Bakkies. South Africans love bakkies, especially double cab ones. They have an extra row of seats which counter any reason to be lulled into a sense of false consciousness and buy a sedan. For some South Africans a double-cab 4x4 bakkie is the sign of a free man.
Following this peculiar thread of logic, the Nissan Navara double cab would appears to be nirvana to the average South African bakkie acolyte.
In South Africa the bakkie has always been primarily a workhorse, and then a lifestyle accessory; which explains the volume of double-cabs with rubber-lined load bays. In the United States of America, if a bakkie can tow the oversized boat on a six-axle trailer to the canyon, it is as capable as necessary.
Yet the lines of division between outright workhorse and lifestyle vehicle have become blurred with the Navara.
Not a boxy bakkie
Bakkies are supposed to be boxy, their styling ignoring the presence of a French curve set on the designer's drawing board. They look purposeful, not aerodynamic or symmetric. They are about intimidating proportions, not drag coefficients.
The Navara though, is atypical of traditional bakkie design platitudes as it has a thoroughly contemporary design (neat, proportioned, yet aggressive) without sacrificing the indomitable bakkie presence. You could call it pretty, but that would be a very un-bakkie like complement!
Bakkie aficionados liked the look of our double-cab 4x4 version. Rural types, accustomed to their cattle-rail framed diesel workhorses, commented on it's muscular, shimmering, chrome addled presence: it would be quite a head-turner at the agricultural show they reckon...indeed.
Sophisticated urbanites regarded it as being quite passable for kerbside posing at the local shopping centre too. Double or nothing for the Navara, it is simply the best looking double cab bakkie you can buy right now.
Corpulent power, epic consumption
It looks great, but does it go properly? Power comes from a fuel-injected, 4-litre V6 producing 198 kW at 5 600 r/min and 385 Nm of torque at 4 000 r/min. And no, that's not a typing mistake or some technical foible, this bakkie really has a power curve just 2 kW shy of the magical 200 kW barrier.
Driving through a five-speed automatic gearbox, it is slightly ponderous on the pull-away. Keep the rev-counter needle bouncing between 4 000 and 6 000 r/min though, and it is embarrassingly quick for a double cab 4x4, dispatching the benchmark 0-100km/h sprint in the mid-eight second bracket.
Being a V6 it sounds fabulous too, emitting a sonorous growl that is especially audible with the automatic windows down. After a few ear-splitting bursts of acceleration you can cast your eyes across the attractive instrument panel and actually see the fuel gauge drop in real-time too... nice.
All very entertaining, especially if you own oil-company shares, yet, highly disconcerting if you have to pay for fuel from your own garage card. The Navara, like a good, bakkie owning buddy of mine, loves to have a drink... to the tune of 14 l/100km/h. Fortunately it has an 80-litre tank capacity, otherwise you would never make it home from work.
Looks like a bakkie...rides like a car?
Despite it's huge thirst and hooligan straight-line performance, the Navara is disarmingly cosseting to drive. Bakkies are supposed to ride harshly and sway like drunken sailors on shore leave in cross winds. The Navara though, rides with the decorum of a sedan, and is stable, even taut for a super-sized 4x4.
On tar Navara is positively car-like to drive; only the commanding, elevated view of the road reminding you it is a 4x4. Switch off the sound system, and you can appreciate the sound insulation when cruising on a stretch of highway. The usual, maddening hum of road noise produced by oversized off-road rubber is conspicuous by its absence.
This overall refinement extends to the interior, which is airy and spacious with logically appointed features. Specification is comprehensive with air-conditioning, a six-disc sound system, and cruise control.
Interestingly, the low/high-range 4x4 ratio's are not selected via the traditional transfer-case mini-gearlever, but rather by turning a dial on the centre console - simplicity itself to use for 4x4 novices.
Navara is an interesting juncture for the local bakkie market. It is big and brash enough to beguile traditional South African bakkie devotees, yet modern and refined enough to do the urban runabout too.
Despite being four-wheel drive, Navara is not an extreme off-roader. It has low-range and a rear differential lock, and with ample power is a very accomplished dune rider, but the running boards are vulnerable in rocky terrain.
To many the automatic gearbox appears to be a bit of an Americanised anomaly. Considering the ample power on tap here though, Navara has a predisposition as a tow vehicle, and here the automatic gearbox comes into its own.
Another boon is when putting a watercraft on the slipway, where the automatic drivetrain, combined with four-wheel drive, can prevent many a slippery moment from becoming an all-encompassing disaster.
Contemporary styling and design
Some vulnerable bits off-road
The South African bakkie market is an uncompromising environment. Reputations are painstakingly forged over years of providing to uncompromising consumer demands. South Africans like their bakkies rough and tough - like the Springbok tight five.
Navara provides the muscular styling, barnstorming performance and double-cab people portability South Africans expect, fused with an unexpected measure of refinement.
If a lot of chrome and perpetual visits to your local petrol station are not an issue, it's probably the best double cab 4x4 available. The 5-speed manual version is probably the better buy though, unless you have a serious boat or caravan to tow.
24.com Sport Editor Tank Lanning drives a Navara 4x2 2.5 dCi. Here are his thoughts about it:
What an amazing vehicle! I could go on about the amazing fuel consumption (this beast does more than 10 km to the litre, even in town), the ABS brakes with EBD and BA, the airbags, side impact safety panels and massive off-road approach angle clearance. But I won't, because the best thing about this truck (and it really is an American truck) is that it looks so cool.
So cool, in fact, that people eyeball me enviously when I drive past and actually come up to me in car parks to talk about it. Throw in the sensational six CD shuttle and one of those 'seek out best signal' radios to go with amazing speakers, cruise control on the steering wheel, a sixth gear for cruising at pace on the highway, giant backseat space, a snazzy little sunglass holder above the rear view mirror, and drinks holders everywhere, and you have a vehicle that quite literally scares at nothing else on the road.
Perhaps the only negative is the fact that you have to hand over your keys when filling up, but with the consumption you get, along with a 72-litre tank, this does not happen often enough for it to be a real problem. It's a beast that is a joy to drive.