Gone are the days when a work ute was just… well, a work ute. These days they often double as fun trucks for the weekend or general family runabouts. For some people, they’re even a status symbol! All of this means that without a full complement of air bags, a 5-star rating, a long list of additional features plus a ride closer to a car than a job site courier, it’s hard for a ute to pip the opposition at the sales target post.
Nissan, with the transition to a Thailand manufacturing facility (the same as many other manufacturers today) have upgraded the Navara with a host of new exceptional features to keep up with the likes of the Triton, Ranger Amarok and the new Hilux. In today’s market the more upmarket the package, the more readily it’s accepted when it’s used for multiple purposes, despite any added expense. Rugged, entry level workhorses are still offered of course, but we’re seeing an upsurge in demand for utes with features like Bluetooth audio streaming, sun roof, touch screens for SatNav and other functions, climate air, and push button start.
The top-of-the-range dual cab ST-X NP300 Navara 4x4 (there are 27 variants available but the ST-X has all the bells and whistles) came with all of the above features and more.
The driver’s seat is leather trimmed, deeply padded, heated, and electrically operated. Sitting here looking at the well set out dash with its big 7” touch screen, prominent main dials in their bezels and data displays all enriched by garnishes of piano black and metal trim, you could be forgiven for thinking that it’s a modern sedan rather than a ute. Then, on the road you experience a quality of ride that’s a country mile ahead of previous Navaras, and right up with the best of the opposition. It’s very easy to forget that this is a 1-tonne commercial ute you’re driving, rather than a modern, upmarket SUV.
That’s a very brief overview of what the Navara NP300 holds in store. Let’s take a closer all round look.
The NP300 looks good, with sleek lines yet a tough, business-like exterior. Side steps, a sports bar at the rear and 18” alloys really dress this ute up. As mentioned, the interior is very car-like – a credit to the Nissan design team. Front seat head room might be a little on the cramped side for really tall drivers, as the tilt/slide opening sun roof of the ST-X takes up a little room above. However, rear seat passengers within the dual cab would experience little of this and would find ample leg and knee room.
Supportive seating, leather trim, ample storage, and rear air vents linked to the dual climate control air come as standard. All dual cab Navaras have an electric sliding rear window at the back of the cabin which is very handy to cool the vehicle down on a warm day. Also, there are three power sockets within the cabin and another weatherproof one in the rear tray.
Other important interior features of the ST-X include smartphone integration for Facebook, Google Search and Pandora, electric controls for all functions, plus steering wheel controls for phone and sound systems and naturally the excellent cruise control.
Even the Navara’s doors, which open very wide for easy entry, are neatly trimmed in the fashion of a sedan or modern SUV, not just a slab of hard plastic material as was the case in yesteryear.
There are a lot of great things about the NP300 ST- X Navara, including an entirely new engine and gearbox set-up. The new engine is a Renault sourced 2.3L intercooled turbo diesel and outputs 120kW of power and 403Nm of torque in the standard RX single turbo variant, with the ST and ST-X range equipped with twin turbos for a lifted output of 140kW of power and 450Nm of torque. Transmission choices come down to a 6-speed manual or a very slick 7-speed auto, as in the ST-X. Neither engine is at all underpowered, it’s just that the single turbo job takes a little longer to spool up and get underway.
On the road the ST-X 7-speed auto gearbox impressed me with its absolutely seamless gear changes. The 4-cylinder diesel engine was a little gravelly at start up but quickly settled into a hum underway in the manner of all good European diesels. On the highway – and with some towing as the photos show – I averaged 8.1L per 100km. The engine/gearbox combination is so sweet that at 100km/h the engine was ticking over at 1750rpm which, of course, accounted for the fuel savings.
Sweet engine and gear box aside, it’s the road manners that really impress with this newcomer to the Nissan stable. Front suspension remains as usual with coil springs taking the bump out of bad surfaces, but the rear of the ST-X is set up with a multi link/coil spring suspension that is streets ahead of the usual leaf springs found on the opposition. The result is a super compliant ride without any jarring or jiggling over virtually any surfaces – yet the load capacity within the lined rear tub with its 1503mm long, 1130 mm (between wheel arches) width is a creditable 930kg, almost a tonne.
On winding roads such as the range on the west side of Somerset Dam, the ST-X Navara suspension and taut body combination was outstanding. There was very little body lean into hard corners, and the ute tracked brilliantly without any steering corrections necessary.
And let’s not forget that the Navara is a dedicated 4WD with a rear diff lock, both high and low range with drive to all four wheels at the twist of a dial. Versatile is the word.
Nissan’s new Navara ticks a lot of boxes. Whether it’s the fuel savings, build and ride quality, overall finish and pride of ownership or the load on the tow ball when it’s time to hook up the boat, there’s a lot to like. The price of the ST-X 4x4 seven speed auto I reviewed was just over $50K drive away, but there’s always a lot of wheeling and dealing when it comes to buying one of these vehicles in a very competitive market. Shopping around will pay.Reads: 592