Utes are no longer no-frills workhorses, it seems.
The Navara is Nissan’s entry into the ever-popular ute segment, building on a long line of tough, dependable workhorses that have been around in one form or another since 1997 (called the ‘Frontier’ in some markets). The bones of the Navara will underpin things like the Renault Alaskan and the Mercedes-Benz X-Class, and is pipped to also find work beneath the next-generation Mitsubishi Triton.
The engineering behind the Navara makes it more car-like than most, with dual-cab models coming with multi-link rear suspension promising a better ride than the typical leaf-spring setup employed by its rivals. Pair that up with great value and improved refinement and the Navara is a ute that’s definitely focused at being more of a passenger car than an outright workhorse, which is both good and bad (but we’ll get to that later on). Regardless, the Navara packs an advanced 2.3-litre turbo-diesel engine (twin-turbo on higher models, with more power) as well as a fantastic 7-speed automatic gearbox that works best with the Navara’s personality.
“Further inspection reveals that although it looks crossover-like, it’s still a commercial vehicle at heart.” - Autocar
The Navara is definitely a good looking ute, no doubt about it. The sleek face is made more imposing by rising flanks on the bonnet, as well as LED headlights with daytime-running lights on higher-end models making it look properly sophisticated. Down the sides, you’ll find flared wheel arches reminding you that this is a powerful workhorse, while the rear (like the tailgate) features complex surfacing that minimises the slab-like appearance of some utes.
Naturally, the higher up the food chain you go, the better the kit you find on it. Chrome grilles, alloy wheels, and roof-rails are reserves of only top-end models, though even the SL-trim double-cab looks good with its steel wheels. It’s testament somewhat of the Navara’s design, being able to look good even without the dual-tone alloys that the ST-X enjoys.
Engine & Drivetrain
“While the seven-speed auto is my pick of the gearboxes on or off-road, the six-speed manual is still capable and does the job smoothly enough…” CarAdvice
Two engines make up the Navara lineup. Rather, one engine with two power outputs. While the base 120kW 2.3-litre turbo oiler makes do with just one turbocharger, SL models and upwards gain an additional turbocharger that brings with it another 40kW. The single-turbo engine also manages just 403Nm, whereas the twin-turbo pulls to the tune of 450Nm.
Two transmissions are on offer, with a six-speed manual and a seven-speed automatic. Of the two, our recommendation lies with the automatic, which is smart enough to never feel overwhelmed even when worked hard, and provides effortless performance on highway jaunts.
“The somewhat agricultural feel many [utes] have on the road is often replicated in the cabin, but Nissan has gone to great lengths to make the Navara feel like a passenger car inside – and this has paid off.” - AutoExpress
It’s important to remember that utes today are still built to last forever, so their interiors focus more on hardiness than outright plushness. Once that’s taken into consideration, the interior of the Navara can be seen as rather impressive, providing a very car-like ambience. Visibility is great all around, with big windows letting in lots of light (with top-spec dual-cabs coming with a sunroof to let even more light through). Seats are pliant and plush, offering plenty of comfort over distances.
There’s plenty of room in double-cab models, with considerable head and legroom for all passengers. The controls offered feel well-engineered and properly screwed together, lending the impression that the Navara can likely outlast you. It’s not quite as plush as the Volkswagen Amarok for example, but it’s entirely commendable for a ute.
Behind the Wheel
“We're not going to beat around the bush, the NP300 Navara has the best ride comfort of any unladen pick-up we’ve experienced.” - Autocar
Being a ute, the Navara doesn’t exactly offer the final word in handling agility and driver involvement. The steering is relatively heavy despite the assistance offered, and requires more input to turn lock-to-lock, hampering low-speed manoeuvrability to a degree. The steering weight gets better at motorway speeds, feeling planted and stable. Motorways are where the Navara shines, with the multi-link rear suspension on double-cab models feeling significantly more settled than leaf-sprung models.
Pull off the motorway and the Navara falters somewhat, with the rear being noticeably less pliant than the front. It bounces around a little less than most utes do, though the issue worsens when handling a load: The multilink rear suspension doesn’t cope with weight quite as well as its leaf-sprung competition does, with some reviews of the Navara noting that it hits bump stops (a little bit of rubber that stops metal-on-metal contact when the suspension reaches its limit) easily when introduced with a load. This puts the Navara on the back foot compared to the rest of the competition, that are far more competent in carrying loads in the cargo bed.
Towing is unimpeded though, with a solid 3500kg braked towing capacity. The seven-speed automatic makes light work of towing too, with a manual override function on offer should you need to get a move on.
Safety & Technology
“Every Navara has stability control and seven airbags – even the Single Cabs. That adds up to very good safety basics for a ute. ” - WhichCar
This is where the Navara shines, in terms of safety technology. The Navara packs an impressive 7-airbags in all models. This puts it way, way ahead of other single- and King-cab utes, which usually make do with just a pair, and definitely puts it among the safest double-cab family utes out there. Also included as standard is stability control, which can be a lifesaver on difficult terrain or in slippery conditions.
Stability control is also standard, while a reverse camera gets lobbed in from SL-grades upwards.
The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) rated the Nissan Navara a full five stars in July 2015, and the rating covers all body styles and variants.
Nissan’s got a strong contender in the Navara, with strong engines powering refined, competent utes that tick all the right boxes. Yes, it’s guilty of being a bit more passenger-car than rough-and-tough workhorse, but that compromise means it fares better with buyers who might want a ute that’s better at being a family hauler. The 2.3-litre turbodiesel is a real gem of an engine, especially with the two turbos, as the power delivery is remarkably linear (though not quite as refined as the V6 in the Amarok, or indeed the V6 the Navara used to carry).
The Navara is also a great value contender, with excellent packaging for the prices on offer. The exceptional safety packaging also means it’ll likely sway buyers who put safety as a top priority. Those who might be focused on hard work however may look elsewhere, with utes like the Toyota Hilux, Ford Ranger, Holden Colorado and Volkswagen Amarok offering better hauling capability and more torquey engines.
That said, the Navara offers great motorway manners and impressive refinement, and is best as a ute-in-a-suit rather than a workhorse (in double-cab guise, at least). This is a car that you can allow to sway you solely with its looks, because when you look deeper, it’s still pretty good.
WhichCar – 4.0/5.0 – “The most striking feature of the Navara ute from Nissan is how well the better equipped versions combine high power with low fuel use. The Navara also offers a very comfortable cabin, and is smaller, and easier to park, than most utes. The Navara Series 2 rides and handles much better than its immediate predecessor, the NP300. There are rear-wheel drive and four-wheel drive versions.”
WhatCar? – 3.0/5.0 – “The Nissan Navara is relatively comfortable and comes with a reasonable level of kit, but it’s not much fun to drive.”
AutoExpress – 4.5/5.0 – “The Nissan Navara is a well-equipped one-tonne [ute] that’s more refined to drive than most.”
CarAdvice – 7.5/10 – “While it does offer a solid engine with impressive fuel economy figures, it lags behind the Ranger and Colorado in terms of ride compliance and comfort.”
Autocar – 4.0/5.0 – “The Navara is far more comfortable than its competition, looks good in the metal (to these eyes at least) and yet is still able to carry or tow big loads, therefore if you are in the market for a pick-up it is the one to go for. But is it a direct competitor to an SUV? That’s a tricky question to answer.”
Wheels Magazine – 5.0/5.0 – “The updated Nissan Navara might look the same as before, but suspension revisions have made a big difference to coil-sprung versions of this popular ute. Despite minimal changes elsewhere, improvement in this area is worthy of a ‘Series 2’ moniker. While the Navara is not perfect, it’s a hell of a lot better.”