JOHANNESBURG, Gauteng – It's interesting how often staff members in the CAR magazine office seem to require a bakkie for a day or two, be it for a trip to the local nursery, some weekend renovation work or simply to transport a few bulky items.
Thing is, the situations outlined above don't actually require four-wheel drive (except, of course, should the plans somehow include transversing challenging terrain). We headed to Johannesburg to sample a base Nissan Navara (in 4x2 guise) that slots into this very category.
Nissan’s entry-level Navara double-cab (in SE specification; read our road test of the higher-spec model here) is priced at R484 900. Equipped with a six-speed manual transmission, it sends its torque exclusively to the rear wheels. Up front is the only engine offered in the local range, a 2,3-litre turbodiesel unit delivering 140 kW and 450 N.m.
As with other Navara variants, this model is fitted with seven airbags, ABS brakes and an electronic stability programme. Although the seats are trimmed in cloth (interestingly, it feels almost like a pseudo-Alcantara material) rather than leather, they are very comfortable.
The standard features list includes three handy 12V sockets as well as USB, aux-in and SD card slots. In typical Nissan fashion, the steering wheel has only minor rake (and no reach) adjustment. Although the infotainment system works well, the satellite navigation is at times slow to respond (we ended up using Google Maps on a smartphone instead).
Behind the wheel
We drove through various parts of Gauteng, sampling both perfectly smooth asphalt as well as some very rough sections. In short, the Navara delivered a settled ride regardless of the surface (this can be partly attributed to the 16-inch wheels wrapped in fat 255/70 rubber). That said, there remains a firm element to the suspension.
I was surprised to experience how eager this turbodiesel revs to its redline (around 4 500 r/min) in the first few gears. There's almost none of that asthmatic feeling towards the end of the rev range that you sometimes experience with oil-burners. The six-speed gearbox is simple to use, with longer throws than, for example, a Volkswagen Amarok.
At 1,87 metres and seated behind my own driving position, I found acceptable headroom (my hair just touching the roof lining) and enough legroom, the latter aided by the fact the rear of the front seats are indented. It's also useful to have an electric rear window back there.
Apart from offering everything you would expect from an entry-level double-cab bakkie, this Navara is also rather well priced. For example, the Toyota Hilux in similar spec (the 2,8-litre GD-6 Raider) will set you back R534 900. Turn to Volkswagen, and the lower-powered entry-level Amarok Comfortline (103 kW/340 N.m) costs R525 900, with the 132 kW/400 N.m version rising to R562 500 (the latter with only four airbags).
Ultimately, the Navara rides well, boasts a strong engine and, in rear-drive form, exhibits a lightness (for a bakkie, at least) from behind the wheel that the heavier all-wheel-drive models simply can't replicate. It's hard to fault ... and if you're unlikely to often require a 4x4 system, it's a vehicle you should certainly consider.