Changes to Navara will carry it through 2018
When Nissan launched the NP300 Navara back in 2014, much was made of the five-link coil-spring rear suspension.
It could handle the same weight as the leaf-spring set up, but brought significant ride and handling benefits to the ute segment. Except it didn’t really. While the Navara was one of the better-handling utes when unladen, the ride quality wasn’t anywhere near the top of the segment, and both only got worse as you added weight.
Nissan has now released an updated version of the Navara featuring little in the way of visual change, but a lot of underthe-skin tinkering with said suspension.
The suspension revision was undertaken at the insistence of Nissan Australia, which saw much testing done in that country, specifically in the central Victoria areas around Bendigo and Kinglake (where the revised vehicle was launched), meaning that the roads are actually rather similar to our own here in New Zealand.
The new suspension setup has been developed specifically for the dual-cab SL, ST and ST-X models (the biggest-selling variants in both countries) and features a new dual-spring-rate system.
The first stage of the system is a slower spring rate that allows for a more comfortable ride either unladen or with a light load, while the second stage has a higher spring rate that allows for heavier loads without compromising ride or handling.
Nissan has also incorporated a dynamic rebound damper.
When fully loaded the damper is designed to contact the chassis rail which causes the damper to compress and the resistance to increase – reducing lateral body movement and, according to Nissan, improving the Navara’s handling and stability.
The most obvious visual result of the new suspension is the fact that the rear of the Navara now sits 25mm higher than the previous version when unladen, while not dropping anywhere near as much as the old truck when carrying a full load. Along with the mechanical tweaks, the Navara gets a load of new safety and driver assist systems for 2018, including a 360-degree Around View monitor (standard on the ST-X), second row Isofix child seat mounting points (on all dual cab versions) and expanded availability of rear view cameras (now standard on all pickup variants) and satellite navigation (added to King Cab ST).
From June 2018 all SL, ST and ST-X models will also feature a new digital speedometer and extra (or repositioned, depending on the model) tie-down points to help better secure loads.
Engines and transmissions remain the unchanged across the range, with the RX retaining its 120kW/403Nm single-turbo version of the 2.3-litre diesel engine, while everything else keeps the 140kW/450Nm twinturbo version, with a choice of either a six-speed manual or a seven-speed automatic.
What exactly are the effects of these suspension revisions on the Navara?
Well, Nissan launched the 2018 version with a drive out of Melbourne around the Kinglake area, with a number of dual-cab models either unladen, carrying a 650kg payload or towing various trailers with up to 1600kg on them, giving us three different scenarios to try out.
First up, the unladen Navara had a noticeably better ride on the extremely broken roads of rural Victoria.
Far less busy and brittle, the Navara now easily sits up there with the Holden Colorado and Mitsubishi Triton in terms of unladen ride, and ever-so-slightly short of the Ford Ranger.
It still doesn’t match the VW Amarok, although the gap is now far less obvious.
Handling is improved as well, while the sharper steering (and surprisingly good steering feel for a ute) makes for a pleasant upgrade as well.
But it is when either carrying or towing a load that the new Navara impresses the most.
With 650kg on the back the Navara was even more composed and comfortable, particularly on some of the rough gravel sections of the drive route.
On the gravel sections it really shone with a hefty trailer on the back.
Here it remained nicely composed and comfortable, unfazed by the loose surface and roughly 1200kg out the back.
Even going into one corner unintentionally too hot didn’t bother the Navara.
The changes Nissan has performed on the Navara’s rear suspension have certainly improved both ride and handling, but particularly its ability to carry or tow a load without compromising that ride and handling in a significant way.
While it looks the same as before, the 2018 Navara is a far better vehicle than it was, making it well worth another look if you previously dismissed it on the strength (or lack thereof) of its ride.
The 2018 Navara range starts at $37,990 for the 2WD RX single cab chassis manual and tops out with the 4WD ST-X double cab wellside at $64,490.
Same look as previous model, but the new Navara has major changes to steering, suspension and safety equipment.