First Drive: 2017 Nissan Navara

First Drive: 2017 Nissan Navara

The year 2005 was a watershed moment for the Nissan brand locally as it introduced what was seen by many as the most desirable double-cab bakkie on the market, the Navara.

At the time, the previous Toyota Hilux had just been launched and the previous generation Isuzu KB had been two years on the market and doing exceptionally well. Volkswagen’s Amarok was still in the development stages. Ford’s Ranger and its then sibling, the Mazda Drifter, were competent offerings but never quite broke the mould.

Single-handedly, the previous generation Navara placed the bakkie market firmly on its head. Built in Spain, it brought desirability to the double-cab bakkie segment that was second to none.

It was the bakkie of choice among discerning buyers. Apart from its rugged looks it had one of the widest cabins and load bins, not to mention the most powerful four-cylinder turbodiesel engines. These were later complemented by a smooth V6 turbodiesel, making it the first bakkie locally to be offered with this engine configuration. The facelifted Amarok will be the second model locally to offer a similar configuration.

The Navara was the benchmark leisure double cab available in SA. Now the second generation has been launched in SA, two years after the model was launched into the international market. According to Nissan SA’s director of sales, marketing and aftersales, Xavier Gobille, the delay can be attributed to the fact that the model available in overseas markets was not suitable for our harsher road conditions.

He says engineers had to beef up the models destined for our market, including those we drove at the model’s launch in the Western Cape.

I approached the new Navara with great anticipation. Built on the same platform that will underpin the forthcoming Mercedes-Benz X-Class and Renault Alaskan, the Navara had to move the game from its predecessor, all the while seeing off many of its competitors in the segment.

The styling, although decidedly modern, seems to have softened quite considerably compared with the previous model, which one can attribute to the fact that the brand has adopted an all-new design language called V-Motion.

Nonetheless, the model is unmistakeably Nissan and the designers have done a great deal to keep the rear similar to the previous model. The front, with a large chrome grille flanked by LED-equipped headlights, is clean if less dramatic than the outgoing model.

Two trim levels are available in the form of SE (16-inch alloys) and the better-appointed LE, with standard diamond-cut 18-inch alloys. All models come with 4×4, with the SE available in six-speed manual, while the LE is available in both six-speed manual and a competent seven-speed automatic — already offered in the 370Z and Infiniti products. The electrically operated rear cab window is nothing new to the segment, with the previous generation Triton offering something similar.

The infotainment system is well equipped with navigation as standard (a first in the segment), Bluetooth connectivity, USB and auxiliary inputs, but the interface itself seems to disappear into the rest of the console and the slightly bigger unit offered in international markets would fare better.

Under the Navara’s bonnet lies a new 2.3-litre twin-turbodiesel, which puts out 140kW and 450Nm. This, incidentally, is the same output as its predecessor’s 2.5-litre turbodiesel LE specification.

It is a thoroughly gutsy engine with little in the way of turbo lag and manages to pull the big bakkie with convincing vigour, right up to its 5 000 rev limiter. However, the engine lacks the outright refinement exhibited by the Amarok and latest Triton, which was disappointingly unexpected.

Allied to the manual gearbox, the shift action lacked a positive feel and I would find myself slotting third instead of fifth when shifting up. The automatic transmission was without a doubt the better choice.

What truly sets the model apart, however, is that it is the first bakkie to be offered with a five-link, coil rear suspension, a setup similar to that in more sophisticated passenger cars. It offers a surefooted, supple ride quality that performed particularly well both on road and over gravel. In fact, I found myself travelling over the gravel surface more quickly and confidently than I had anticipated.

The load box takes up to a one-tonne payload. Towing capacity is pegged at a weight of 750kg unbraked and 3.5 tonnes braked.

With an approach angle of 33°, a departure angle of 27.9°, a breakover angle of 25.2° and ground clearance of 226mm, the model can easily hold its own off-road. This was particularly evident while driving over sand, where all we did was select 4H on the dial (which can be done on the fly up to 100km/h) and the vehicle simply did the rest.

Safety is comprehensive, with up to seven airbags and an alphabet soup of acronyms thrown in for good measure.

Costing from R514 900 to R597 000 the model is priced exceptionally well considering the high specification level. The 4×2 models will have a starting price of about R450 000 to R520 000 when they are made available at a later stage.

All models come with a standard three-year/90 000km service plan and six-year/ 150 000km warranty.

The Navara has come somewhat late to the party having launched in international markets two years ago. This is a pity. At the price, the supposedly lowly Triton makes the strongest case in the segment. The new Navara has not repeated the triumph of its predecessor. – Lerato Matebese