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