ROAD TEST: Nissan Navara's third time is a charmer
TEE-pee complete with welcome mat, pseudo mini bar and a cushy mattress. This is camping for those who like the romance of camping, but don't want the Shades of Grey roughing it style.
Somewhat like the Nissan Navara.
We were glamping to welcome the third iteration of the Navara- yep, that's right, the third since it was relaunched in 2015 - has been unleashed.
Rather than being your full-blown hardcore, load-lugging ute, the Navara appeals to those wanting more creature comforts.
The rear suspension set-up is car-like rather than workhorse... and that was part of the problem with the previous two editions. When owners did hook something up or throw a big load in the rear it exposed the cushy weakness.
Now the Series 3 has a dual suspension design which improves handling when you are hauling, without compromising the ride when empty. Other vital changes come via a faster steering response which means less arm twirling when parking and reversing with a trailer.
There are no changes externally so you won't spot the difference between this iteration and the Series 2, it's all under the skin.
About 90 per cent of all Navaras sold are the dual cabs, which reaps all the rewards of suspension changes rather than the more workhorse-focused cab chassis models that remain untouched.
Prices have risen between $200-$500 on eight of the 35 Navaras available.
Australia may not be a big fish in terms of sales in the global automotive pond, but the demands we put on utes are leading the world.
Changes to the Navara will debut here before being rolled out in other markets.
"The feedback we have received is very important... we have learned from the customers in Australia,” Nissan's chief product specialist for light commercial vehicles Pedro De Andra said.
"This might not be the biggest market for Navara globally but it is certainly one where the customer has leading usage and setting the trends so it is very important we learn from Australia.”
Nissan's engineering big guns spent time here last year honing the new suspension near Bendigo and King Lake.
Previous one rate springs have been replaced with a double and Nissan says it has reduced bump-steer by 40 per cent with the new measures.
"When you don't have any cargo or just light cargo we make the vehicle more comfortable, but when you go to full payload or towing we have almost doubled the rate to improve the posture and handling,” De Andra said.
Why has it taken so long for the changes to occur and three iterations? It was initially focussed on the Thailand market, and it then took 12 months of testing and analysis before Nissan was satisfied with the improvements.
When this Navara sits next to previous models, it sits 25mm higher and 40mm higher when laden.
Minor specification changes have been made across five grades.
All vehicles have Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity (no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto), air-con and cruise control.
All dual cabs now have Isofix points for child seats on the two outer rear seats, but the same fiddly material loop on the seat top has been retained for top tether points.
Satellite navigation is now on King Cab ST grade, aligning with its dual cab sibling, while the RX, SL and ST dual cabs have lower tie-down hooks. ST-X grades with Utili-track have four additional tie-down hooks located lower within the tub.
There's a host of optional accessories available, but key for ST-X buyers is the $1500 pack which includes leather-accented heated seats, leather door trims and an eight-way power driver's seat with lumbar support.
Adding a sunroof costs $1000.
While white accounts for more than half of all Navaras sold, there are six other hues: black, red, silver, dark blue, gold and grey. Metallic options are $550 extra.
The Navara maintains its five-star rating achieved back in 2015, while range-topping models now get the total view technology which pieces together vision from four cameras - great for tight parking spots.
Rear view cameras are also standard on all 27 pick-up models. It features within infotainment screens, or in the rear view mirror on base derivatives.
More families are getting into utes, being used for bikes, caravans and boats rather than blue collar duties.
That's why the five-link suspension is so appealing. While previous iterations were fine for those who didn't do much hauling, it fell short of expectations for many who wanted the Navara for tougher stuff.
Testing the dual cab this week with a laden payload, towing a quad bike and then with nothing in the tub showed Nissan has managed to get it right.
Staying flat and composed, Navara walks the difficult tightrope of comfort and capability.
The higher-output four-cylinder turbo diesel engine is the best choice and feels robust even when under load.
Having lived with the Navara for several months, the steering change is welcome. It can be a handful in tight carparks and at school drop-offs due to the limitations of the steering rack - but it still has a large turning circle... although it's smaller than some key rivals.
Fuel consumption remained impressively low while towing, returning about 10 litres for every 100km. On the highway it's as low as six.
Key criticisms of the Navara have been addressed. Those who regularly load up their ute will appreciate the more accomplished ride of the dual spring set-up, while those who don't will like the improving steering prowess.
PRICE The most popular model, the ST dual cab, is among the eight Navaras which have risen in price by $200, while base RX have increased $500.
TECHNOLOGY Around View Monitor has been fitted within the seven-inch infotainment system on top-of-the-range ST-X dual cab and king cab grades. That makes it easier to see when you park, while there is also a digital speedo for SL, ST and ST-X vehicles produced after June.
STEERING The number of turns it takes to rotate the wheels from one side to the other has reduced from 4.1 to 3.4.
SUSPENSION Dual-rate rear spring system on dual cabs has an integrated lower and higher spring rate. Dynamic rebound damper is designed to contact the chassis rail under load which causes the damper to compress and the resistance to increase.
AT A GLANCE
NISSAN NAVARA SERIES 3
PRICE From $28,490- $54,490 (good)
WARRANTY AND SERVICING 3 year/100,000 km wty (ok), average services $617 (ok)
ENGINE 2.3-litre diesel 120kW/403Nm or 140kW/450Nm (strong)
SAFETY 5 star, rear view camera, all round for view ST-X, two Isofix points (reasonable)
THIRST 6.4-7.1/100km (very good)
SPARE Full size spare, alloy on ST-X (excellent)
TOW 3500kg, payload 965-1356 (good)