TREK Warrior is the complete package – word and images by Neil Dowling

Life is a compromise and the modern epitome is the dual cab ute. It’s the reason the ute is our most popular vehicle, with the Toyota Hilux and Ford Ranger repeatedly topping the sales charts.

But is it bought for family chores, for work, for leisure or a slice of each?

Nissan’s new Navara N-TREK Warrior – the dual-cab ute that comes with considerable Aussie ingenuity – is less a compromise and more a blatant statement that reflects its driver’s ambitions. It represents a niche segment of the prestige ute, one made to appeal to buyers who enjoy a bit of style mixed with a yearning for off-road activities that border on the extreme.

Australia is the sole market for the Warrior – though the US is showing potential – as interest expands for this niche segment of a high-end commercial vehicle that combines style with ability. Clearly, Nissan took a leaf out of the Ford Ranger Raptor book on “How to Get Noticed in A 4×4 Ute”. The book has other ute-focused chapters on the Holden Colorado Z71 and Toyota Hilux Rugged X.

The basic ingredients of the Warrior are the Navara in its N-Trek version, until now, the pinnacle of the Navara range. The Warrior adds more gear and the price goes up by about $3000 to $62,990 (manual) and $65,490 (auto). As is becoming common with new vehicles, these are drive-away prices that are designed to simplify the buying experience.

Externally, the Warrior sits higher for better off-road clearance, looks more aggressive with flash decals and chunky tyres, comes with a handy LED light bar up front, has purposeful bash plates, and an interior that looks smart while retaining the durable materials of the standard Navara.

Mechanically, the drivetrain remains stock. Nissan says the need for the Warrior to remain reliable and efficient was paramount, including the ability to meet the company’s five-year warranty and capped-price service programme.

The body, for example, is raised a modest 15mm and sits on a lift kit designed by Australian engineers Premcar. The suspension is all new – the original N-Trek components are dumped – with new springs and dampers that are progressive enough to almost eliminate a bump stop.

The actual ground clearance rises 40mm over stock, to 268mm, and the approach and departure angles have also been increased by two and one degree respectively to 35 and 29 degrees.

Wheels go down from the N-Trek’s 18-inch units to 17-inches, a size that Premcar said gave better options for replacement rubber in the future and – more importantly – higher sidewalls and more air capacity to deal with off-road conditions, including being deflated for soft sand work.

The tyres are now 275/70R17 Cooper rubber that, because of their bigger 32.2-inch diameter, add another 25mm to the ground clearance to arrive at the 40mm difference over the N-Trek and ST-X versions.

Premcar told Delivery magazine that the higher ground clearance was sufficient to improve off-road ability but did not affect the driveshaft and control arm angles to the point where they would incur additional wear.

The track is out by 30mm – again a conservative sum based on ensuring the new ute remains reliable – to 1600mm.

The engine remains the 2.3-litre bi-turbo diesel with no change to the 140kW/450Nm output. Again, Premcar said it was possible to lift power – different intake and exhaust being about the only available options – but on a performance-versus-cost exercise, it wasn’t warranted.

Nissan believes the Warrior hits the niche market with solid pricing – it’s about $11,000 cheaper than the Ford Ranger Raptor – and enough style and off-road ability to meet demands of avid 4×4 enthusiasts.

But in creating Warrior, there have been some compromises. The payload, for example, is 720kg – 193kg less than the ST-X Navara – which has been caused by the extra weight of the Warrior’s armoury.

It retains the 3500kg tow rating which keeps it firmly in the workhorse bracket, but buyers should be aware that GVM changes will limit the combination mass of the vehicle, load and trailer. This is the point where you have to determine what you intend to do with the vehicle, as opting for the N-Trek or ST-X Navara and having a higher payload may be the best option.

On the road the Warrior drives as well as its siblings, with one important change – ride comfort. The aftermarket, Aussie-designed suspension and the big-air tyres give a more supple ride on the bitumen with minimal changes to how the ute corners. Though, to be fair, it feels slightly softer in turn-in because of the tyres, but there’s no bodyroll change thanks to the better-balanced suspension.

More impressive is how the Warrior tackles rough off-road conditions. The longer travel of the suspension and the progressive nature of the new springs and dampers gives it a cushioned ride over the bumps. Hitting a pothole is taken with relative ease as the suspension travel initially accepts the drop and then begins to firm as the dampers extend. At no time did we feel the harsh end to the suspension travel as it hit the bump spot, so the ride was always controlled, comfortable and without any harshness.

The 40mm extra ground clearance doesn’t sound much but tracks through the alpine region of Victoria, centering on Dinner Plain, showed the standard ST-X would grind over rocks that wouldn’t connect with the underside of the Warrior.

Cabin equipment of the N-Trek and ST-X versions are carried over to the Warrior, including the 7.0-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, heated front seats, two-tone seat upholstery, and sports pedals.

The tray has a tub liner, Utili-Track adjustable tie-down points, sports bar and rear step, side steps and the nudge bar.

Fuel economy on test was 11.2 litres/100km. That involved slow off-road and suburban work, some freeway and plenty of gravel tracks. Nissan claims the Navara will get 7.0 l/100km as an average.

About the only stumbling point with the Warrior applies equally to its siblings. There is no autonomous emergency braking or related safety aids such as blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning, lane keep, and rear cross-traffic alert.

This may not be a deciding point for many Warrior buyers, but these safety features are available on many rivals, including market leaders Hilux and Ranger. They are also mandatory features for a vehicle involved in corporate businesses and of course they make even more sense when the vehicle is used for carrying the family.

Developing a Cult Following

The man behind the business that is tasked with transforming Nissan’s Navara from an all-round mid-level dual-cab 4WD ute into a visually enticing and exceptionally competent dirt machine says it’s all down to Aussie expertise.

The Nissan Navara N-Trek Warrior is the third upmarket, off-road savvy version of a commercial ute seen so far in Australia. It follows the Ford Ranger Raptor and Toyota Hilux Rugged X onto a stage watched eagerly by buyers who want a very capable, very versatile and visually tough machine. One that will flow seamlessly from a family car to a work vehicle to a go-anywhere leisure truck and one that will commute on the freeway and through the CBD as easily as it tackles the centre of Australia.

The engineering director and co-founder of Premcar – the Australian automotive engineering business that has its lineage with Tickford Vehicle Engineering and Prodrive Auto Technology – is Bernie Quinn.

He said the creation of the Warrior involved Australian experts and companies, including Premcar’s 185 staff that have 40 people working on the ute. It also involves more people in Australia through suppliers including Monroe (for the springs), EGR Group (for bar work and frontal protection), Hella (lights) and RP Group (moulded plastics).

Australia is the only market to get the Warrior, though Mr. Quinn said it was possible other countries could adopt the concept and with it, could offer greater opportunities for the local suppliers.

The ute is seen as being similar to the Arctic Trucks’ AT32 that also uses a Navara as the donor. Arctic Trucks, based in Iceland, also makes modified versions of the Hilux, D-Max and Amarok.

Mr. Quinn said following the AT32 would have been an easy option, but there were some big stumbling blocks, not the least being that the Euro Navara has leaf springs at the rear (the Australian market gets coils) and the ride and handling requirements were very different.

Instead, Nissan Australia received a green light from its parent in Japan to go ahead with the Warrior and forge a venture with an engineering partner. Nissan’s product manager for Navara, Callum Maynes, said some companies were approached but Premcar ticked all the boxes.

“Premcar was chosen after we looked at overseas and Australian suppliers,” Callum said.

“We wanted to design a package for Australia and we shared with Premcar the desire that it wouldn’t just be an accessory job.

“Nissan knew buyers would respond to what Premcar has done in Australia. So, the whole Warrior concept was conceived, designed and built in Australia exclusively for the Australian market.”

Premcar’s Bernie Quinn said there was “great synergy” between his company and Nissan Australia.

“We wanted the same things. Warrior would have better off-road capability, steering response, handling, cornering capability and stability,” he said.

The process involves taking Navara N-Trek vehicles from the factory in Thailand and, in Premcar’s Melbourne facility, removing the bits that won’t be needed on the Warrior.

These include the suspension springs and dampers, joints and wheels, the rear spare wheel carrier, the front bumper and valance, the seats and a few more components. Many parts are stocked for spares for N-Treks, others are dumped.

“In building and specifying this vehicle, we ticked the boxes for components that most people would want,” Bernie said.

“That included the tow bar, front bar, bash plate and light bar, but not a snorkel or winch which we found was too niche.”

The Warrior weighs a bit more than the donor N-Trek and has a 193kg lower payload, now 720kg. It retains the 3500kg tow rating.

“We looked at increasing the GVM in line with what is available in the competition, but we decided we don’t think there’s a legitimate need for any upgrade,” Bernie said.

Testing for the Warrior was done at the Australian Automotive Research Centre at Anglesea, Big Desert and the Advanced Centre for Automotive Research and testing, plus further R&D with the individual suppliers.

Some components were put through the mill – particularly the wheels and tyres, and the suspension parts – to ensure the Warrior was durable and could meet Nissan’s five-year warranty. They did.

Premcar makes 13 Warrriors a day at its Epping facility in Melbourne but is expanding its premises by an additional 6300 square metres and looking at the possibility of more staff and double shifts.

Nissan Australia believes it has a very competent off-road ute that will cover a lot of uses and claims that at about $12,000 less than the Ford Ranger Raptor rival, it is likely to see Premcar boost its production.

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