Good: loads of interior space, very capable off-road, feels unbreakable.
Not so good: loud engine, unsatisfactory driving controls, low-speed comfort.
Have you ever driven in America? In certain states it's quite bizarre (to a European reared on small diesel hatchbacks, in any case) how many pick-up trucks there are on the road. And while many of them are used as work vehicles, many more are the equivalent of a family car. I suspect they don't have the same taxation rules as the Irish market. Here, in case you didn't know, it costs a flat rate of €333 to tax a registered commercial vehicle each year, regardless of how much CO2 it emits. However, to stop everyone rushing out and doing that with crew cab pick-ups and SUVs, there are strict rules regarding private use. So much so that you shouldn't even do something like drop the kids off at school on your way to work in your commercially-taxed pick-up.
That's a shame, as the latest generation of such vehicles are more suited to family life than ever before. I lived with the new Nissan NP300 Navara for a week and it fitted in seamlessly, even if it was a bit huge and incongruous looking parked outside the house. Saying that, the LE version reviewed here does a good impression of a well-equipped car, with exterior features like LED rear lights, chromed door mirrors, silver roof rails, LED headlights, 18-inch alloy wheels, privacy glass and even a tailgate spoiler. It's still a lumping great truck under all that finery though.
The interior is less workmanlike, with decent materials used in its construction and a seating position not too dissimilar to a car's - albeit significantly higher up, requiring you climb up into the thing in the first place. Again, this LE version has plenty of toys, such as electric windows all-round, Bluetooth, USB and aux-in ports, dual-zone climate control, rear view camera and the swanky Nissan Connect 2 touchscreen infotainment system. More impressively (and applicable to all versions of the Navara Double Cab), there's really decent space in the back seats. Three well-fed lads will sit there without getting on each other's nerves on a long journey and the aforementioned family man will find they can fit in three child seats (depending on their shape and size, as ever).
Oddments space is pretty good and generously proportioned, which will suit work and family needs alike. That's especially important as there's no lockable boot as such. Need to bring a buggy? It gets chucked in the flatbed, which might get you some funny looks. The rear, as you'd hope, is of a good size and the heavy tailgate feels like you could park a forklift on it and it still wouldn't buckle. We're not the load carrying experts here, but suffice to say the Navara does everything it needs to from that point of view and it can tow up to 3,500kg too.
Now to enable all that, the Navara, like most pick-ups of this sort, is built on a ladder frame chassis. The downside of this has always been flex and shimmying through the structure as the pick-up tries to tackle traverse bumps. Though Nissan makes a lot of noise about the Navara's five-link rear suspension, saying it enables good load-carrying while optimising ride comfort and agility, we don't think it's massively better than its rivals in that department - at least when there's no weight in the rear. At urban speeds it's least impressive, picking up on every pothole and speedbump, though it's far better out on the open road and it's surprisingly good on the motorway - comfortable and relatively refined too.
Shame the same can't be same for the engine. The 2.3-litre twin-turbocharged diesel unit is loud, especially when cold, and it never really quietens down as much as you'd like it to. Nor is the six-speed manual gearchange particularly pleasant to use. The engine does make up for that somewhat with a thumping 450Nm of torque low down the rev range so there's no real need to rev it. Hence we averaged a respectable enough 9.0 litres/100km (31.4mpg) in a week of hurrying about that included a few motorway schleps and even a venture into the mountains.
While there, we tested the four-wheel drive hardware on a tricky course and it performed well thanks to excellent ground clearance and the ability to lock the differentials at the press of a button. On the move it's possible to switch quickly between rear- and four-wheel drive too, which you'd be advised to do when the weather turns bad as it's laughably easy to spin a single wheel when in two-wheel drive mode.
All that versatility is probably why you'll see so many of these things on American roads, but we're not quite ready to give up our crossovers and saloons for them here just yet. Those that need such vehicles for work will find that the new Navara is certainly one of the most impressive.