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DRIVEN: New Nissan Navara ready to fist-fight Ranger, Hilux

2017-03-15 10:30

NAVARA FINALLY HERE: Nissan's all-new Navara double-cab is finally available at dealerships across the country. Image: Wheels24 / Charlen Raymond

Charlen Raymond

Lamberts Bay - After what’s been described as “long overdue”, the all-new Nissan Navara finally arrived in South Africa.

And just to make sure that it is a product that can compete with and against the Toyota Hilux and Ford Ranger, Nissan reworked the Navara and altered it for the South African market.

Long story short, we’re in for a head banger in the bakkie market!

That suspension, though!

The suspension setup on the new Navara is surely the bakkie’s best attribute. Other bakkies, like the aforementioned Hilux and Ranger, as well as the Mitsubishi Triton, make use of a conventional leaf spring suspension setup at the rear.

The 2017 Navara ditches this setup and adopts a five-link coil suspension - a first for a volume-selling bakkie.

READ: New Nissan Navara: 10 things you should know

The application of this setup not only gives the bakkie a smoother ride quality, but it makes the Navara more adaptable to various road surfaces. Plus, it’s 20kg lighter than the conventional leaf spring. At the front the bakkie uses an independent doube-wishbone setup.

The coil suspension “calms” the rear of the bakkie, which 1) improves handling and 2) makes it a lot comfier for rear passengers. It also gives the driver more confidence to push the bakkie deeper into its limits because it feels planted. Even on gravel roads where bakkies’ suspension can succumb to the frustrating, pothole-infested roads, the Navara kept going. 

Despite being 176kg lighter than the previous Navara, at 2910kg the new bakkie weighs quite heavy on the suspension. But thanks to this suspension setup it rarely feels like it. The Navara steers nicely, there is almost no body-roll to speak of and it all culminates in an enjoyable driving experience for all passengers.

Image: Wheels24 / Charlen Raymond

Smaller engine, bigger punch

Nissan ditched the old Navara’s 2.5-litre diesel engine for a newer, smaller 2.3-litre unit with two turbos bolted on. The result is 140kW/450Nm, the latter available from 1500-2500rpm. The engine’s power delivery is almost instantaneous and the accompanying surge verges on being addictive.

Compared, for example, to the Triton’s 2.4-litre diesel engine (which we had on test recently), the Navara’s engine sounds a bit too rough and grunty. Whether it is at idle or at speeds, the diesel clutter will make itself heard. But punch-for-punch this engine is top of its segment, despite the noise.

Two gearboxes are available: a six-speed manual and a seven-speed automatic. The auto ‘box is far more orientated to the lifestyle side than the manual. It has no problem dancing solo through the ratios, but is slow to react when flooring the accelerator. It seems as if the gearbox hesitates as to which lower gear to hook before racing up the rev range.

READ: New Navara to lead Nissan's bakkie assault in SA

But when cruising along at a leisurely pace the ‘box will not have any issues choosing the right gear at any given moment. This unit is then also the one to go for if off-road adventures are your forte. 

The manual gearbox is the more engaging one. It also seems to be the best application to get the best out of the engine. According to Nissan it is more fuel efficient than the auto (6.5l vs. 7.0l/100km), and it is better suited to lugging the 3-ton behemoth around in a more “lively” manner. Notably, though, the travel between the gears is just a tad too big.

Both boxes have strong and low points, but deciding on one will depend on the bakkie’s use to its prospective owner(s).

Model overview

At launch only three models will be on offer, all double-cabs: one in SE trim and two in LE. The SE is only available with the manual gearbox, whereas the LE can be had with either gearbox.

Nissan SA says that the 4x2 derivatives will be coming to market towards the end of the year or early 2018, but a decision on expanding on the range (read: single- and king cabs) will be taken in due course.

READ: 2017 Nissan Navara in SA - We have prices and specs

Tricks the 2017 Navara has up its sleeve include hill start assist (HSA), hill descent control (HDC), aircon vents for rear passengers, and keyless entry/start on LE trim models. While across the entire range standard spec include a reverse camera, 3D navigation, a de-mister for the rear window, as well as a button to open and close the rear window electronically.

Service intervals are every 15 000km and the service plan runs for three-years or 90 000km. The warranty is valid for six years or 150 000km.

The range:

2.3-litre 4x4 SE Double Cab MT - R514 900

2.3-litre 4x4 LE Double Cab MT - R565 900 

2.3-litre 4x4 LE Double Cab AT - R597 900

Image: MotorPress

Is it worth it?

It’s been ten long years since the first Navara was launched in SA and hopefully it won’t be that long before the next one arrives. But this bakkie is a revelation. It shows that bakkies are, and can be, proper leisure vehicles - taking families on holiday in great comfort. The biggest selling point will be the utilisation of the rear suspension setup and it undoubtedly gives the Navara the edge over all other bakkies on sale in SA today.

Depending on what your needs are, the Navara is most likely to fulfill it without any issues.

How South Africa will react to the Navara's arrival remains to be seen, but this is above and beyond the direction future bakkies will be heading in.

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