2018 Nissan Navara Review
Dave Morley’s 2018 Nissan Navara Review with pricing, specs, performance, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.
In a nutshell Nissan took a big swing at the dual-cab ute concept a coupe of years back, tossing out the old, clunky, stiff leaf springs under the rear of its Navara four-door pick-up and instead fitting coil springs and a five-link set-up. The idea was to make the workhorse ride more comfortably without a load on board. Which it did, but then somebody put half a tonne in the tray and the Navara ceased to cope. This early-life facelift is all about fixing that.
2018 Nissan Navara
Pricing From $33,490 to $54,490 Warranty Three–years/100,000km Safety Five star ANCAP Engines 2.3-litre four-cylinder, single turbo diesel/2.3-litre four-cylinder twin-turbo diesel Power/Torque 120kW 403Nm/140kW/450Nm Transmission Seven-speed automatic/six-speed manual Body 5255mm (long) 1850mm (wide) 1825mm (high, 4X4) Weight From 1810kg Fuel tank 80 litres Thirst 7.0 l/100km combined (twin-turbo 4X4)
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NISSAN COULDN’T really go back to leaf rear springs to fix the Navara’s droopy backside, because that would have been admitting defeat and choking down a huge slice of engineering humble-pie. So, the plan was to try to beef up the Navara’s load-carrying credentials while retaining the coil springs thus maintaining the Nissan hay-hauler’s big point of difference. And since it was the Australian market that complained most loudly about the Navara hitting its rear bump-stops with anything more than an esky on board, Nissan sent its best Japanese assessment specialists, engineers and quality boffins to Central Victoria and the Yarra Valley throughout 2017 to work out and validate the changes.
There have been other alterations, too, with a new steering ratio and various detail and trim refinements. And those all-important rear-suspension fiddles aren’t just for us; they’ll eventually find their way on to the dual-cabs destined for all 120 or so of Nissan’s Navara markets.
What is the 2018 Nissan Navara dual-cab?
While the more utilitarian versions of the Navara remain relatively unchanged (and retain the conventional leaf-spring rear end) the dual-cab variants which are the hot sellers in Australia (the Navara dual-cab ST makes up 28 per cent of Aussie Navara volumes) all the pick-up (style-side as opposed to cab-chassis) versions get the five-link, trailing arm suspension and coil springs to locate the live axle.
The problem was, of course, that the coil spring Nissan initially specified was simply too soft when a load was hurled into the tray. Yes, the vehicle rode better than most of the competition unladen, but a ute that can’t haul a load is up there with a chocolate teapot on the useless scale.
The fix has turned out to be a fairly simple one: Dice the soft, linear-rate rear coil spring for a stiffer one with a variable rate. The variable rate is courtesy of the spacings in the coil’s windings and the softer part of the spring comes into play when there’s no load on board. Compress the spring beyond that point (with a load) and the stiffer part of the coil chimes in, offering much more resistance to the mass and keeping the axle off the bump-stops. The revised spring has delivered a new ride height with the Navara now sitting 25mm higher at the rear unladen and 40mm higher than before with a full payload.
A quicker steering rack has also been developed to match the new rear end, and dual-cab Navara pick-ups now have a 14 per cent faster rack.
Other changes that come with the facelift include the deletion of the NP300 badging (leaving just ‘Navara’) a 360-degree bird’s-eye-view camera for top-shelf ST-X versions and a rear-view camera becomes standard on all dual-cab pick-ups. Cars built from June this year onwards will also have a digital speedometer and adjustable tie-down hooks in the tray.
The rest is the rest, including a huge range of models and trim levels, two and four-wheel-drive variants and, for the dual-cab line-up, the same choice of DOHC, common-rail 2.3-litre diesel four-cylinder engines with either single or twin turbochargers and a six-speed manual or seven-speed automatic transmission.
The Navara dual-cab range is split across two and four-wheel drive models, with the former taking in the RX, ST and ST-X versions, and the four-wheel-drive line-up offering RX, SL, ST and ST-X trim levels.
What’s it like to drive?
It comes as no real surprise to discover that the stiffer rear springs have done the job and fixed the Navara’s biggest practical shortcoming. In fact, we’d say the bigger question is how Nissan Inc. managed to get the thing so wrong in the first place, when it was launched in 2015.
While the Navara retains the sort of ride quality that is closer to a SUV than most of its tray-back competition, it can now cope with a load in the back without coming over all faint. Whether the unladen ride is any different to the original Navara is difficult to say, other than to suggest that it would take a back-to-back drive with new and old unladen Navaras for the definitive answer. Which is another way of saying that it’s pretty much as good as it ever was.
But the body control with 650kg in the tray is the big improver. Where the previous version would simply sag in the tail and wobble around as it ran out of suspension travel, the revised Navara is much more composed, controllable and predictable even at highway speeds. There’s still a degree of secondary jounce over bumps and lumps, but a lot of this is surely down to unsprung weight which is a natural consequence of the off-road suspension and driveline and the wheel/tyre package.
The faster steering rack gives the Navara a bit more point when you haul on the lock, but it’s still not what you’d call scalpel sharp or remotely involving to steer. It’s definitely not on its own there. The flip-side is a high degree of insulation from steering shock which is a necessary evil in any off-road vehicle.
The 2.3-litre turbo-diesel in either of its two tunes remains a real sweetie in this market segment and while It can feel a little gruff at low revs, it revs up cleanly and enthusiastically, although the long-travel accelerator pedal means big throttle inputs are the order of the day. No complaints about the automatic transmission – it does what it says on the box – but we weren’t able to sample the manual version. That said, the manual-gearbox take-up rate by buyers is very low to say the least.
What about safety features?
Fleet operators keen to give their workers the best safety package will definitely have the Navara on their short-list. Every Navara dual-cab has seven air-bags (including a knee air-bag for the driver) and full-length side-curtain air-bags that protect both rows of seats. You also get the usual electronic braking aids, traction control and stability control on all variants.
The safety upgrades this time around includes Isofix child-restraint points on both outboard rear-seat positions, that 360-degree camera on the ST-X and the rear camera on all pick-up versions (not the dual-cab cab-chassis, in other words).
So what do we think?
If you disregard the baggage accrued due to the vehicle’s original shortcomings and take the new version of the Navara pick-up on face value, it suddenly comes back into the reckoning. The engine looks small on paper but is pretty big on actual abilities and it teams nicely with the automatic transmission that the vast majority of buyers will specify.
There’s a distinct feeling of plushness in the cabin (compared with some of the Nissan’s peers) and build quality seems up to speed. Throw in the optional leather trim package at $1500 and the sunroof for another $1000, and you’re getting downright ritzy. And while the Nissan is not the cheapest of the breed, it features a huge spread of price-points once you factor in the two-wheel-drive alternatives and the plethora of trim levels and body styles.