The writing is on the wall, trucks are becoming insanely popular as car makers blend ever more creature comforts and on-road friendly tech into a repertoire that already includes robust mechanicals, fuel efficient oil-burners and spacious double-cab living spaces. 80-years of Nissan truck making experience has led to this car – which Nissan claims is the ultimate pickup truck.
A substantial increment of marketing maxim considering the preceding Navara was dubbed the ‘Mother Trucker’. God, I love that tag-line – but have they gone a step too far?
Is there a concealed tipping point where a good product starts to estrange purists and traditional buyers who may or may not assimilate their needs and requirements to the current offering? As you’ll see on Page 68, we have driven the new Ford Ranger, and while they have stuck firmly to the guns within their arsenal, on a macro-scale the direction both companies have adopted remain the same – trucks like the all-new Nissan Navara NP300 are becoming more like cars.
Much of the adjudication surrounding this will in no-doubt revolve around the employment of the multi-link suspension setup propping up the rear bulkhead. However, unlike the car market, where purchase decisions can be swayed by the offering of comprehensive after-sales packages or tech-updates, the pickup market is largely dependent on traditional consumer confidence, and the ability deliver value and robustness are spades.
To that effect, a single powerplant services the entire NP300 Navara range. The internally coded D23 series NP300 utilises Nissan’s inline-four variable geometry turbocharged engine to produce 161bhp and 403Nm in the ‘boggo’ manual-cab right up until the 2.5-litre ‘V’ variant. The range-topper 2.5-litre ‘VL’ variant gets a sizeable power hike to produce 187bhp at 3600rpm and 450Nm of torque. In all guises, fuel is supplied through Commonrail system utilising Nissan’s Electronically Concentrated Control System (ECCS). Two transmission types are on offer, a six-speed manual or a first-in-class seven-speed auto. The lot channels its twist force through an electronically controlled four-wheel drive system with a ‘shift on the fly’ function.
The 2.5-litre ‘VL’ variant is where it’s at though with the spec-sheet grin inducing to say the least. And it looks good too. Personally, I adored the brutish looks and wide proportions of the older D40-series, the NP300 at least, subscribes to more conformist proportions.
The nicely rounded front fascia houses angular headlamps which now feature LED main beams and Daytime Running lights. A cool but subtle kink in the front grill interacts with prominent feature line that runs the length of the front bonnet. This in turn sets the tone for smooth flowing silhouette along the flanks – highlighted in the ‘VL’ variant by 18-inche allow wheels. Round the back, another first for the NP300 is the stylised rear spoiler signs off on a look that combines sportiness and elegance.
The overarching feeling one gets when stepping inside is a feeling of spaciousness and simplicity. The wide extremities of the cockpit lend to an acreage of stretching space and just like the flagship Teana, The NP300 ‘VL’ variants also receives the plush zero-gravity seats, which, marketing speak aside are suitably supportive and comfortable. The minimalistic dashboard again hints at the Teana inspired architecture and the fit and finish of this CBU-imported is rather good. I could comment on some scratchy plastics in the lower dash regions but considering this car also has to be robust and rugged – it’s an ideal proposistion. In the rear as well, I can honestly say the shoulder, head and legroom are generous – the car-like ethos holds true here as well.
The execution, however, would then narrow down to how the NP300 Navara drives, which in my opinion is rather splendidly.
Nissan claims that towing and loading performance has not been sacrificed by the rear multi-link setup in the slightest way. The one-tonne loading weight means that the new NP300 Navara operates just as well as its leaf-sprung contemporaries within the class. This is easily noticed once you find a pockmarked patch of tarmac – the trot around town speeds are seamlessly executed with a modern-SUV like agility. Adequate chassis rigidity is accompanied by suppleness that’s uncommon to cars like these.
On a gallop, though – the rear which is still optimised for load hauling starts to dictate the overall character of the chassis, which allows the front to pivot up and down, contributing to a tad soft setup as you hit the larger bumps and dips on a highway. The car remains a body-on-frame setup and hence, the scuttle shake over large road irregularities linger, but where this setup truly shines is its composed ride over expansion joints and potholes.
The steering is superb, light and manoeuvrable – rather distinct with its output. The seven-speed shifter helps mould the driving experience into a calm sense of involvement. The shifts are quick and almost imperceptible while the engine provides a nicely suited surge of aggression after 1900rpm all the way to the 4000rpm mark. Getting up to speeds of around 135kph is a fuss free proposition.
Once on the road, with the low-ratio box activated, the NP300 Navara has the smoothest gearshifts I have ever experienced in a truck. A gentle surge in power is all that is experienced when changing up through the cogs. The suspension setup also noticeably provides an added quantum of suspension articulation when encountering the deeper ruts. I would ideally like to experience if the rear end maintains rigid surefootedness over a rocky terrain – but as far as they road biased tyres would take us, the NP300 Navara was largely faultless.
The brakes are on point too – nicely modulated against the pedal travel, becoming very strong the lower you mash the controls. Activating the Hill-Descent control going downhill was an unnerving experience to say the least – but highly appreciated option nonetheless.
Having experienced the NP300 Navara over roads less travelled brought about a resounding thought, is Nissan wrong for catering to 90-per cent of buyers that would arguably never take their Navaras off-road far enough to engage the low-ratio box? All signs point to no – and given its depth of talent, it well-suited even if one does.
SPEC: Nissan Navara 2.5-litre ‘VL’AT
RM120,800 OTR, GST Inc. without insurance
2488cc commonrail turbo diesel, 187bhp @3600rpm, 450Nm @ 2000rpm
7-speed auto, Electronically controlled all-wheel drive