You can buy a no-nonsense, two-plus-two King Cab Navara with a truncated cab, rearward opening back doors and very few frills besides. However, it’s the spacious and plushly appointed Double Cab that Nissan reckons will hold the most appeal to UK buyers. That said, be under no illusion: the Navara is one seriously imposing lump of metal. Weighing in at a tad over two tonnes, measuring a stretched limo-rivalling 5.3 metres long and towering above most other road users, it’s guaranteed to make your passengers duck every time you skim under a multi-story car park height restrictor. The Stateside-inspired chrome bling, gauche grille, blusterous wheelarches and Bigfoot alloys will no doubt raise a few disapproving eyebrows among the Gymkhana set, but who cares? They’ll be as green as their wellies when you fling down the Navara’s tailgate and set up your VIP hospitality hotspot in your alfresco flat-bed load bay.
With a sophisticated dash layout, materials more in keeping with a luxurious SUV’s, and plush carpeting throughout, it feels a bit sacrilegious to be clambering in and out of the Navara’s cabin with muddy wellies. Unlike the rather cramped King Cab version, the Double Cab layout provides four wide-opening doors and loads of space for five; and, because there’s so much glass, it’s feels bright and airy. Granted, it is a bit of an effort to hike yourself up into the cabin, but once ensconced in the supportive driver’s seat, it’s easy to get comfortable, despite the fact the steering wheel only goes up and down and the pedals are slightly off-set in-board. There are also plenty of useful cubbies to prevent sarnies, flasks of tea and the latest Screwfix catalogue from flying around when the going gets rough.
The Navara can handle a 1.0-tonne payload and pull a trailer carrying 3.5 tonnes, but not simultaneously. If you’re hauling your maximum trailer weight, then 550kg is the most you can shove into the flat bed. Still, unless you plan on running away with the circus, we reckon that’s plenty. The drop-down tailgate and load bay area are pretty much on a par with the rest of the pick-up pack, easily swallowing a standard single pallet between the wheelarches; but, as with the rest of the pick-up class, your loads are pretty vulnerable to the light-fingered fraternity when left unattended. Of course, because of the height of the flat bed from the ground up, you’ll need a mate to assist, or a substantial ramp and a steady nerve, to load your dirt bike. Thankfully, if you’re into your jet skiing, and need to travel with the tailgate lowered, Nissan’s clever C-channel system (which uses movable cleats that can be locked into tracks built into the floor and three sides of the flat bed) makes it oh-so-easy to strap your load down securely.
Ride and handling
We struggle to think of many low-traction situations that will get the better of the Navara. With switch-on-the-fly high and low ratios and hill descent control, it’ll scrabble down rocky gullies and climb muddy banks like a mountain yak. However, thanks to its surprisingly heavy steering and an excruciatingly large turning circle, performing a three-point-turn in 5.3 metres of Navara in the middle of a busy street, can all too quickly descend into a sweaty-palmed farce. This same steering affliction also affects the Navara’s ability to go round corners. In fact, even keeping to the correct side of the road when tackling tight switch-back bends can present something of a challenge. Nissan’s engineers reckon a pragmatic ‘stability over agility’ steering approach is responsible, as the last thing anyone needs is an overly sharp-steering Navara, loaded to the gunwales, ending up on its ear. If you drive the top-spec Navara with its multi-link rear suspension and then jump back in a more basic leaf-spring model, the difference is night and day. Imagine yourself sitting on top of a washing machine when it switches from delicates to full spin mode and you’ll get some idea…
There’s no arguing with the forcefulness of the top Navara’s 2.3-litre twin-turbo engine, which pulls strongly and progressively, making light of the Navara’s two-tonne bulk. As a result, you don’t necessarily need to pin the accelerator to the floor or cover a country mile before you’re trundling along at a respectable speed. It’s a fairly refined lump, too. Yes, you’re aware of some combustion rattle on initial start-up and under heavy acceleration, but for the most part, it’s relatively remote and you don’t notice too much in the way of vibration. What’s more, once the engine comes off full load and settles into its stride, it’s relatively quiet and relaxed. The smoothness of the gear-shifts from the seven-speed automatic box is pretty impressive, too, and only the odd down-shift shunt as you decelerate blots the copy book. Less inspiring are the brakes, however. Feeling quite wooden and lacking a defined bite point, they initially do a decent enough job of slowing the hefty Navara, but they tend to lose stopping power and the pedal travel becomes elongated with repeated downhill use.
If you’re simply a fan of the Navara’s looks and image, and you’re not worried about creature comforts, then it’s possible to buy a basic truck for not a lot of money. This is especially true if you’re thinking of running your Navara through the company’s books, as you can sweeten the deal even further by claiming back the VAT. That said, you’ll still get clobbered by a pretty stiff BIK bill because of the Navara’s hefty CO2 output. Nissan claims the top-spec Navara is capable of 40-plus mpg, but get it loaded up or start dragging around a horse box and you can wave bye-bye to that kind of economy. At least you get a 70-litre fuel tank, so you won’t have to keep stopping at every other services to fill up.
If you can’t rely on a vehicle built to survive the rigours of the building industry, not to mention the odd war zone, then what can you rely on? Built on a sturdy, box-section underframe and driven by hardy, well-proven mechanicals, the Navara is designed to make light of hard labour. So certain is Nissan of the Navara’s unimpeachable durability, it even emblazons a badge on the tailgate, proclaiming its five-year,100,000-mile, no-quibble mechanical warranty.Overall, Nissan regularly comes in the top ten of various reliability surveys, which is an impressive achievement, given the diversity of vehicles it has in its portfolio.
All Navaras get a decent amount of safety kit, regardless of trim level. As you’d expect, ABS and EBD braking are standard, as are driver, passenger, knee, side and curtain airbags, along with ISOFIX child seat restraints. The latest Navara hasn’t been tested by Euro NCAP’s safety boffins yet, but no doubt Nissan will be hoping it does significantly better than the previous model, which scored just three stars for adult occupant safety and only two stars for pedestrian impact.
You can buy an entry-level Visia-spec Navara with the desirable multi-link suspension, but it’ll come with cloth seats and a lower-powered single-turbo diesel engine hooked up to a manual gearbox. On the other hand, it’s it certainly not short of standard kit. While hill descent control, hill start assist, a locking rear differential and switch-on-the-fly high and low ratio four-wheel-drive systems take care of the rough-roading chores, there are also plenty of creature comforts to ensure you travel in comfort. A USB port, MP3 socket, Bluetooth and steering wheel-mounted audio controls take care of your communication and entertainment, while air-conditioning and cruise control help keep you cool and relaxed. You’ll need to invest in Acenta + trim to access the twin-turbo diesel and you’ll need an additional wad of cash on top of that to get the seven-speed automatic. At least dual-zone climate control and a five–inch HD colour screen are included, along with some additional bling. You might want to think long and hard at this juncture, because from here on up, the additional kit is more ‘nice to have’ than essential, and pushes you into a price that will gain you entry into some pretty tasty SUVs.
The Navara is capable of hauling some significant loads and is a first-rate recreational vehicle, thanks to some serious off-roading abilities. Sure, it’s not as relaxing to drive or as refined as many SUVs but it adds a level of toughness and load-carrying flexibility that no SUV can match. Next to its pick-up rivals, it’s infinitely more refined and comfortable, and features some impressive luxury touches previously unseen in the class. If you’re in the market for a muscular, versatile and surprisingly civilised, top-end truck, then you need look no further.