Suspension upgrades aim to right the wrongs of Nissan’s commercial ute.
by David McCowen
The brand took a bold step with the current-shape D23 Navara in 2015, setting aside the conventional (and ancient) leaf-sprung, live axle suspension hardware used by the likes of Toyota’s HiLux in favour of a more comfortable and sophisticated five-link rear end with coil springs.
Comfortable when carrying little cargo, the Navara struggled when approaching its maximum payload. Those soft rear springs sagged visibly, lending the ute a nose-high stance reflected under the skin by a frame that rested against small rubber “dampers” more conventionally described as bump stops when laden.
The Navara also drew flak for a lack of lateral stability, swaying from side-to-side without the body control of conventionally suspended rivals.
In short, it missed the mark, and was never a serious consideration for the Best Ute trophy in Drive’s Car of the Year awards.
Nissan Australia boss Richard Emery admits his brand “lost some, and gained some” customers with a ute perceived as more liveable but less practical than key rivals.
So the brand went to work on a running update to the dual-cab ute, redesigning those cone-shaped rubber dampers and replacing overly soft springs with firmer units at the front and rear.
(The 2015 Navara’s frame rests on unusual rubber cones when fully loaded. Nissan changed their shape for 2017)
Near-identical to the original NP300 Navara on the outside, the updated Series II specification also rings in a handful of cost-saving measures such as the removal of rear cup holders and external “NP300” badges.
Another key change is the addition of a new Navara SL model that slips in between the Spartan Navara RX and the mid-grade ST, blending the wide body, reversing camera and more powerful twin-turbo diesel engine of high-grade models with budget touches such as steel wheels and a vinyl floor that keep the price respectablein manual, dual-cab, 4×4 form.
We tested the car as a dual-cab 4×4 proposition powered by the stronger of two Diesel engines – a twin-turbocharged 2.3-litre unit that pumps a solid 140kW of power and 450Nm of torque through a seven-speed automatic transmission.
Smoother and more efficient than some of its more powerful rivals, the unchanged motor gets the job done with a minimum of fuss, helped ably by a well-sorted transmission.
Nissan’s local launch in the NSW Snowy Mountains offered the opportunity to test the machine in three states: one vehicle was unladen, another had about 300 kilograms in the tray, and the third towed a trailer weighing around 950 kilograms. It’s important to note that the two cargo-carrying versions only represented around one third of the machine’s ultimate ability, so the Navara certainly wasn’t pushed to the brink of its capabilities.
Plainly, we can’t say whether Nissan has truly sorted out the Navara’s rear end.
What we can say is that the stiffer suspension makes it feel a little unwieldy without a load in the tray, the front and rear axles feeling somewhat disconnected to each other and out of sync on bumpy Australian roads.
It jiggles away incessantly and doesn’t feel planted to the roadway.
Though Nissan claims none of the original model’s comfort was lost with the transition to firmer springs and shocks, that doesn’t appear to be the case.
Either way, the new model is much more settled with a light load in the back and the stiffer springs in the new car do a better job of shielding the under body from those rubber bungs.
Again, we’ll defer further judgement until Nissan allows us to test the car on our own terms with something closer to the dual-cab ST’s 990 kilogram maximum in the tray.
For its part, Nissan says the majority of customers don’t haul heavy loads on a regular basis, and that much of their driving time is spent with little to no load in the back.
The Navara continues to offer treacle-slow steering that requires a little more muscle than customers may expect, requiring plenty of work on the wheel at low speeds.
While the trait is less noticeable at speed and you do eventually get used to it, the slow steering does compromise some of the ute’s car-like qualities around town.
That’s not to say there is little to recommend the Navara.
It still looks as sharp as ever, uses significantly less fuel than some rivals and has a level of interior finish well beyond popular alternatives – even if it lacks the active driver aids of Ford’s class-leading Ranger.
The Navara’s SUV-like appeal remains in place. But we still aren’t sure it’s the right ute to take to work.
2017 Nissan Navara dual cab 4×4 pricing and specifications:
Price: From R499 000
Engines: 2.3-litre single or twin-turbo four-cylinder diesel
Power: 120kW or 140kW at 3750rpm
Torque: 403Nm or 450Nm at 1250-2500rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual or seven-speed auto, four-wheel-drive
Fuel use: 6.5-7.1L/100km