New car review: Nissan Navara ST-X Dual Cab Series III
Nissan makes ‘quiet’ changes to updated Navara.
Dual cab 4x4 utes have been the star performers of Australian new vehicle sales for a number of years now, prompting new players like Mercedes-Benz to enter the segment and established players to hasten the pace of upgrades to stay on consumers’ radar.
Where utes were once a purely pragmatic working machine that went years between upgrades, dual cab versions are these days positioned as family cars and recreational vehicles, with regular upgrades and pricing that can stretch to $80,000 and beyond.
The Nissan Navara currently ranks as Australia’s fifth most popular dual cab 4x4.
It’s a well-known and well-established model that has benefited from regular upgrades every year since the D23 Series launched in mid-2015.
The Series 2 and 3 versions featured steering and suspension revisions, while last year’s Series 4 adopted a new infotainment system.
In March, Nissan released further upgrades to the Navara but stopped short of labelling this a Series 5 model.
The changes are aimed at lowering cabin noise, via an acoustic windscreen, new engine cover, and extra sound deadening.
While this should make things quieter inside the Navara’s cabin, none of it impacts the ute’s basic performance, which is just as well as the model reviewed here is a pre-upgrade dual cab ST-X 4x4.
Nissan’s top-tier dual cab 4x4 ute variants are differentiated from most rivals by the use of coil springs on the rear suspension, instead of more common leaf springs.
Coils are generally more comfortable but the company’s engineers have had to go back to the drawing board a couple of times since launch in a bid to strike the right balance between load lugging and ride comfort.
The result is that today’s Navara rides and handles pretty well, considering its fairly rudimentary ladder-frame underpinnings.
You’re not likely to rush out and swap your Range Rover for one but it’s certainly not as punishing on the kidneys or as skittish in the rear end as some of its more load-oriented rivals.
Inside, the ST-X offers decently comfortable accommodation with a long list of standard features, contemporary design and quality materials.
The driving position is nice and high but you sit in a legs-extended position, which is common for ladder-frame vehicles but hardly ideal.
The rear bench is, likewise, a typical-for-the-category upright affair, with passengers seated in a knees-up, straight-backed position that becomes tiresome after a while.
Last year’s Series 4 upgrade saw the Navara adopt a new 8.0-inch infotainment system, with pinch and zoom functionality, TomTom satellite navigation and the now-essential Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.
The system also features Nissan’s Around View Monitor technology, which uses four cameras to give the driver a virtual birds-eye view of vehicle and surrounds, while a rear-view camera and rear parking sensors add further to the safety repertoire.
Other standard safety features include driver and front passenger front and side airbags, driver knee airbag, and front to rear curtain airbags.
The Navara also gets two ISOFix child-seat mounting points on the rear bench seat, plus electronic safety aids like anti-lock brakes, traction control, vehicle dynamic control, and brake assist.
The combination helped Navara achieve a five-star ANCAP safety rating in 2017, although it must be noted it lacks the latest in advanced driver assistance systems, including trailer sway control, lane departure warning, active cruise control and autonomous emergency braking.
Under the bonnet is a 2.3 litre intercooled twin-turbo diesel, delivering a solid 140kW at 3750rpm and 450Nm from a low 1500-2500rpm.
Performance is brisk and almost petrol-like when unladen, with a near complete absence of turbo lag.
The engine drives through an impressively smooth seven-speed automatic with a faux-manual mode.
Load lugging and towing capacity are oft-touted attributes of this style of vehicle and here the Nissan boasts a competitive 750kg-unbraked, and 3500kg braked towing capacity.
With the Series 3 upgrades Nissan revised the Navara’s five-link rear suspension, adopting dual-rate coil springs to improve towing and load hauling, while other detail changes to suspension and steering were aimed at improving ride and handling.
Given that these utes are frequently driven both laden and unladen, and with widely varying load weightings, finding a suspension sweet spot that suits all applications must be devilishly difficult.
Nevertheless, Nissan has done a commendable job in this regard as the Navara rides firmly but not brutally when unladen, yet manages substantial loads without losing stability or steering accuracy.
A dedicated strategy of continuous upgrades has kept the five-year-old Navara competitive in this fast-moving segment.
It may lack the flair of category leaders like the Ford Ranger and Toyota HiLux, but it remains a well-built, durable and generously equipped performer that’s more than capable of holding its own against these more fancied rivals.
MLP: $56,100 (plus on-road costs)
ENGINE: 2.3-litre intercooled four-cylinder twin-turbo diesel, dohc
ANCAP SAFETY RATING: Five-star (2018)
TAILPIPE CO2 (g/km): 186g/km
Good safety package, strong towing and load carrying, off-road ability, fairly refined road manners.
Driving position and rear-seat comfort, absence of latest electronic safety aids.