FIRST DRIVE: Nissan Navara NP300

FIRST DRIVE: Nissan Navara NP300

The Nissan Navara has long been a mainstay in the local ute segment, generally hanging around the top five sellers, occasionally breaking into the top three and generally being a handsome, rugged option that was always worth consideration.

While the old D22 (it was originally launched in 1997) managed to survive its replacement by the D40 in 2004, staying around as a budget-priced entry level option, neither model will be so lucky this time as the new NP300 Navara is set to replace them both.

What is it?

As mentioned above, the NP300 Navara is a replacement for the elderly D22 cheapie and the big, handsome D40. Which leaves it with quite some ground to cover.

Nissan is doing this by offering the Navara in 14 different variants, which is best (and most easily) explained by the handy infographic below:

NAVARA_INFOGRAPHIC_6

All NP300 Navaras are currently only available in double cab wellside configuration, with single and king cab variants coming later in the year. Single and double cab chassis versions of the RX 4WD are also available.

Starting at the D22 end of the scale, the new DX double cab 2WD packs the same 118kW/231Nm 2.5-litre 4-cylinder petrol engine that is found in the X-Trail, making it relatively unique in the local ute market by offering a small petrol engine.

The DX comes standard with daytime running lights, seven airbags, cruise control, Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming, 15-inch steel wheels, vinyl flooring and is only available with a six-speed manual transmission. The DX kicks off the range at $31,990.

The RX is available in 2WD or 4WD form and adds privacy glass, a power rear window, an alarm and 16-inch steel wheels to DX trim. Also only available as a manual, the RX gets a 120kW/403Nm single turbo version of Nissan’s new 2.3-litre 4-cylinder diesel engine.

The RX starts at $39,990 for the 2WD and tops out at $49,990 for the 4WD.

Next up is the ST that packs a 140kW/450Nm twin-turbo version of the diesel engine, while also gaining 16-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, side steps and a reversing camera. A 7-speed automatic transmission is also available on the ST.

The ST starts at $45,990 for the 2WD manual and goes up to $57,490 for the 4WD auto.

Rounding out the range is the ST-X that adds 18-inch alloys, reversing sensors, a sunroof, leather accented seats, satellite navigation, roof rails, push button start and Nissan’s brilliant “utility track” tied-down system.

Pricing for the ST-X starts at $52,990 for the 2WD manual and tops the range at $64,990.

Nissan Navara (02)

What’s it like?

Being based on a slightly shortened version of the D40’s platform (to improve agility and turning circle), the Navara feels fairly familiar to drive. Nissan’s switch to a multi-link rear suspension set up for the Navara (while retaining the same payload and towing capacity) should have theoretically meant that it would have a far improved, more car-like ride – and to be honest, when we first drove it in Thailand almost a year back, we would have sworn it did – but that doesn’t seem terribly apparent on New Zealand roads.

That said, the Navara never exactly had a bad ride to begin with, but it is still some way short of the Volkswagen Amarok in terms of ride quality.

The new twin-turbo 2.3-litre engine (the only one available at the launch) feels strong and nicely torquey, while the 7-speed auto is simply brilliant. The only real downside to the powertrain is the fact that the engine is slightly coarse and very diesel-y sounding, which is not actually all that bad, as it does sound like a “proper” ute because of it…

Inside the NP300 is nicely designed and laid out, albeit with quite a lot of hard plastics in its construction. The seats deserve special mention, as they are spectacularly comfortable and supportive – easily the best in the ute segment.

Nissan Navara (04)

What’s good about it?

The NP300 basically retains all that was good about the D40 and adds to it. Approach and departure angles, payload and towing capacity are all as good as or better than the D40, while interior quality is up, as is ride comfort and handling. The engine is powerful and confident, while the automatic transmission is brilliant.

Nissan Navara (05)

What’s not so good?

The interior is quite plasticky and drab. The multi-link suspension doesn’t improve the ride as much as you would expect, if at all.

Nissan Navara (01)

First impressions?

While the ride hasn’t translated to local roads quite as well as we hoped it would, the new Navara still represents a compelling new option in the local ute market.

The slight reduction in engine size (down to 2.3-litres from 2.5-litres) is more than compensated for by the improved fuel consumption and lower availability of torque. Except for maybe in a marketing sense…

Given that the D40 had actually aged particularly well, the NP300 was always going to have a hard job replacing it, so what we end up with is more of an evolutionary refinement than a massive leap forward. Which still adds nicely up to a ute that will be very competitive in the segment indeed. The ute choices just continue to get harder…

Models/prices

For the Nissan Navara’s full pricing click here – Nissan Navara NP300 prices

For the Nissan Navara’s full specification click here – Nissan Navara NP300 Specs

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