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FIRST DRIVE
Nissan Navara 2016

Coiled and ready

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Still some noticeable road noise

Raised front wings

The next 12 months will see at least nine new pick-up trucks enter the market, including three brands debuting vehicles in this sector. Competition will be fierce and several of the established players will be weary of their competitors and the new arrivals.

Nissan, however, will be responsible for one third of those new vehicles. Renault will be creating their own pick-up thanks to their long established alliance with Nissan, and Mercedes-Benz too will get in on the act with a premium version of the truck.

As the lead architect, though, it stands to reason that Nissan is first to market, unleashing the NP300 Navara not only before its partners, but before much of the competition. With the new Navara due to make its debut later this month at the Frankfurt motor show, and launch in early 2016, only the Mistubishi L200, launched last month, will be available before it in Europe.

The outgoing model was hugely successful in combining working practicalities with a finesse and desirability that had passenger car and lifestyle customers switching to the Navara, but at heart it is still a rugged, workhorse-like off-roader. Since the Navara’s last proper update in 2004 (there have been facelifts, the most recent of which was 2011) several key competitors, like Ford and Volkswagen, have emerged with capable off-roaders that lean more towards a passenger car audience, leaving less civilised and more traditional pick-up trucks lagging behind.

With their new model, Nissan has looked to bridge that gap by making the Navara more useable for a broader range of customers, integrating features from their new crop of ever popular crossover vehicles. The Navara’s exterior has therefore been redesigned to more closely resemble Nissan’s hugely successful Qashqai car, with a similar v-shaped grille design, while retaining the muscular styling expected of a pick-up. The front wings have been raised to not only give the NP300 Navara a bold new look, but to improve the driver’s visibility of the vehicle’s edges. While on the inside, the dash has been re-shaped and material quality improved to give a similar appearance to both the Qashqai and X-Trail.

Higher specification models even get some of their features including keyless entry, reversing cameras, climate control and a 7in touchscreen with NissanConnect Apps mirroring software. The Navara is gunning for a huge chunk of the lifestyle market, and with standard specification for top of the range models including LED daytime running lights, chrome accents on grille and wing mirrors, roof rails and 18in alloy wheels, they are going about it in the boldest way possible.

New technology features prominently in the revamped Navara, which includes Around View Monitor, a system that lets you see the ground ahead of you on the touchscreen at speeds of up to 10kph and Forward Emergency Braking. Additional features also include Cruise Control, Hill Descent Control and Hill Start Assist.

While these are all decent new features that will impress the hordes of passenger car buyers Nissan hopes to attract, those in the market for a pick-up truck – with knowledge of what they are traditionally like – will be more impressed by the Navara’s smooth new ride.

Rear leaf-springs, a staple of the pick-up sector, have been replaced on the new model by a five-link rear suspension with coil springs. The only model currently to offer this traditionally passenger car suspension is the Ssangyong Korando Sports – a once fringe product due to its poor 630kg payload – that has recently been revised to give a one tonne carrying capacity but at a rock bottom price.

The decision to switch to a multi-link rear suspension is entirely justified as the results are a little short of astounding, and driving both vehicles back to back reveals just how significant the change is. The outgoing Navara bounces and shimmies its way along the road, leaving the driver constantly aware of the rear of the vehicle whilst giving the feeling that the load bed is entirely separate from the cab. The new NP300 Navara does away with that feeling thanks to its new suspension as the multi-link setup removes the wobble and crash of the rear, while a new rubber seal between the load bed and the cab cushions and reduces the shake.

The ride is undoubtedly smoother, but you notice it most as a passenger in the rear. Previously the Navara, like most pick-ups with leaf springs, would gently shake you in to submission over a long journey, but now the ride is almos static and bobble free. To add to the new ride, the rear seat comfort has also been improved by increasing the angle of the seat back and the length of the seat squab. While rear leg room is still not generous, the changes have made the new Navara a much more practical vehicle for four occupants.

From the driver’s seat the Navara now feels even more composed both on- and off-road. The improved ride quality and a faster steering rack making the driving experience more enjoyable and less of a challenge. Enter a fast sweeping corner in the outgoing model and the nose would tend to push outwards, understeering noticeably away from the bend. The new model tracks the corner much better and the driver feels much more involved through the steering wheel and the truck’s contact with the road.

Driving the Navara off-road has become even more effortless thanks to the Around View Monitor (AVM). Already supremely capable in the mud or dirt, the new model demonstrates excellent axle articulation and an abundance of torque at low revs to pull you along at slow speeds when the low ratio gearbox has been engaged. It is then, at these speeds, that the AVM can be used to provide a view of the ground directly in front of you to the centre console screen and assist in navigating particularly difficult terrain.

While Nissan says visibility of the Navara has been improved by raising the wings to bring them in to view, our initial verdict is that the change is of little benefit, and is if anything a slight distraction and more for the visual appearance of the pick-up. Sight lines around the vehicle, however, are good. The electric mirrors are a good size, and the rear window is not as letterbox-like as some others.

The interior has been overhauled, but still retains a familiar style and feel. The steering wheel for example has the same basic layout, but the switchgear has improved and pairs well with the leather wrapping standard on all but the basic models. The inside also feels of a higher quality. The interior plastics are no longer in numerous tones susceptible to scratching, but are tougher textured plastics that create some interest and appeal in the cab. The styling line running through the passenger’s side of the dash is another good example of how Nissan has not just upped the quality but improved aesthetics in order to increase desirability.

Sound penetration is also noticeably improved both from the engine and the road. The 2.3-litre turbo and twin turbo options are now smoother with better response and a greater spread of torque. While road noise is still the greatest intrusion in to the Navara’s cabin, the engine has not only become quitter but vibrations are less apparent too.

The outgoing Navara has been looking tired for quite some time, but this new model will revolutionise the sector. The new Mitsubishi L200 has set its stall out as the new workman rather than luxury lifestyle choice, but the Navara looks set to comfortably straddle both camps. We will have to wait and see whether pricing will be an issue, but given that a both a Renault and a Mercedes model will likely slot in below and above the Navara respectively I think we can assume even the top-spec Navara will still be priced competitively. Add to that the Navara’s five year 100,000 mile warranty and the package looks even more alluring.

Without realising it, the Ssangyong Korando Sports may have set the tone for the new generation of pick-up trucks, however, sadly for them, Nissan has not only entered their niche segment of the market, but has brought with it a much more desirable product. The new Navara is effortlessly capable, generously equipped and now amazingly comfortable. Competition be warned, this pick-up is not just going to pick up sales, it’s in danger of running away with all of them.

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