Nissan has decided that the Swiss Army knife of its range, the Navara pick-up, needed to be more like its crossovers in terms of comfort. Therefore, double-cab versions of this workmanlike vehicle now get five-link rear suspension to make it a more comfortable machine when not laden. Nissan should be commended, as it is a vastly improved all-rounder compared to its predecessor as a result - it's just a shame the engine is so agricultural.
In the Metal:
You could say this about any type of car you'd care to mention - hatchbacks, mid-sized estates, executive saloons and so on - but when it comes to penning a pick-up, there's little designers can do with the basic shape of the vehicle to make it stand out from the competition. This is a case of form following function and while the new Nissan NP300 Navara (tested here in double-cab format, which will be of chief appeal to private buyers), is certainly chunky, handsome and blessed with plenty of presence, it's one of a number of increasingly homogenous designs in this sector. There's a big, bluff front end with a dominant grille, a cabin with a relatively small, high-set glasshouse and a tailgate aspect with upright, thin light clusters. Take the badges off it and it's not a million miles off the look of the Ford Ranger, for example.
Still, Nissan has done a good job of differentiating as much as it can where it can, with the sides showing plenty of sculpting to give the wheel arches prominence - as well as reflecting light in a multitude of shades on the doors - and an almost clamshell-esque bonnet that helps to position the corners of the car when off-roading. It's also available in two colours with terrain-based names, this brown example known as Earth Bronze and a lighter orange hue dubbed Savannah Yellow.
Nissan has fed some of the learnings it has picked up from its hugely successful crossovers (like the Juke and Qashqai) into the Navara's cabin design and the outcome is a massively improved environment compared to its predecessor's drab offering. The plastics on top of the dash, the sun visors and bits of the door card still feel cheap and utilitarian, but otherwise this is an interior of high quality. A neatly styled centre console now features a seven-inch touchscreen for the on-board infotainment (on higher-spec models, at least), the dials and instrument cluster display screen are sharp, the multifunction, leather-lined steering wheel no longer looks like a refugee from a low-rent panel van and on a really top-line car like the one reviewed here you get pretty much every gizmo, driver aid and comfort option you'd expect on a good SUV. We heartily approve.
While the exact Navara range for Ireland has yet to be confirmed, what we know so far about the Nissan across Europe is this - there's just one engine, a 2.3-litre four-cylinder diesel lifted from the NV400 commercial vehicle. It comes in two states of tune: as a single-turbo unit with 160hp and 403Nm; or as a beefier twin-turbo lump kicking out 190hp and 450Nm. In the main, it is mated to a six-speed manual gearbox and four-wheel drive, but a seven-speed auto is offered on higher-spec models of the twin-turbo double-cab only, while there's a two-wheel drive version on a very basic single-turbo king-cab variant alone.
Ah yes, cabs. There's an important distinction to be made here and it relates to how many full-sized doors there are into the passenger compartment. Despite its regal-sounding name, don't let the king-cab fool you into thinking it is the more capacious of the options. It actually has two rear-hinged doors allowing access to a rear pair of token fold-down jump-seats with very limited legroom; it is this vehicle that is aimed primarily at the commercial owner market, and therefore it has limited specification packages and leaf springs for the rear suspension. The bigger double-cab has four proper doors, five roomy seats within... and the truck's real USP, five-link suspension on the back axle.
This is a first in this segment, as even key rivals like the Mitsubishi L200 and Volkswagen Amarok stick with the primitive leaf springs on all models. This means that, with no cargo, the multilink-suspended NP300 Navara has the best level of ride comfort of any pick-up going. It doesn't skitter and bounce like the competition, instead soaking up bumps with a languid air of compliance. Things get better dynamically as the reasonably hefty steering has plenty of feel and consistency, there's masses of grip, a tolerable (but noticeable) amount of body roll, strong brakes, decent suppression of tyre noise and wind buffeting, plus a seven-speed auto that is a good, if not brilliant self-shifter. Yep, for private owners who do mostly road driving, the Navara is deeply, deeply impressive.
It's extremely capable off-road too, as its four-wheel drive system operates in three modes: the NP300 is rear-drive as standard; it can be shifted into and out of '4Hi' mode on the fly at speeds of up to 100km/h; and if the going looks really tough, then the tough Navara can get going with '4Lo', which requires the Nissan to be in neutral and with its wheels all pointing straight for the low-ratio transmission to be engaged or disengaged. In just 4Hi, though, it will climb a narrow, rocky mountain trail with little difficulty despite its sheer physical size (5,330mm long with a 3,150mm wheelbase, 2,085mm wide, 1,840mm high and weighing in at 1,958kg without so much as a driver on board), while you're sat there in leather-lined luxury with the climate set to a comfortable 19 degrees C. Another job done very well by the Navara.
What a shame, then about the 2.3-litre engine. Good grief, it is loud. The turbos make a phenomenal racket under only modest acceleration, while the four-pot engine gets gruff of note and strained of power delivery if you dare to venture beyond 2,500rpm. OK, it quietens down to slightly more acceptable levels when on a trailing throttle or cruising, there's enough torque to make for easy-going performance and it's relatively green considering the Navara's aforementioned bulk, but otherwise it feels at least ten years out of date compared to current turbodiesel units. Shame.
What you get for your Money:
Irish pricing for the Navara has yet to be confirmed, but we expect it to be a little more than before - for enhanced equipment etc. Entry-level XE versions come with air conditioning, electric windows, Bluetooth, aux-in and USB ports, cruise control and a load of active safety systems. The SV model adds 16-inch alloy wheels, keyless start and a few other styling niceties inside and out. Above that is the Navara SVE, featuring 18-inch alloy wheels, a leather steering wheel and gear shifter, privacy glass, rear view camera, dual-zone climate control, electrically folding door mirrors with LED indicators and other styling tweaks. At the top of the range sits the LE, featuring LED headlights, roof rails, NissanConnect 2.0 with a seven-inch screen and satnav, a sunroof, rear parking sensors and more.
Some other data for you: the Navara can handle more than a tonne of payload in its flatbed, regardless of cab specification, and can tow 3,500kg of braked trailer if it's a four-wheel drive model; the gross combined weight (full complement of passengers, stuff in the load bed and a trailer out the back) is six tonnes, which is more than enough for most reasonable needs. In terms of its outright off-road capability, the NP300 Navara has 223mm of ground clearance, and approach/departure/breakover angles (in this specification) of, respectively, 30.4, 25.6 and 22.2 degrees.
The Nissan NP300 Navara is a superb pick-up and is worth consideration for its (by the standards of this class) sublime ride alone. More than that, though, the interior is excellent, there's plenty of kit for what we hope will be very reasonable prices, it looks pretty damn fine and it's a real jack-of-all-trades character in a way no 'regular' SUV could ever hope to be. The Navara's one weakness is a wheezy 2.3-litre diesel engine that lacks a bucket load of refinement in comparison to its rivals' motors, but if you drive one and can live with the noise of the drivetrain, then the Nissan pick-up is one of the best in its class.