THIRD TIME RIGHT?

Nis­san’s Navara D23 is less than three years old but has al­ready been up­dated twice. Is it fi­nally right?

Australian Transport News - - UTE MEGATEST -

The Navara D23, tagged as the NP300, ar­rived in mid-2015 and was a sig­nif­i­cant de­par­ture from the out­go­ing and suc­cess­ful D40, which had been on sale for the bet­ter part of the decade. All but one dual-cab D23 fea­tured a coil-sprung live axle at the rear, a fea­ture unique among the main­stream utes in this class.

In what Nis­san said was re­sponse to “feed­back from cus­tomers and deal­ers”, changes were an­nounced a lit­tle over a year later in Oc­to­ber 2016 and im­ple­mented for the 2017 model year. This in­cluded the drop­ping of the NP300 tag (re­placed by Se­ries II), the in­tro­duc­tion of a new work-spec model and, crit­i­cally, new coil springs at the rear and new dampers front and rear. Then, early this year, the sus­pen­sion was re­vised again with new coils and new dampers at the back, a new steer­ing rack ra­tio and var­i­ous equip­ment up­grades.

POW­ER­TRAIN AND PER­FOR­MANCE

The Navara’s en­gine is unique here – well, al­most unique, as the same en­gine is used in the Navara-based Mercedes-Benz X-Class – thanks to hav­ing two tur­bos rather than one. It’s a Re­nault-sourced en­gine with a so­phis­ti­cated bi-turbo ar­range­ment that em­ploys a smaller, quick-spin­ning turbo for more im­me­di­ate re­sponse off idle and then a larger turbo, which kicks in to pro­vide the mid-range and top-end punch.

Se­quen­tial turbo ar­range­ments like this are com­monly used on smaller Euro­pean diesels (sim­i­lar to four-cylin­der Amarok, for ex­am­ple) and pro­vide flex­i­bil­ity that comes from hav­ing both strong low rpm torque and good top-end power.

Thanks to the Navara also be­ing one of the lighter utes here and en­joy­ing the ben­e­fit of a seven-speed au­to­matic and rel­a­tively short over­all gear­ing (55km/h / 1,000rpm in top), it’s a per­for­mance fron­trun­ner here if

you ig­nore the Amarok V6, which is in a league of its own.

The Navara’s 2.3 is also ef­fort­less in gen­eral driv­ing and agree­ably smooth and quiet, ex­cept when pressed hard, where it does be­come some­what noisy. The Navara’s seven-speed au­to­matic of­fers smooth and slick shifts but the shift pro­to­cols in ‘drive’ are very much tuned for econ­omy rather than per­for­mance.

ON-ROAD RIDE AND HAN­DLING

Much of the re­vi­sion work on the MY17 and then the MY18 has cen­tred on the Navara’s heavy load-car­ry­ing and tow­ing per­for­mance. It has also ad­dressed the un­laden ride and han­dling and the front-to-rear sus­pen­sion match, which wasn’t any­thing spe­cial in the orig­i­nal NP300 guise.

In fact, the front-to-rear match was poor (some­what like the very or­di­nary D22) and well short of the nicely sorted D40.

Thank­fully, the Navara feels much bet­ter now sus­pen­sion-wise and, with the quicker, more re­spon­sive steer­ing on the MY18 model, is much more en­joy­able to drive – even if the new rear sus­pen­sion tune means a some­what harsh un­laden ride.

LOAD CAR­RY­ING

In its orig­i­nal it­er­a­tion, the Navara fared very poorly chas­sis-wise when ei­ther tow­ing at 3,500kg, or max­i­mum pay­load. In our 2016 Max Load and Tow test, it fin­ished at the tail of the field, even if the pow­er­train coped well enough at the tow and pay­load lim­its.

The Se­ries II ver­sion did bet­ter car­ry­ing a max­i­mum pay­load, with much im­proved lat­eral sta­bil­ity but still has very much a nose-up, bum-down at­ti­tude on the road. In fact, in this re­gard, it was no bet­ter than be­fore.

With our all-up 900kg pay­load on board, the MY18 Navara per­formed bet­ter again with ac­cept­able han­dling and chas­sis sta­bil­ity.

It cer­tainly didn’t drop as much as be­fore at the back, although the Navara is still short of the best over­all in terms of the way the chas­sis car­ries a heavy load. More pleas­ing is the en­gine per­for­mance with a heavy load on board.

You can still feel the en­gine work­ing a bit harder, and it’s noisy as a re­sult, but the good low-rpm torque and short gear­ing means it’s not too fussed.

Cargo tie-downs that can be repo­si­tioned fore and aft in the rear tub are a handy fit­ment with the ST-X but would be bet­ter mounted on the tub floor rather than high on the tub sides.

OFF ROAD

The Navara has never been par­tic­u­larly ca­pa­ble off road as it’s not en­dowed with much sus­pen­sion travel (de­spite the coils at the rear) and is rel­a­tively low slung.

ST and ST-X mod­els do have a rear locker, how­ever, and the good news is that, when the locker is en­gaged, the elec­tronic trac­tion con­trol re­mains ac­tive on the front axle.

The Navara wouldn’t make it up our set-piece hill climb with­out the rear locker but did so with the rear locker en­gaged. That puts it in front of the Tri­ton and D-Max, even if it did have to work very hard to make the climb. The Navara is also one of four utes here that doesn’t draw its en­gine in­take air from the in­ner guard, and claims the low­est wad­ing depth – just 450mm. Its raised bon­net edges also re­strict vi­sion off road.

“PLEAS­ING IS THE EN­GINE PER­FOR­MANCE WITH A HEAVY LOAD ON­BOARD.”

CABIN AND SAFETY

The Navara has one of the smaller cab­ins here so isn’t the best, es­pe­cially in terms of rear-seat space for three adults. It is nicely fin­ished, how­ever, and has tilt-and-reach steer­ing wheel ad­just­ment. The Navara has seven airbags, which helps con­trib­ute to the five-star ANCAP safety rat­ing.

It has plenty of kit at a rea­son­able price too, with the ST-X in­clud­ing the op­tion of a sun­roof – some­thing unique in this class. A slid­ing sec­tion in the cen­tre of the rear win­dow is also an­other fea­ture unique to the Navara.

PRACTICALITIES

The Navara of­fers no­tably long 12-month/ 20,000km ser­vice in­ter­vals and set-price ser­vic­ing. There’s also a lim­ited range of fac­tory ac­ces­sories that in­clude a steel and alu­mini­u­mal­loy bull­bars, although the ma­jor af­ter­mar­ket com­pa­nies pro­vide a greater range of op­tions.

This top-spec Navara rides on 18-inch wheels but 17s or 16s from lower spec mod­els can be fit­ted to open up the choice of re­place­ment tyres.

Steer­ing wheel switch for au­dio, phone and cruise con­trol

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