SIMPLE AND AFFORDABLE | Ute Review – Nissan Navara

The Navara 2WD fills most of the Tradie requirements at a budget price – Report by Neil Dowling. 

The tough end of town demands reliability, durability and affordability. Much of that hinges on vehicle simplicity, so the work ute tends to dismiss features such as occupant comfort, entertainment and safety.

The quintessential worker’s ute sounds like gravel rolling in a cement mixer and is usually seen packed to the gunwales with tools of the trade in the outermost lane of the freeway, barely able to reach the speed of fellow traffic, but driven by someone who doesn’t appear overly interested.

They (the utes, not the drivers) are basic in design and engineering, emphasising above all longevity and ease of repair. Decades after the Datsun 520 and 620 utes ferried bricklayers who built Australia’s suburbia, the company maintains its link with its predecessors with a ute that despite the intervening years, is remarkably similar to its ancestor.

Now it’s called Nissan and the ute is Navara.

At $26,250 plus on-road costs, the Nissan Navara RX sits on the lower lip of the single-cab, tray-top diesel ute brigade, beaten in price among the Japanese brands only by the Triton ($25,990). But the Navara represents good value when parked against Hilux ($27,390), Isuzu Ute ($28,600), Ranger ($28,340) and Holden’s Colorado that, unusually, is not available as a manual and has an entry automatic priced at $31,690.

Even better is when you catch a deal. The latest from Nissan is the RX manual single cab with alloy tray at $25,990 drive away for ABN holders. It’s always worth checking the deals.

The fact it’s a diesel reflects the market turning its back on petrol, in sharp contrast to the passenger-car sector that is increasingly overlooking diesels. Nissan no longer offers the Navara with a petrol engine and the latest Vfacts year-to-date sales figures show that petrol represents only 7.3 per cent of the LCV sales, with the remainder to diesel.

Increasingly, the entry-level work utes are automatic but the tester here is for scrimping pennies and has a manual transmission. But not just any manual – this one’s a six-speed and will make any driver feel like being behind the wheel of a sports car.

Unfortunately, that’s the only similarity. The 2.3-litre engine is willing and able, but it’s a step down from the mill in its sibling’s peppy Navara 4WD range.

The same comment applies with the body that looks like the rest of the Navara range, but the lack of wheel-arch flares makes it narrower and probably better suited to a life in a cramped urban environment. The tough attitude is the same, as is the welcome balance of making a work vehicle that is durable, without taking out the driver’s kidneys on the way down the road.

There’s the same Navara ladder frame, blunt nose and bland flanks on a body that wins on function and actually looks reasonably attractive, a cabin with its hard-plastic dashboard that is ergonomic and aesthetic, and some niceties like a radio with clear speakers and a decent reception range.

Wins for the cabin are the hose-out vinyl floor that is easy to clean though can be as slippery as a floor-crossing politician. The dash features basic Bluetooth and four-speaker audio, and the steering wheel controls and inclusion of cruise control are welcome, as is the auto headlight function and large, clear gauges. The HVAC is excellent because of the small cabin volume.

Cabin storage options are great, with a hole atop the dashboard, a decent glovebox and door pockets with a lidded centre bin. But a place for an A4-size clipboard would be nice. There are small openings alongside the centre console for mobile phones, which is handy.

The 2.3-litre turbo-diesel is as basic as a workhorse needs an engine to be, claiming 120 kW at a leisurely 3750 rpm and a more impressive 403 Nm at a punchy 1500 rpm through to 2500 rpm. This is where all the power and torque are ideal for the Navara’s working role and compares with the bi-turbo version of the same engine fitted to the more upmarket 4WD Navaras that boasts more output – 140 kW and 450 Nm – to suit more diverse work and leisure demands.

The engine is backed up to a six-speed manual box that offers a decent spread of ratios for idling through the city to open-road cruising. This is made all the more enjoyable by a light clutch and sick changes, though more operators may prefer the $2500 automatic option.

There are no complaints about the Navara’s ability to haul the load. The drivetrain is a very good match to the cargo demands and road conditions that will be experienced by users.

Typically, the diesel is a bit of a rattler at idle and low speeds but settles to an almost inaudible buzz while cruising. It’s a lazy mill – as evident by the low revs at which the power and torque peak – which adds to its durability, reliability and fuel economy.

Nissan claims 6.4 L/100km as an average and on a mixed-road test it scored 7.2 L/100km. The tank is a decent 80 litres to indicate a plausible 1110 km range. The less time out for refueling, the better the chance of making more income.

The Navara is listed with a 1357 kg payload but that’s without its tray. Add the genuine Nissan alloy tray at 138 kg and the payload comes in at a decent 1219 kg. Opt for a steel tray – at 325 kg – and the payload is 1032 kg.

So, it depends on your preference with the tray or if you’re carrying over a steel unit from a previous vehicle.

The tray – which is included in the price of this vehicle – measures 2530 mm by 1890 mm and has a 245 mm height at the rails. Other sizes are available. The tray floor is a rather high 850 mm from the ground, partly because of the brackets and mainly because of the Navara’s generous 206 mm ground clearance. The tray comes with a T and Z-profile rack bar with a 150kg load limit. It’s a workable unit and matches up with the heaps of body builders with trays as good.

Ride quality in the ute is pretty good until the road surface turns imperfect, at which point the ride can deteriorate to choppy status. It’s par for the course with the ride quality settling nicely with a bit of weight in the tray. This was trialed with 320kg, and aside from the engine not even noticing the extra bulk, it revealed some welcome compliance in the rear leaf springs.

Seat comfort is surprisingly good, with support and plenty of length in the adjustment, along with a height adjuster. Even unladen drives were dampened in their suspension abruptness by the comfort of the seats.

As mentioned, this is a simple vehicle. The rear leaf springs are standard issue for the genre and are matched by double wishbones at the front. The steering is a hydraulic power assisted system provides an 11.8 metre turning circle. Brakes are Thai-standard, with front ventilated discs and rear drums.

The wheels are made with solidity rather than bling and their 16-inch steel circumference is spun with high-load, all-road LT 205R16 Bridgestone Dueler tyres. The Navara has poly plastic rear mudguards to keep down the weight and to keep out the rust.

Safety features open with seven airbags (that’s three and a half for each occupant!) and ABS with brakeforce distribution, traction control, brake-limited LSD and brake assist. But there’s no park sensors and no reverse camera, so the driver has to be aware that the tray is longer and wider than may be presumed.

In summary, it’s a workhorse through and through. There’s a lot of rivals but the Navara gets points for its sensible features and regular Nissan-driven deals. More safety gear – such as autonomous emergency braking – may, however, be appreciated by users.

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