There’s plenty riding on this thoroughly refreshed Navara, which is now produced right here in SA. So, is the revised bakkie up to the task?

+ well-judged ride and handling; loads of safety kit

– no standard bed liner; facia lacks soft-touch materials

navara

Let’s not beat about the bush: Nissan’s original D23-generation Navara was anything but popular with South African buyers. In fact, over the four-plus years, it was on the local market, the Japanese bakkie routinely found itself languishing at the foot of the bestsellers list, moving a fraction of the monthly volumes achieved by the likes of the Toyota Hilux, Ford Ranger and Isuzu D-Max.

So, why have we afforded the Navara such a prominent position in this issue? Well, we’re convinced this bakkie’s facelift is comprehensive enough – and its range reshuffle shrewd enough – for it to claw its way back up the sales charts in the coming months. In fact, we’re tipping it to quickly carve out a regular spot in the top five.

navara

Like the three venerable rivals mentioned above, the refreshed Navara is now produced on local soil. Thanks to Nissan’s R3 billion investment in its Rosslyn assembly plant, the updated bakkie rolls off the assembly line alongside the half-tonne NP200, both for the local market and for export to other sub-Saharan African countries (the long-in-the-tooth NP300 Hardbody, meanwhile, is finally being put out to pasture).

“The renewed Navara certainly boasts more on-road presence”

Nissan’s local division jumped at the concomitant opportunity to broaden the Navara range, swelling it from 10 to 17 derivatives and adding single-cab workhorse variants, a body style not offered in the pre-facelift line-up. Though the more varied offering will certainly help the Navara’s cause, it’s worth noting the increased tally of derivatives still doesn’t match the vast Hilux or Ranger portfolios (each of which numbers well in excess of 30). Rather refreshingly in a world of seemingly relentless price hikes, however, the upgraded bakkie is a little more affordable than the imported version.

The renewed Navara certainly boasts more on-road presence than the version it replaces, clearly drawing styling inspiration from the full-size Titan truck offered over in North America. Standout features up front include an oversized grille and a fetching set of quad-LED headlights reserved for high-spec models. What you see here is the rear-driven Pro-2X, which alongside the four-wheel-drive Pro-4X serves as the flagship trim level (unless Nissan cooks up something more extreme to take on the Ranger Raptor, that is).

Distinguishing exterior features include a black finish for items such as the grille surround, running boards, over fenders, roof rails, side-mirror caps, door handles and six-spoke alloy wheels, as well as the requisite set of Pro-2X decals. The Kanagawa-based automaker has furthermore added a smattering of orange accents and blacked-out Nissan badges. Keen to tap into a significant demand for aftermarket accessories among local bakkie buyers, Nissan SA also offers a raft of factory-approved accoutrements, such as a nudge bar, sports bar and the customary collection of plastic addenda.

navara

While the load bay comes fitted with a clever system of channels and cleats that can slide and tighten down, buyers of a top-spec model such as this would certainly have appreciated a standard protective bed liner (and perhaps even a tonneau cover, though this is available as an accessory).

In addition to its more imposing appearance, the Navara’s mid-cycle update brings intriguing changes to the bakkie’s oily bits. The pre-facelift line-up’s 2.3-litre twin-turbodiesel engine has been dropped in favour of the older single-turbo 2.5-litre oil-burner, which is presented in two states of tune (the entry-level single-cab variant, meanwhile, can be ordered in petrol flavour).

Although it may appear to be somewhat of a step backwards, the high-output 140 kW/450 Nm version of the trusty YD25 four-cylinder unit matches the outgoing bi-turbo mill on both power and torque, even if it’s a shade less efficient and its maximum twisting force arrives slightly later in the rev range (at a still usefully low 2 000 r/min). Many local buyers will no doubt welcome the return to a powerplant with a lengthy history of dependability.

Driving the rear axle via a well-matched seven-speed automatic transmission, the 2.5-litre turbodiesel engine delivers more than sufficient grunt to take advantage of both the increased payload capacity (now 1 086 kg and accessed via an easy-lift tailgate with a torsion bar) and the class-competitive braked towing capacity of 3 500 kg. There’s also been a marked improvement in refinement levels, however that’s largely due to liberal use of more sophisticated sound insulation.

Choice suspension tweaks also play a role in the general reduction in vibration transmitted into the cabin. As before, the Navara is the only mainstream double-cab bakkie that employs a five-link set-up with coil springs at the rear rather than the more traditional leaf-spring arrangement (though the latter is used on single-cab Navara workhorses). Owing to yet more fine-tuning of this design – rumour has it Nissan even adopted some upgrades Mercedes-Benz engineers developed for the since-departed X-Class – the Navara rides with a newfound SUV-like suppleness.

So, with improved damping, revised mountings and a strengthened rear axle, the Navara’s unladen ride (most leisure-oriented 4×2 double cabs will travel without a full load bed most of the time, after all) on both tarmac and gravel is anything but agricultural. It’s a relatively composed handler, too, now boasting a quicker steering rack.

The head-turning Pro-2X’s Dunlop Grandtrek AT25 tyres (255/65 R17) are interestingly an inch smaller in diameter and feature a higher profile than the road-biased rubber used by the LE variants positioned just below. It’s worth noting, however, that despite sporting these all-terrain tyres and an electronic rear differential lock, the Pro-2X’s approach, departure and breakover angles are inferior to those of pre-facelift 4×2 models. Still, in the same way many high-end SUVs seldom leave sealed surfaces despite boasting serious off-road chops, the majority of top-spec double-cab bakkies aren’t often called upon to head far off the beaten path, so this needn’t be a deal breaker, particularly for buyers in the market for a 4×2 derivative.

“The interior remains fittingly practical”

The alterations inside aren’t quite as radical as those applied to the exterior and under the bonnet, but high-spec derivatives have been upgraded to an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality. The Pro-2X furthermore gains items such as satellite navigation as well as Nissan’s 360-degree camera system (particularly handy for parking a vehicle of this size), model-specific leather upholstery (replete with red and white stitching), a restyled steering wheel (bearing the black and orange Nissan emblem) and a nifty powered sliding rear screen.

That said, the cabin doesn’t feel quite as premium as those of some other (indeed more expensive) flagship double cabs, chiefly due to the facia’s lack of soft-touch surfaces. The Navara’s steering column still wants for reach adjustment (a criticism that can admittedly be levelled at the majority of contenders in the segment), while the front perches are high sited and flat of squab, meaning they’re not the final word in long-road comfort. Additionally, the top tether points for the outer rear Isofix anchors are especially tricky to access.

These foibles aside, the Navara’s interior remains fittingly practical. Space on the rear bench (which can be folded up and secured in place, revealing a pair of handy storage compartments) is more than adequate for most purposes, and occupants back there enjoy dedicated air vents and a USB port (in addition to the two conventional and one USB-C items offered up front). The list of driver assistance functions is comprehensive, too, and includes autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot warning, lane-departure warning and rear cross traffic alert. There’s also a full complement of seven airbags.

The fact the Navara ships with this sort of kit leads us neatly to our conclusion. The days of bakkies being regarded as mere tools of a given trade are long gone. With the rise in local popularity of the double-cab body style, this once largely commercial genre now includes all manner of do-everything lifestyle models. And the Pro-2X iteration of Nissan’s refreshed Navara looks exceedingly well positioned to take advantage of this shift in buying patterns.

Thanks to more macho styling, notably improved refinement, further polished ride quality and the return to a proven powertrain, the expanded range means the locally built Navara is finally again a viable alternative to the segment’s strongest sellers (even if the latter offer broader ranges). We’ll certainly be keeping a beady eye on those sales charts.

The verdict
4/5

Courtesy of tweaks in virtually all the right places, the locally built Navara range is now what it should always have been, with this boldly styled Pro-2X variant arriving as a particularly well-resolved example of the modern leisure bakkie. Kudos, Nissan.

Deep data


Nissan Navara 2.5D DC Pro-2X 4×2 AT

Price: R719 900
Engine: 2.5-litre, 4-cyl, turbodiesel
Transmission: 7-spd AT
Driven wheels: R
Power: 140 kW @ 3 600 r/min
Torque: 450 Nm @ 2 000 r/min
0-100 km/h: n/a
Top speed: n/a
Fuel consumption: 8.1 L/100 km
CO2: 214 g/km
Length: 5 260 mm
Height: 1 845 mm
Width: 1 875 mm
Wheelbase: 3 150 mm
Weight: 1 943 kg
Max payload: 1 086 kg
Fuel tank: 80 L
Warranty: 6 years/150 000 km
Service plan: 6 years/90 000 km