Nissan Navara NP300. FIRST DRIVE

For its new pick-up, Nissan opts for a dual-purpose vehicle. But can ‘robust’ ever really go hand-in-hand with comfort? finds out on the international launch of the Navara NP300 in Spain

Engine Power Torque 0-100kph Top speed Weight Basic price
Inline 4cyl, turbocharged, 2488cc 168bhp @ 4800rpm 196lb ft @ 2800rpm N/A N/A 1948kg (86bhp/ton) $18,232
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Cabin design and practicality a big improvement
Why retain leaf springs? And why no new engine?

It’s particularly nerve-wracking jetting off on an international launch with no clue as to the car you’ll be driving. Is it applicable to the market? How many pages should it get? Do I need a special licence for this drive? Perhaps the most infuriating though are the tricks your mind starts playing – might it be the new GT-R, recently unveiled in New York? – only to set you up for a fall. It’s the media equivalent of being Rick Rolled.

But such is my mind-set ahead of Nissan’s most recent international launch, representatives of the Japanese marque on the ground point-blank refusing to give up the goods for the first day despite being heavily outnumbered, all to create additional buzz about an ‘all-new iconic model’ we’ll be driving through the Pyrenees. Could it actually be…?

Eventually Nissan takes pity on our ever-increasing blood pressure and reveals that the star of today’s drive is…the new NP300 Navara. So…no GT-R then…okay. Never gonna give, never gonna give…

Nissan Navara NP300 REVIEW crankandpiston-18

So, Rick Astley, tell us about the new Nissan Navara NP300…

On the plus side, this is only the second of a mooted eight new pick-up trucks expected to be introduced within the next two years, and only the third Navara we’ve seen since 1997. Accordingly, there’s been some considerable changes made for gen three, and that includes the ‘NP300’ name, a nod to the vehicle type (Nissan Pick-up) and the gross vehicle weight (three tonnes). For starters the blue-collar character has been ditched, Nissan instead offering what it calls ‘the ideal vehicle for dual users’ by combining the robustness of a pick-up truck with ‘car-like refinement’ for day-to-day commuting. And in this regard Nissan is already off to a good start.

Nissan Navara NP300 REVIEW crankandpiston-2

What about comfort and ‘refinement’?

Inside the cabin now boasts leather-clad ‘spine support’ seats, a new dashboard re-designed from the ground up, and rather elegant looking black trim, influenced no doubt by Nissan’s SUV division. There’s also a new V-motion front grille, LED headlights, more aggressive bodylines, and an abundance of driver assistance technologies like revised traction control, a rear-view camera and parking sensors to make piloting the three-ton brute around town that much easier. You don’t sell 14 million pick-up trucks across 170 countries for 80 years without getting the basics right. Even the load bed has been stretched 67mm.

Off to the races already with crossover-esque plushness in the cabin, there’s also little doubting the Navara’s durability. There’s solid build quality – if perhaps some unwanted hard plastic panels – while the all-wheel drive system from the second generation model has now been updated with hill start assist and a limited slip differential: point that grungier front end at a steep incline, select low range four-wheel drive, and the Navara is unlikely to even break a sweat. Towing and payload figures have also risen, courtesy of the new boxed frame chassis and increased torsional stiffness that brings.

Nissan Navara NP300 REVIEW crankandpiston-3

What about the drivetrain? And how does the Navara handle?

There are though some issues, ironically with the GCC spec models the market will be receiving that this year. Unlike the downsized 2.3-litre turbocharged units currently offered in Europe, the Middle East retains the 151bhp and 168bhp 2.5-litre four-cylinder as the previous generation, albeit updated for fuel preservation. Neither of which unfortunately offer tremendous guts or any real sense of vigour, encouraging you only to work the right pedal and the transmission that much harder. On that note, the seven-speed automatic is similarly underwhelming. Changes are admittedly smooth but there is a certain dodderiness under downshifts: put your foot down and you’ll be waiting a while for the box to kick down, making overtaking in traffic an exercise in forethought.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment though is the suspension, the Middle East retaining rigid leaf springs – pay special attention to that word – while Europe receives the new, and considerably more supple five-link setup. As a result, the ride is considerably firmer and more unsettled than it should be, the body having a tendency to pitch through the corners with no weight over the rear axle to settle it. It’s a move that suggests this ‘vehicle for dual purpose’ leans more heavily – no pun intended – to the agricultural side of things than the daily commute, a shame given the impressive refinement of that cabin.

Saying that, it’s not all doom and gloom. Even despite the ride quality, the driving position is actually quite comfortable given the extensive seat and steering column adjustments available. Updated anti-lock brakes mean the left pedal now offers considerably more confidence than it once did. And while the steering is still too vague, there’s considerable weight at the helm and a far more composed ride through the corners than a pick-up truck has any right to boast, another hallmark of that stiffened chassis and a surprisingly low centre of gravity for a vehicle just under 6ft tall.

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So, what’s the verdict?

There’s room for improvement then for the GCC-spec model, and we can’t help but wonder if revised suspension and a more energetic drivetrain would have transformed the Navara completely: having read several positive European reviews out of idle curiosity, more than likely it would have done. Consequently, even though Nissan has done a fine job offering ‘car-like’ refinement in the cabin, the Nissan pick-up still doesn’t offer the dual-purpose balance we hoped it would. Not that this more robust character is likely to harm sales of course, given the Navara’s previous success in the region and Nissan’s anticipation that its new pick-up will increase sales by up to 41 percent over the next three years.

Did you enjoy our Nissan Navara NP300 review?

You can check out more of our test drives HERE and more about Nissan HERE

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