Nissan has introduced 4x2 versions of its new Navara range. Does losing a transfer case enhance its appeal?

Imagine a friend borrowed the plans to your freshly built house, added a few small tweaks and then built essentially the same home just in a more upmarket suburb. Now that the Mercedes-Benz X-Class has officially been launched in South Africa (and tested here), inevitable comparisons will be drawn between it and the Nissan Navara on which it’s based.

Immediately obvious is an upgrade in NVH suppression compared with the Nissan, although you’d expect that given the German’s inflated price tag. Then again, you’d assume, for a company that also makes the S-Class, a quieter cabin would have been at the forefront of requirements when looking to “enhance” the Navara for its own purposes. For the most part, however, when it came to perceived build quality, fit and finish, Mercedes-Benz’s engineers had to do very little to the already impressively solid Nissan interior.   

As the South African buying public assesses whether the asking price for the same house in the better suburb is worth the premium, Nissan SA will be quietly confident in what its donor double-cab bakkie has to offer.

Recently added to the local Navara line-up were 4x2 versions available in two specification levels (SE and LE), with a choice of either a six-speed manual or seven-speed automatic transmission. A whole 118 kg lighter without its 4x4 transfer case (and lockable rear diff), the rear-wheel-driven Navara LE tested here shares its 140 kW/450 N.m 2,3-litre turbo-diesel engine with the rest of the extended family.

It’s a drivetrain that continues to impress both with its levels of overall refinement and how successfully it gels with the automatic transmission. With power sent exclusively to the rear wheels, creating less drivetrain drag, the Navara recorded an average of 8,10 L/100 km on our 100 km fuel route. By comparison, the 4x4 version we tested in May 2017 achieved 8,30 L/100 km over the same journey.
Nissan Navara 2,3D 4x2 LE AT

It’s interesting to note the lighter 4x2 LE bettered its 4x4 LE sibling in the 0-100 km/h sprint stakes by almost a second. Also, the average emergency braking time (100 km/h to standstill) proved slightly better (3,25 seconds) than that first Navara we tested last year.

With a high-end double-cab market in mind, LE specification wants for little in terms of standard specification. Granted, there’s a premium to be paid over similarly powered 4x2 rivals, but with such niceties as heated leather seats, keyless entry and start, dual-zone climate control, a 360-degree camera-based parking system, auto headlamps and a full bouquet of infotainment functionality (including navigation), Nissan South Africa will feel the Navara’s premium pricing is justified.

While to some buyers those luxury items may appear superfluous, the upgrade to 18-inch alloy wheels (from 16 inches), plus the inclusion of roof rails and Nissan’s clever Utili-track tie-down system within the load bay, adds further appeal to this package when compared with the more affordable (SE) derivative.

An area that continues to frustrate on the Navara (this criticism includes the X-Class, too) is the lack of wide-ranging adjustment on the steering column. Unable to adjust for reach, and with only a small amount of rake movement, the resultant driving position even with seat-height adjustment taken into consideration is compromised.

While much has been written about the Navara’s coil-sprung rear suspension setup (as opposed to ostensibly more rudimentary leaf springs) aimed at improving the way bakkies ride, the result remains one of above-average on-road comfort rather than segment-defining ride quality. In that discipline, it lags behind the Amarok and Ranger, and their leaf springs.



TEST SUMMARY

That last point is perhaps what has frustrated Nissan fans and dealerships alike the most. While the new Navara certainly boasts enough build integrity and drivetrain refinement that sit comfortably towards the winner's end of the highly competitive double-cab segment, as an overall package it hasn't been quite the game-changer Nissan hoped it might be.

Still, there is plenty to like about the Navara and this 4x2 LE version is closer to being the sweet spot in the range than that first 4x4 we tested. Closer still might be the SE derivative that forgoes some of the kit but likely rides even better on its 16-inch rubber and doesn't carry quite the same burden in terms of living up to an asking price so easily bettered by some accomplished rivals.

*From the July 2018 issue of CAR magazine