A mid-cy­cle up­grade has turned Nis­san’s NP300 Navara from Cu­rate’s egg (good in parts) to a gen­uine con­tender for over­all class hon­ours. NZ4WD mag­a­zine ed­i­tor Ross Mackay ex­plains why.

New Zealand Company Vehicle - - CONTENTS -

From cu­rate’s egg (good in parts) to gen­uine con­tender for 4WD Ute of the Year hon­ours. That’s the story of Nis­san’s re­cently re­vamped NP300 ute. NZ4WD mag­a­zine ed­i­tor Ross Mackay re­veals how the com­pany achieved such a re­mark­able transformation.

Wow! Three sim­ple let­ters yet slung to­gether they mean no much. When I first drove the then new NP300 Nis­san Navara two years ago now I was non­plussed. Sure the new all-coil-sprung chas­sis and run­ning gear pack­age pro­vided a bet­ter rear end ride, par­tic­u­larly on gravel, but over­all I was left dis­ap­pointed. That all-im­por­tant, but ab­so­lutely sub­jec­tive ‘feel at the (steer­ing) wheel’ was still pon­der­ous, the front end felt over­sprung com­pared with the new rear end and, well, I was just gen­er­ally un­der­whelmed. To which, all I can say now is, what a dif­fer­ence a cou­ple of years can make. Ob­vi­ously I wasn’t the only motor noter – or buyer for that mat­ter – who voiced con­cerns about the orig­i­nal NP300, be­cause pretty soon af­ter the launch the Aus­tralian arm of the com­pany put to­gether a team to come up with what in ef­fect is a ‘Ver­sion 2.’ As mag con­trib­u­tor Damian O’car­roll re­ported in the May ’18 is­sue, the key changes/up­grades/ im­prove­ments have been made to the sus­pen­sion and steer­ing of the dou­ble cab SL, ST and ST-X mod­els. The big change has been to a new dual spring rate pack­age, “the first stage of which,” Damien wrote from the re­launch across the Tas­man, “has a slower 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 cre­ated new bump stops at the rear to as­sist with lat­eral body move­ment, and tweaked the steer­ing, in­clud­ing re­vis­ing the gear­ing and a lower ra­tio (down from 21.5:1 to 19.0:1) which re­duces the num­ber of turns from lock to lock from an armtir­ing 4.1 to a much more ev­ery­day use-ac­cept­able 3.4.

Sits higher

It’s not hard to no­tice the changes either, the new (V2) model Navara now sitting no­tice­ably (25mm) higher than the pre­vi­ous ver­sion when un­laden, and a full 40mm up at its low­est point. En­gines and trans­mis­sions re­main un­changed across the range – yet I can’t re­mem­ber be­ing as im­pressed with Nis­san’s 140kw/450nm twin­turbo 2.4 litre four cylin­der and seven speed auto trans­mis­sion first time around. It re­ally is an out­stand­ing pow­er­plant, one which com­bines un­canny smooth­ness and what I would now class as cat­e­gory-lead­ing re­fine­ment from idle through to ‘timeto-change-up,’ with a nice, broad em­i­nently ev­ery­day mid-range and pos­i­tively sear­ing (if that’s the right word to use when you’re talk­ing about an oil-burner!) top end. It’s also worth men­tion­ing that Nis­san has taken the op­por­tu­nity af­forded by the sus­pen­sion and steer­ing up­grade to add even more ‘tech’ to the fac­tory spec. Amongst a raft of other ad­di­tions the ST-X model now gets a 360 de­gree “Around View” (bird’s eye) func­tion with its re­vers­ing cam­era. All Dou­ble Cab mod­els now get sec­ond row ISOFIX child seat mount­ing points and Sat Nav is in­cluded in the now part of the ex-fac­tory King Cab ST spec. The line-top­ping ST-X model cabin was – and re­mains – a very pleas­ant place to while away the hours in traf­fic (Auck­land) or on the open road (any­where else in NZ it would seem). The slim­line, leather-trimmed seats are sur­pris­ingly com­fort­able, with the driver’s (in­fin­itely) elec­tri­callyad­justable, and both front ones heated as well.

Ergo ex­cel­lence

Cli­mate air in­stantly takes care of the heat in sum­mer and fogged up screen and win­dows when the days get longer and cooler, and some­one, some­where in the in­te­rior de­sign team ob­vi­ously knows some­thing about er­gonomics. The steer­ing wheel mounted ra­dio vol­ume and cruise con­trol, er, con­trols

are the most in­tu­itive and eas­i­est to use I have so far en­coun­tered and the phone charg­ing jack is ac­tu­ally easy both to find and use (which it isn’t on ev­ery ve­hi­cle I test). Nor are there (cof­fee) cup hold­ers as well placed (at each end of the dash­board at indi­ca­tor stalk level) as well as two be­tween the seats, or bot­tle hold­ers moulded into each door card. The key changes have been to the un­der­pin­nings, how­ever, and I don’t think I can stress enough how much they have im­proved the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Off-road there wasn’t much wrong with the orig­i­nal NP300. Lots of steer­ing is ac­tu­ally handy in some cir­cum­stances, par­tic­u­larly when you are crawl­ing along a rut­ted track in 4L, while the – in ret­ro­spect – overly soft rear end ar­guably aided trac­tion in slop and sand, par­tic­u­larly in causal use on the as de­liv­ered A/T tyres. Cer­tainly the orig­i­nal model made short work of the steep and slip­pery grass gymkhana sec­tions our farmer mate Dun­can set out for our six-ute shootout in 2016. No, it was on the road, in ev­ery­day use that the orig­i­nal was found want­ing, here and ob­vi­ously across the Tas­man

Cut to the chase

Now – to cut to the chase – I would rate the up­graded Navara as the most re­fined, and there­fore pleas­ant and easy to live with day-to-day, tur­bod­iesel dou­ble-cab ute on the mar­ket, bar none. Don’t get me wrong, the en­gine lacks the sheer, ad­dic­tive, mus­cu­lar­ity of the 3.2 litre five-cylin­der Ford/ Mazda power plant. And the steer­ing – though vastly im­proved – still lacks the sporty quick-rack pre­ci­sion that makes the Ranger such an en­ter­tain­ing and re­ward­ing beast. Over­all though the changes have mas­sively im­proved ride qual­ity, the abil­ity to load up the tray and/or tow bar with­out com­pro­mis­ing han­dling, road hold­ing or brak­ing, and gen­eral day-to-day driv­abil­ity. At a causal glance it might look un­changed but as Damian said in his launch story in the May is­sue; “The 2018 Navara is a far bet­ter ve­hi­cle than it was and is now a con­vinc­ing com­peti­tor in the ute seg­ment.”

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