Set­ting a new BENCH­MARK?

We waited a very long time for the lo­cal in­tro­duc­tion of the all-new Nis­san Navara. Then we waited an­other four months to get hold of a test unit. Now we’ve fi­nally spent a week in its com­pany. The big ques­tion is: has it moved the goal posts in the doubl

Leisure Wheels (South Africa) - - TEST -

Tnew Nis­san Navara test unit hap­pened to ar­rive at our of­fice the same week that the long-awaited new Mercedes-Benz X-class was launched in Cape Town.

As you prob­a­bly know, the new Benz bakkie is based on the Nis­san’s un­der­pin­nings. So the same chas­sis and the new coil­spring, five-link rear sus­pen­sion, as well as – for the en­try-level Benz – the twin-turbo 2.3-litre four-cylin­der diesel en­gine.

We were a bit tempted to stick a makeshift draw­ing of the three­p­ointed star over the Nis­san badge, and drive around like that. Nis­san prob­a­bly wouldn’t have minded too much. Come to think of it, maybe the tim­ing of the units that sud­denly be­came avail­able to the me­dia four months af­ter the ini­tial launch wasn’t such a co­in­ci­dence. Be that as it may, the en­gi­neers at Merc would not have been as pleased.

THE LOOK OF IT

Our 2.3 DDT 4×4 LE dou­ble cab was kit­ted out in a strik­ing or­ange hue... rounded off with a bevy of af­ter­mar­ket ac­ces­sories and 18-inch wheels. We reckon it cer­tainly looks the ruggedly re­fined part. It is one of the bet­ter-look­ing dou­ble cabs on the mar­ket to­day and dur­ing our time with it, it drew plenty of ad­mir­ing stares and glances.

The stares may also be due to the fact that there sim­ply aren’t so many new Navaras on the road yet. Ini­tial sales have not ex­actly caused the other bakkie-ped­dling com­pa­nies to break a sweat. Mind you, some ex­clu­siv­ity in the dou­ble cab seg­ment is maybe not a hor­ri­ble prospect. Ev­ery sec­ond dou­ble cab on the road these days seem to be a Hilux or a Ranger.

In­ter­est­ingly, the new Navara fea­tures the long­est list of ap­proved af­ter­mar­ket ac­ces­sories of any Nis­san sold to date in South Africa. From de­cal kits (aren’t those quite pop­u­lar these days?), head­lamp sur­rounds, a seven-inch LED spot­light bar to canopies, re­place­ment bumpers and winches. There are even cat­tle rails on the list.

Our test unit came with an op­tional tow­bar, which is fit­ted with an LED light. At night, when the light is il­lu­mi­nated, it lights up the area un­der and around the bak. Nifty, that.

THE CABIN

It’s mod­ern, fancy and glitzy. There’s an aura of so­phis­ti­cated lux­ury in the cabin, helped no doubt by the ad­di­tion of op­tional leather trim for all the seats.

The stan­dard in­fo­tain­ment has satel­lite nav­i­ga­tion with 3D map­ping and live traf­fic up­dates, an RDS ra­dio that can store up to 30 sta­tions, DVD/VCD/CD/ MP3 and MP4 com­pat­i­bil­ity, USB con­nec­tion and Blue­tooth au­dio stream­ing, a re­verse cam­era and a touch­screen, and all the func­tions can be con­trolled via but­tons on the three-spoke steer­ing wheel.

The sys­tem worked well enough with de­cent sound re­pro­duc­tion, and pair­ing a smart­phone proved easy. What was an­noy­ing was the sys­tem in­sis­tence to ask for an agree­ment that you will use the sys­tem re­spon­si­bly while driv­ing. It does this ev­ery time you restart the Navara, and the sys­tem doesn’t work un­til you’ve pressed the “I agree” but­ton on the screen. We found this rather an­noy­ing.

For the rest, the cabin is cer­tainly more SUV-like than on the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion Navara. It’s com­fort­able, spa­cious and sump­tu­ous. All in all, the cabin is a good place to spend plenty of time in.

THE RIDE

This is where it gets in­ter­est­ing. As the first bakkie equipped with the five-link, coil spring rear sus­pen­sion, the new Navara is said to have moved the goal posts for bakkies in the ride and han­dling de­part­ment. So has it?

Well, if it has, it may have moved the ride and han­dling goal posts by only a few mil­lime­tres. It’s not like a first­time Navara driver would, af­ter cov­er­ing a few hun­dred me­tres in the bakkie, say some­thing like: “This sus­pen­sion is just soooooo amaz­ing!”

That said, when you tackle a tarred moun­tain pass at speed, the com­bi­na­tion of the 18-inch wheels and sus­pen­sion set-up

en­sure spritely, sporty SUV-like han­dling traits. You can chuck it into a cor­ner, and the tail, even with no load, won’t get up­set about it at all. If you pre­fer to chuck your bakkie into cor­ners a lot, there’s also an op­tional sport sus­pen­sion set-up avail­able.

Ul­ti­mately though, the sus­pen­sion is not the ma­jor ad­vance­ment the hype promised.

The 2.3-litre four-cylin­der en­gine has two tur­bocharg­ers: a small, high-pres­sure turbo and a larger, low pres­sure tur­bocharger. The smaller ver­sion comes into play at lower en­gine revo­lu­tions, and coun­ters the age-old boost is­sue of turbo lag. At higher en­gine speeds, the ex­haust gas is chan­nelled to the large, low pres­sure turbo. This, says Nis­san, al­lows for more low-speed power and im­proved con­sump­tion.

In our test unit, the twin-turbo en­gine was mated to a seven-speed au­to­matic gear­box. The gear­box is maybe not quite as re­fined and ef­fi­cient as the eight-speed auto used in the VW Amarok, but we reckon it’s cer­tainly a step-up from the Hilux and Ranger’s au­to­matic gear­box ef­forts.

On the road, the ‘box and the DDT en­gine com­bine to in­deed of­fer lag-free mo­tor­ing. In this re­gard it cer­tainly has one up on the VW Amarok 2.0BiTDI AT, which can, if you catch it in an un­guarded mo­ment, dis­play a mea­sure of lag.

Nis­san claims an av­er­age (com­bined) fuel con­sump­tion of just 6.5 litres/100km, which sounded quite op­ti­mistic when we first noted it. In prac­tice, and over a dis­tance of about 1 000km, we man­aged an av­er­age of 9.5 litres/100km. This in­cluded a long-dis­tance trip, city slick­ing and a patch of rough gravel-road driv­ing.

CAN IT 4x4?

Ad­e­quately, yes. It’s a part-time 4×4 with a trans­fer case based on a tough lad­der-frame chas­sis, and it has the op­tion of 2H, 4H and 4Low drive modes. You can shift from 2H to 4H at speeds up to 100km/h.

The Navara also gets the lat­est ver­sion of Nis­san’s Ac­tive Brake Lim­ited Slip Dif­fer­en­tial (ABLS) sys­tem, as was used in the Nis­san Pathfinder. The sys­tem ac­tively man­ages the trac­tion, work­ing in con­junc­tion with the ve­hi­cle dy­namic con­trol (VDC) sys­tem.

For most ap­pli­ca­tions, the ABLS sys­tem works okay, but we’ve found it less ad­e­quate on re­ally tough 4×4 ob­sta­cles. Es­sen­tially, a wheel needs to lose trac­tion and spin for the sys­tem to re­act and di­rect power else­where. When a wheel or wheels spin, you lose mo­men­tum: and los­ing mo­men­tum and spin­ning to a (brief) halt is not the ideal way to tackle most ob­sta­cles. Thank­fully, there is a good old electronic rear dif­fer­en­tial lock in the ar­moury, too.

Nis­san claims 229mm ground clear­ance. That op­tional 4×4 ac­ces­sories cat­a­logue will come in ex­tremely handy if you re­quire a bull bar, rock slid­ers, sus­pen­sion up­grades or winches. If you want to head off to Tim­buktu in your shiny new Navara, you can have some of those op­tions fit­ted and head off into wild Africa in a highly ca­pa­ble over­lan­der.

SUM­MARY

Is the Nis­san Navara the new bench­mark in the dou­ble cab bakkie class? Well, af­ter a week liv­ing with it we reckon it’s close. Un­for­tu­nately, it’s not quite the game changer we had imag­ined. Don’t get us wrong: it re­ally is a very, very good pack­age, and it de­serves to sell re­ally well.

Yet it has so far failed to set the sales charts on fire, sell­ing a monthly av­er­age of 135 units (April to June 2017). Why? Well we don’t reckon the ac­tual Navara bakkie is at fault; in­stead it’s the cir­cum­stances around its in­tro­duc­tion that have caused it more harm.

For one, it ar­rived in South Africa about two years too late. A lot of Nis­san fans had ea­gerly awaited this model’s ar­rival, which had been on sale in Aus­tralia since 2013. Many of them had since moved on to other brands.

Also, the Nis­san now has to com­pete with the seem­ingly un­touch­able Hilux and Ranger bakkies in the lo­cal mar­ket, too (only the Isuzu KB is putting up some form of re­sis­tance).

Un­for­tu­nately for Nis­san, our econ­omy is in a tech­ni­cal re­ces­sion. Ex­cept if your sur­name is Op­pen­heimer or Ramaphosa, the av­er­age South African cus­tomer seems to be, at this point in time, hold­ing back on ac­quir­ing a new house, or a new car, or even a new toaster. If they do fork out some money, they ap­pear to be stick­ing to main­stream op­tions.

So, through very lit­tle fault of its own, the Navara is – un­for­tu­nately – fac­ing a bit of an up­hill sales bat­tle. De­spite any bench­mark set­ting, or not.

Left: Nis­san’s new Navara cer­tainly looks good, and it draws a lot of at­ten­tion on the road. Some reckon the Navara ar­rived in South Africa about two years too late; many de­vout Nis­san fans have tired of wait­ing, and had moved on to other brands. Be­low: The cabin is a lux­u­ri­ous busi­ness. The in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem in­sists on a push-but­ton dis­claimer ev­ery time you restart the Nis­san, which is a bit an­noy­ing.

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