2015 Nissan Navara road test review | muscle with soft side
Dense jungle on both sides of the boggy dirt road it's an interesting place to be behind the wheel of a brand spanking new ute.
Yet Thailand has become the utility epicentre. Nissan has just commissioned its $122 million Thai facility which is building the 12th generation Navara - the first new version we've seen in a decade.
Travelling through challenging narrow routes just outside Chiang Mai, the new Navara put its best foot, or tyre, forward.
Expected to reach Australia early next year this rough-and-tumble utility now has a softer side.
It's more car-like and comfortable than anything we have seen before wear the Navara badge.
Under the skin
While currently billed as "Australia's most powerful tradie", Nissan will drop its V6 turbo diesel from the line-up.
Instead there will be a choice of three four-cylinder engines - two diesels and a petrol. Given the four-pot diesel is the most popular in the current range, that probably won't disappoint too many buyers.
While it will no longer have the "grunt" title, the new Navara will match its competition with a 3.5-tonne towing capacity and one-tonne payload.
The new 2.3-litre diesel engine we sampled will come in two levels of tune, the higher output variant boasting a twin turbo good for 140 kilowatts.
On the road
During our journey encompassing easy highway travels, broken concrete paths, twisting bitumen passes and sodden mountain tracks, the Navara proved a willing accomplice.
There were some overtaking occasions and difficult terrain which called for foot-to-the-floor acceleration, and the oil-burner proved burly and robust when called into action.
Get it working above 1300rpm and the linear power delivery is smooth. It can be partnered to either a six-speed manual or a seven-speed automatic and both proved adept - although our choice would be the self-shifter for ease of use.
While there is some noticeable diesel clatter at start-up and things can get noisy under hard power, the Navara is quiet and refined for a truck. It gets along wonderfully on the highway with a much softer and quieter ride than we've seen before from Nissan in this genre.
Much of that improvement can be attributed to the multi-link rear suspension, but the leaf-spring set-up will also come on some models - including the cab-chassis variants.
You don't get bounced around or crash over bumps even with an unladen rear end. Bound into a corner with too much enthusiasm and you feel its bulk, yet that's par for the high-riding truck course.
The steering borders on heavy, and some spaghetti-armed blokes and betters halves of tradies may find it hard work. Some twisty terrain required some fast hands and metropolitan car parks could be a challenge.
Borrowing internal styling cues from the Pathfinder and X-Trail stablemates, there is no doubting the Navara is a hefty step forward in the comfort stakes.
There is only tilt adjustment of the steering wheel which will cause some issues for tall and burly drivers.
The rear pew still has very upright seat backs, although they are well contoured, and combined with the compliant suspension, means the accommodation is family friendly.
Two adults fit nicely, three can be done, but there would be some complaints from three husky chaps.
Both front seats are nearly identical to the ones we have seen in the Altima sedan - they're supportive around the torso and offer a cosseting ride over long journeys.
In front of the gear shifter is a handy space to store a phone or music player, close to the USB and auxiliary plug.
The driver has neat analogue instruments, with a digital read out in the centre for trip computer, audio information and sat nav instructions.
There are dual cup holders up front in the centre console and a pair also pop out of the dash, and there is another pair positioned on the floor in the middle of the rear seat, along with bottle holders in each door.
A centre console bin provides extra storage up front and there are rear under-seat storage spots.
Excellent movable tie-down points have been carried over for the tray.
What do you get?
Pricing and specification details are yet to be confirmed.
During our test, the up-spec dual cab variants had leather trim on the heated (front) seats we've seen previously on the Altima sedan, steering wheel and door arm rests, sunroof, along with sat nav with 17.7cm touch-screen, rear air vents, Buetooth phone and audio connectivity, dual zone climate controlled air con and a cool rear window with small electronic open hatch.
Five-star safety is also on the cards courtesy of seven airbags which puts the Navara into fleet consideration.
While there are an array of Navara body styles on offer, confirmed for Australia are standard and wide body widths, along with three cabin choices - single, king (two-door) and dual cab (four-door). A cab-chassis will also be available.
Fuel consumption figures are yet to be released, but are said to be improved by 19% over the outgoing 2.5-litre diesel which ranged between 9.3-10.5 litres/100km. Our test achieved about 10.5 litres/100km.
The Navara is about 70kg lighter than the previous model and has improved aerodynamics.
Capped price servicing will be available and hopefully Nissan will adopt the yearly or 10,000km servicing intervals we have seen available on the Qashqai compact SUV.
Bonnet bulges are said to emulate the lines of a man's muscular arms, while in profile dynamic there are "convex and concave" lines along with big sculpted fenders for an aggressive stance.
It's a truck, still typically big and brawny, but now without the square edges.
The Navara is a vital model for Nissan. Over the past two years it has sold nearly 40,000 units.
In Australia it has become the brand's biggest selling model.
Utes have come a long way since Ford banged out the first model back in 1934. Dual cabs have become particularly popular as weekday worker and weekend family haulers.
The new Navara blends daily use and workhorse.
What matters most
What we liked: Smooth and quiet ride for a workhorse, willing diesel engine, car-like interior.
What we'd like to see: Reach adjustment of the steering wheel, slightly lighter steering feel.
Warranty and servicing: Three-year 100,000km warranty. Expect servicing intervals of every year or 10,000km, prices won't be revealed until next year but about $400 for diesel (slightly less for petrol) for the first 12 services will be close to the mark.
Model: Nissan Navara D23.
Details: Two or four-wheel drive utility, available in standard and wide body widths along with three cabin choices - single, king and dual cab.
Engines: 2.3-litre four-cylinder twin turbo diesel generating maximum power of 140kW @ 3750rpm and peak torque of 450Nm @ 1500-2500rpm (single turbo generates 118kW and 403Nm); 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 118kW and 231Nm.
Transmissions: Six-speed manual or seven-speed automatic.
Towing capacity: 3.5 tonnes, 1 tonne payload.