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Improvements that have been made to Nissan’s Navara make the new model a significant contender for top honours in South Africa’s bakkie stakes

It has been a long time coming but Nissan’s new Navara represents a major step forward for South Africa’s double cab sector, adding a number of new features and technologies to its armoury.

Initially, the Navara range you’ll find in showrooms consists of three double-cab derivatives comprised of mid-spec SE and high-spec LE variants, each with 4×4 drivetrains, the latter offering the option of six-speed manual or seven-speed automatic transmission. All of the models in the range are powered by a new, common rail, direct injection, four-cylinder, twin-turbocharged, diesel engine that displaces 2,3 litres.

From the front, the Navara’s styling focuses on the V-motion grille. The lines which characterise the bold nose flow into a creased bonnet and are resolved at the tailgate, which features a stamped V-motif beneath a lipped spoiler. Across the range, headlights are of the full LED-type with similarly constituted boomerang-style daytime running lights. The High-grade also features LED turn indicators in the chromed side-mirrors.

The load bay has been stretched by 67mm to 1 503mm and has been made deeper – from 456mm to 474mm – resulting in a freight capacity of 1 061 litres. The vehicle can carry up to a ton of cargo, depending on specification level, and can tow a braked trailer weighing up to 3 500kg.

According to Nissan’s claims, the model’s new suspension set-up and smart design have delivered best in class drive angles in terms of approach (33,0˚), ramp-over (25,2˚) and departure (27,9˚). The suspension and drivetrain set-up also means that the vehicle has a lateral tilt angle of up to 50 degrees. Ground clearance is high, too, measured at 229mm.

The fully-boxed ladder-frame chassis has been reinforced with high-strength steel, while use of new types of metal and other materials – and improvements in design and manufacturing processes – are said to have realised a 176kg weight reduction compared with the previous generation model.

While the new engine delivers its peak power of 140kW at 3 750 revs/min, maximum torque of 450Nm is available between the 1 500 and 2 500 rpm marks – making the vehicle’s progress through the gears superbly smooth. Fuel consumption in the combined cycle is rated at 6,5 litres/100km.

Another significant improvement relates to the adoption of five-link coil sprung suspension at the rear to replace the old-fashioned leaf system of the previous model. In terms of dynamics and comfort – tested on gravel as well as tarmac during the launch of the vehicle – the new configuration, coupled with independent double wishbones at the front, gives the Navara car-like ride attributes with a marked improvement in straight line stability at high speed.

Interestingly, during the launch test drivers were asked to place six raw eggs – housed in a moulded, plastic container – in the vehicle’s cubby hole, the idea being to avoid breaking them while negotiating a 40km stretch of rough gravel road. Though a couple of crews broke a few the eggs, the majority survived the journey intact, testimony to the Navara’s ability to soak up bumps.

More advanced technologies are apparent in the proprietary four-wheel-drive system Nissan employs. The mechanical transfer case, which selects four-wheel drive and low-range, is operated by a turn-knob inside the cabin and can be switched between two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive high at up to 100km/h.

Hill start assist, hill descent control, anti-lock brakes, and a limited slip differential are standard features, along with a plethora of safety attributes that include front, side, knee and curtain airbags.

Behind the steering wheel the driver is welcomed by a new cockpit design which centres on the touch-screen infotainment and navigation system that is standard equipment across the range. One criticism – in bright sunlight the screen becomes difficult to read.

Other than that it appears to work faultlessly, offering 3D mapping with live traffic updates, an audio system with up to 30 pre-set radio stations, video in DVD/VCD/CD/MP3 or MPEG4 format, USB connectivity and Bluetooth with audio streaming – all operated from the steering wheel.

Though standard upholstery is graphite cloth across the range, leather-covered equivalents are available as options on higher specification LE derivatives. Similarly, those models feature dual zone air-conditioning systems instead of the manual equivalent of the SE derivative, remote keyless entry and a push button to start or stop the engine.

In terms of instrumentation, the display mounted ahead of the driver contains the usual speedometer, rev counter, odo and trip meter, but it is supplemented by a secondary information panel which shows average or instant fuel economy, distance to empty and average speed – the functions accessed by buttons on the multi-function steering wheel.

The warranty extends for six years or 150 000km and the model is sold with a comprehensive three-year, 90 000km service plan. In our view, with 80 years of pick-up heritage in its DNA, Nissan’s new Navara comes across as rugged but refined, durable but comfortable – in all a serious off-roader that gives rivals more than a run for their money.

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