Nissan scores a Slam Dunk in the ute stakes with Navara as Ford adds more options to Ranger
With the top two best-selling vehicles in the Australian market both being utes, you could be forgiven for wondering what happened to the car enthusiast. And when you look at the escalating price structure of what started out as a tradies’ transport, it brings into question whether the high-priced ute is value for money.
While Toyota and Ford battler it out for the top spot on the vehicle sales charts, Nissan has shown rather an entrepreneurial flair by fine tuning its activities to produce a ute for all aspirations, rather than expecting the buyer to organise different tyre and rim combinations, suspension upgrades, additional lighting and stronger bash plates.
Nissan Australia has slammed back into contention for ute buyers by simplifying the whole process of purchasing a highly-customised ute that’s more capable, more comprehensive and more attractive, plus it’s all inclusive of a five-year factory backed, unlimited distance warranty.
Realising just how much personalisation takes place with buyers in the ute segment, Nissan engineers led by LCV product manager Matt Baily have worked with the product development and engineering team from Premcar in Melbourne (in much the same way as RAM Trucks worked with the engineers from HSV and Tom Walkinshaw Racing), to turn a good vehicle with a strong heritage into an exceptional vehicle tailored for the 4WD enthusiast in our market.
The Nissan N-TREK Warrior project was kick-started under the watch of Nissan Australia MD Stephen Lester, together with Director of Engineering for Premcar Bernard Quinn, to produce a sensible but comprehensive approach to fine tuning the Navara ute into something rather special.
The Warrior is set to appeal to those wanting to stand out in the crowd, while not wanting the additional 4.5 tonne tow capacity of RAM Trucks but demanding improved off-road capability.
Developed and assembled for the Australian and New Zealand markets from its new Epping, Melbourne facility, Premcar is initially gearing up for a production rate of 10 Warriors per day.
What the buyer gains is that engineers and designers have taken all the guess work and inconvenience out of the buying equation. The Warrior has factory backed and approved revised and uprated suspension, 40 mm higher ground clearance at 268 mm and a stylish body-coloured integral steel bull bar containing the class-leading lens optics of the Hella 16-LED combination pencil beam and wide-angle beam light bar.
Conforming to all ADRs, and with a continuation of the ANCAP 5-Star crash assessment rating, buyers get improved ground clearance, better approach and departure angles and a higher ramp-over angle.
Tyre and rim combinations are often the result of guesswork unless determined by a tyre specialist and for the Warrior the answer lies with the involvement of Cooper Tyres to create a unique package of 17-inch alloy rims shod with 275/70R17 (32.2 inch) Cooper A/T3 tyres (including the spare) and protected by wide flares on the guards. These extend the track width to 1600 mm.
Revised spring rates and damper settings were developed with Adelaide-based Monroe Tenneco to provide an improved progressive-rate performance, raising the ability of the suspension to conform to the ground surface and not be subject to bounce reducing the tyre contact patch pressure and thereby maintaining higher levels of control.
The snazzy interior trim fit out is unique to Warrior, with black highlighted door handles and exterior trim sections with orange highlights all adding to the package.
Anti-lock braking with electronic brakeforce distribution together with traction control, an electronically-activated diff’ lock, vehicle dynamic control with brake assist, hill-start assist, driver and front passenger front and side airbags, driver knee airbag, front to rear SRS side curtains, side steps, roof rails and a tub liner.
Fuel consumption is frugal, with 7.0 L/100km claimed on the combined assessment achievable from the 2.3-litre intercooled and twin-turbocharged diesel. Some of the credit for low fuel consumption can be attributed to the seven-speed automatic transmission, offering one ratio more than Ford’s 3.2-litre but three less than with Ford’s 2.0 litre. Maximum power of 140 kW is produced at 3750 rpm, with peak torque of 450 Nm rated at 1500-2500 rpm.
The appeal here is that engineers that know their business well, (Premcar was born from Prodrive UK of Tickford and FPV fame), have created what buyers at the upper level want to own, yet might not have the time, experience, knowledge or patience to put together as a package.
Ground clearance has been lifted to 268 mm and the approach angle when off road improved to 35 degrees. The Monroe Tenneco activity underneath the floor sees a six percent reduction of the primary front spring rate, introducing a longer, more progressive jounce bumper to provide a progressive secondary spring rate. There’s an eight percent reduction in the primary rear spring rate and a 10 percent increase to the secondary rear spring rate. Damper tubes and rods have also been upgraded.
Watching the N-Trek Warrior performing at speed over sand and humps demonstrated how compliant the suspension settings are and how they benefit traction and stability by keeping the tyre tread on the ground and not forcing it to jump.
Don’t be led into thinking that stiffer is better when it comes to suspension. It all depends on speed, terrain, traction and suspension compliance when it comes to ride and handling without scaring the passengers (and the driver).
Having spent a good part of 35 years driving off road and evaluating suspension ride and handling performance, both on and off road, the Navara N-TREK Warrior looks extremely impressive and rides accordingly. Nissan and Premcar have spent their time wisely taking the guesswork out of how to improve the vehicle for the type of work it can handle in our recreational market.
Nissan’s team conducted testing in Australian conditions on various road surfaces including sandy desert tracks, gravel, graded and ungraded roads, highway, 4WD tracks and corrugations, this rework is far more than sticking a new decal on the tailgate.
Ford is not letting go of the grip it has with Ranger amongst ute buyers, adding more content to the specification of the Wildtrak and creating the Wildtrak X.
Unlike the Navara N-TREK Warrior, Ford’s suspension remains as per the standard Wildtrak, but the tyre and rim fitment has moved upwards with 18-inch black finish alloy rims, black wheel arch flares, a black front nudge bar with LED light bar as well as a snorkel.
Despite the marketing blurb about a snorkel enhancing the water wading ability of the Ranger – which comes in at a claimed depth of 800 mm – buyers of any ute should beware of trying to prove enhanced aquatic abilities that can match those of a boat, unless prepared to risk soaking the interior along with any electrics and computer management systems mounted under the seats. It can be an expensive discussion.
Ford does win out on the advanced driver safety features over Nissan, with Ranger Wildtrak X featuring autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, hill-descent control, hill-launch assist, plus an electronic diff’ lock. There’s also a tyre-pressure monitoring system as well as active park assist. The latter inclusion scans a suitable parking space using ultrasonic sensors with the driver then only operating the throttle and brakes as the ute steers itself into the parking area.
Ranger Wildtrak X comes with a choice of powerplant between the 3.2-litre five-cylinder with six-speed auto transmission and the BiTurbo 2.0-litre four-cylinder that is matched to a 10-speed automatic.
The 3.2 litre comes in with maximum power of 147 kW produced at 3000 rpm with peak torque of 470 Nm rated at 1750-2500 rpm, while the 2.0-litre BiTurbo punches out 157 kW at 3750 rpm with peak torque of 500 Nm rated at 1750-2000 rpm. Fuel economy on the combined circuit is 8.4 and 7.4 L/100kms respectively.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone are common to both Ford and Nissan, as is satellite navigation, but with Ford adding SYNC 3. Ranger’s 8.0-inch full-colour screen not only hosts a reversing camera, but built-in voice-activated sat-nav. The sat-nav’s ‘breadcrumbs’ feature enables an off-road route to be plotted as it’s traversed by dropping digital ‘breadcrumbs’, enabling a return journey or future revisit.
With a five-star ANCAP rating, pricing comes in at $2000 plus over the standard Wildtrak, with a recommended $65,290 for the Ranger Wildtrak X with the 3.2-litre auto, or $66,790 for the alternative 2.0-litre Bi-Turbo. Maximum towing is 3500 kg for a braked trailer, with servicing scheduled at 15,000 km with a five-year unlimited distance warranty.
Nissan’s service intervals are already out to 20,000 km or 12 months, with costs capped at an average $629. At the time of writing Nissan was still tight lipped about pricing, with an announcement due in December.