Motoring: Nissan Navara 2.3D 4×2 Double Cab: Unsung hero

Nissan's latest Nvara double cab arrived late on a bakkie battlefield diminated by Ford and Toyota. Despite high tech and a trick suspension, it's not attracting the sales it deserves. Will the addition of a 4x2 option extend its appeal?

Bakkies and the Nissan brand are almost synonymous. The venerable Hardbody has been a consistently popular player in the workhorse segment, despite being decidedly long in the tooth. And let’s not forget that the first-generation Navara pioneered the big-and-bold, luxury double cab segment, long before Toyota and Ford started emulating the trend. Since then, though, Nissan appears to have lost ground. First, Ford took the initiative, transforming its humdrum Ranger into a desirable muscle machine that’s seen many a Golf GTI traded in for the beefy double cab. It took Toyota a while to retaliate, but when it finally arrived, the latest Hilux rose to the challenge. At the luxury double cab end of the range, it too offers a well-priced mix of attitude and amenities. Both Hilux and Ranger regularly post well over 2,500 monthly sales, while Navara figures have been fluctuating between 150 and 400 units. Yes, the Toyota and Ford line-ups are much broader, and include single-cab workhorse bakkies, but the Navara take-up remains disappointing. A telling factor has been the Nissan’s late arrival. It was only launched in 2017, long after Ford and Toyota had unleashed their newest offerings. And even then, it was offered in 4x4 form only, leaving those buyers happy to settle for a less expensive, more economical 4x2 model out in the cold. That shortcoming was addressed by the arrival of several 4x2 variants earlier in 2018. The most affordable Navara 4x2 now comes in at R457,900 – a cool R66k less than the 4x4 version with the same specification level. However, opt for the flagship LE model with auto gearbox and leather seats, as tested here, and the price tag increases to R551,900 – right back in 4x4 territory. As always, luxury and all those nice-to-have extras come at a price. At least the Navara’s flagship LE model includes almost every conceivable bell and whistle as standard. In fact, the Navara’s list of kit will make most luxury models seem rather under-endowed. There’s not enough space to list every item, but considering this is still a double cab bakkie, the likes of remote keyless entry, park distance control with reverse and 360-degree cameras, dual-zone climate control, eight-way adjustable electric seats, a touchscreen-based infotainment system and full-blown satnav come as a welcome surprise. Other highlights include cruise control, LED headlights with LED daytime running lights, front, side and curtain airbags, ABS brakes, stability and traction control, child-proof door locks and IsoFix child seat mounts. Not bad for a pick-up … The leather seats are optional, but add to a cabin execution that’s as smart and accessible as any high-end sedan or SUV. The touchscreen display dominates the centre stack, and allows user-friendly access to the audio, Bluetooth, telephony and satnav systems. The instrument binnacle is home to a pair of large, round dials for speed and rev count, split by a digital trip computer with scrollable information on distance, average speed, and fuel consumption. Finishes and materials are classy, with just enough chrome to look upmarket without becoming too blingy. The Navara is a big double cab, and so there’s plenty of interior space, front and rear. The rear bench seat will seat three with width to spare, and legroom is pretty good, too. The load box can swallow more than 1,100 litres of cargo, with a maximum payload of 1,030kg. The downside is security – you need to either install a canopy or a lockable load box lid to keep your valuable luggage or cargo safe. That’s a shortcoming all bakkie owners have to live with. In double cab terms, the Navara is a handsome machine, steering a believable path between function and glamour. The alloy wheels, brushed aluminium side steps, ornamental roof rails and chrome bits add some eye candy to an otherwise practical, function-driven shape. An odd detail is the spoiler extending from the top edge of the load box, much like the rooftop spoiler on a hatchback. I’m not convinced that it has any practical value, despite claims that it improves aerodynamics. More pertinent but effectively invisible is the Navara’s rear suspension, featuring an independent, five-link coil-sprung configuration that’s unique in the bakkie context. Traditionalists may be concerned that Nissan is prioritising ride comfort over load carrying ability, but in practice, the rear suspension finds a good balance between firmness and refinement. Another bone of contention is the Navara’s drivetrain, and specifically the power unit. Nissan has opted for a new-generation, smaller-capacity diesel engine equipped with a pair of turbochargers. This bi-turbo arrangement should theoretically prevent turbo lag, while the 2.3-litre engine capacity promises enhanced efficiency and reduced fuel consumption. On paper, the 140kW maximum output and 450Nm of torque is right up there with the best, topped only by the Ranger’s much bigger 3.2-litre mill. More importantly, the Navara 4x2 has plenty of grunt in practice. It gets off the mark without any sign of lag-induced hesitation, and the engine piles on the revs with an enthusiasm often lacking in the turbodiesel context. The seven-speed auto gearbox is a good match for the engine, ensuring it’s always on song and finding a good compromise between responsive tractability and relaxed cruising. Even so, Nissan’s claimed fuel consumption will require a highly disciplined right foot. I only managed 11.2 litres/100km, while the factory figure is an optimistic 6.8 litres/100km. It’s not unreasonable to expect the Navara 4x2 to be tasked with off-road duties on a regular basis, despite being rear wheel-driven only. After all, it still has an impressive 229mm ground clearance, rugged running gear and a traction control system that uses the brakes to act like a limited slip differential. It’s certainly more than competent on gravel and even slightly rougher terrain, as long as you maintain momentum and don’t attempt ridiculous gradients. But the lack of low range and a mechanical diff lock (a puzzling omission) limit it’s all-terrain capabilities. On the plus side, the absence of a transfer case and 4x4 drive makes for a lighter kerb mass and reduced drivetrain drag, which will benefit overall efficiency and running costs. All that low-down torque should ensure effortless towing, too. Arriving late for a party means you have to work harder to join the conversation – and the Nissan Navara needs to work harder to make its voice heard in the hubbub of a crowded double cab market. It deserves to be taken more seriously because it’s well built, achieves impressive ride and comfort levels, and offers a spacious, well-appointed cabin. Even in 4x2 trim, it’s rugged enough to head off the beaten track – at least up to a point – and it retains the workhorse versatility that’s made double cabs such a popular choice. While not exactly cheap, the pricing is competitive, especially if you’re prepared to forsake some of the extras of the LE model for the still well-stocked SE version. In fact, the Navara 4x2 SE Manual offers the best bang for the buck in the range – and value is the most powerful sales motivator of all. DM PROS A well balanced double cab package that deserves more success. CONS SE models offer more bang for the buck. VITAL STATS

Nissan Navara 2.3D LE 4x2 DCab AT
Engine In-line four-cylinder, 2,298cc, turbodiesel
Power 140kW @ 3,750rpm
Torque 450Nm @ 1,500 – 2,500rpm
Power-to-weight ratio 77.56 kW/ton
Gearbox Seven-speed auto, RWD
Wheels/tyres (front/rear) 18-inch alloy, 255/60 R18 tyres
0-100 km/h 12sec (est)
Top speed 185km/h (est)
Fuel tank capacity 80 litres
Fuel consumption (claimed) 6.8 litres/100km
Operating range (estimated) 1,176km
CO2 emissions 179g/km
Retail price / as tested R573,500 / R586,500