Navara a classy all-rounder

New Nis­san bakkie cuts it in town and off-road but is up against stiff com­pe­ti­tion, says Mark Smyth

The Herald (South Africa) - - WORLD OF WHEELS -

THERE was a time when the big fight in the bakkie mar­ket was in coun­tries such as South Africa, where we had the Ford Ranger, Isuzu KB, Nis­san NP300 and the peren­nial favourite, the Toy­ota Hilux. The US also has a large bakkie mar­ket but their bakkies are big­ger. What has not been a big bakkie mar­ket is Europe. Un­til now. The re­cent rise in bakkie sales in Europe has driven a flood of new mod­els in the global mar­ket.

Mercedes will say its X-Class is aimed strate­gi­cally at South Africa and other emerg­ing mar­kets, but it also wants to see them be­ing driven across Europe.

Ev­ery­one else is driv­ing a Ford Ranger, the top-sell­ing bakkie in Europe, but man­u­fac­tur­ers are tak­ing note of the in­crease in pop­u­lar­ity glob­ally and South Africa is ben­e­fit­ing. It means we will not only get the new X-Class, but we also have the Fiat Full­back, Mit­subishi Tri­ton, Re­nault Alaskan and this, the Nis­san Navara.

As the Navara is the plat­form for the Merc and the Re­nault there are high ex­pec­ta­tions about the fa­ther of the fam­ily.

It is also a model SA has had to wait un­ac­cept­ably long for, while mar­kets such as the UK got it, and a model that hope­fully will be built here.

An an­nounce­ment on lo­cal pro­duc­tion has been post­poned of­ten, but Nis­san SA is still con­fi­dent it will hap­pen.

We liked the first-gen­er­a­tion Navara. It had at­ti­tude with its big swathes of chrome, in-your-face fa­cade and lux­u­ri­ous ride by bakkie stan­dards. It also had Blue­tooth connectivity in the days when this was only avail­able in lux­ury sedans.

Since then the mar­ket has moved on sig­nif­i­cantly. Ri­vals can claim to be of­fer­ing a lux­u­ri­ous ride, crea­ture com­forts and connectivity too, so does the Navara re­claim its place?

It has to be two bakkies in one be­cause while the NP300 Hard­body will con­tinue as a ba­sic model, the Navara is ac­tu­ally the NP300 Navara, ef­fec­tively re­plac­ing both. It has to be work­horse and leisure ve­hi­cle and this is prob­a­bly why the com­pany en­gi­neered it with a five-link coil rear sus­pen­sion pack­age to at­tempt to pro­vide car-like lev­els of ride com­fort.

No bakkie will ever de­liver on that claim, but on-road the Navara comes the clos­est.

There is still some vi­bra­tion from the rear when un­laden, par­tic­u­larly on stretches of high­way where the tar­mac has rip­pled, but gen­er­ally the rear sus­pen­sion makes things a great deal more com­fort­able than some of its ri­vals.

We has­sled Nis­san to give us de­tails of the new Navara prior to its launch.

We fol­lowed its progress in in­ter­na­tional mar­kets and were ex­cited when it fi­nally ar­rived. It had been hyped up so much we ex­pected it to smash its ri­vals out of the park and claim the king of bakkies ti­tle, but it is not the new ruler of the roost.

The styling is su­perb and while it looks dif­fer­ent to the first gen­er­a­tion, it still has much pres­ence. There is enough chrome to make it clear it is a Navara with­out be­ing too gar­ish and over­all it is a ve­hi­cle that will look as at home in the city as head­ing down a farm track.

The in­te­rior has moved on from the first gen­er­a­tion, par­tic­u­larly in the top-spec LE auto we had on test with leather up­hol­stery and all the bells and whis­tles.

It has a touch­screen in­fo­tain­ment screen that can be a lit­tle fid­dly, but there are also but­tons on the mul­ti­func­tion steer­ing wheel. Gen­er­ally it achieves a good bal­ance of be­ing prac­ti­cal for work and pleas­ant for the week­end leisure ac­tiv­i­ties.

Push the start but­ton and the 2.3 tur­bod­iesel fires up with a bit of a clat­ter, which does not prop­erly dis­ap­pear un­til you turn the vol­ume up rather high on the in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem. The seven-speed auto box is rel­a­tively smooth but of­ten re­quires the revs to climb rather high lead­ing to more noise from the en­gine. Re­fine­ment is a sub­jec­tive mat­ter, but we ex­pected more in this as­pect.

As mo­tor­ing journos we of­ten seek slightly heav­ier steer­ing, but I was sur­prised to find such heavy steer­ing in the Navara. It made driv­ing round un­der­ground car parks an ef­fort, not helped by the feel­ing the steer­ing wheel is a bit too thin.

The auto lights are so sen­si­tive that we kept flash­ing mo­torists in front ev­ery time we drove un­der a bridge.

Where once the Navara was a great bakkie, set­ting a num­ber of new bench­marks, we found the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion will have to fight to com­pete. The Tri­ton beats it on ride com­fort and the Ranger beats it on in­te­rior and pow­er­train. Along with the Hilux, they all beat it on price. It will be fas­ci­nat­ing to see whether it has to make way for its French and Ger­man sons.

SEC­OND GEN­ER­A­TION: The new Navara still has plenty of pres­ence and the styling is good but is in a tough con­test when it comes to bakkies that com­pete in its mar­ket

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