High hopes not quite met

Business Day - Motor News - - FRONT PAGE -

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 un­der­pins the Fiat Full­back, the lat­est Mit­subishi Tri­ton and the forth­com­ing Mercedes-Benz XClass, 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 4x4, with the SE avail­able in six-speed man­ual, while the LE is avail­able in both six-speed man­ual and a com­pe­tent sev­en­speed 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 2.3l twin-tur­bod­iesel, which puts out 140kW and 450Nm. This, in­ci­den­tally, is the same out­put as its pre­de­ces­sor’s 2.5l 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 4x2 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 for a brand that do­nated its plat­form to Fiat and Mit­subishi. 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.

The new Navara fea­tures Nis­san’s lat­est V-Mo­tion de­sign.

The in­te­rior is good but, like its sib­lings, it could do with the Euro­pean spec in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem.

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