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Silver and Snow

After a long gestation period, the latest revamped and now locally produced Nissan Navara has finally been released, and when afforded a quick opportunity to sample it, we took it to the Matroosberg Private Nature Reserve for a good workout up the difficult, snow covered 4×4 trail.

While no less competent, reliable, or sophisticated than any of its competitors, the previous incarnation of the Nissan Navara just could not muster the kind of sales generated by Hilux, Ranger, or DMax in the local market – in part due to a limited number of derivatives and a lack of confidence in its load capability.

Recognising the need to revamp its one-ton pickup offering, Nissan has given the new range a much stronger frontal presence by using the imposing “interlock” grille of its USonly Titan truck as inspiration for crafting the visage of the latest Navara.

Besides the bold and prominent new grille, Nissan has further elevated the rugged character of the pickup with the introduction of Pro4X grade – a first for the Navara nameplate. Further highlighting its tough image is the model name, now in a new font, embossed on top of the front grille and across the width of the rear tailgate. 

The range has now been extended to include single cab and double cab models with 2WD and 4WD options, and both automatic and manual transmissions. According to Nissan, rigorous testing has resulted in an upgraded chassis with revised mountings, increased rear height, better shock absorber damping, and a new dual-rate five-link coil suspension designed to ensure a comfortable ride. 

The Navara can also now take a 100 kg bigger payload, thanks to a 36 mm increase in the front and 64 mm in the rear height of the load box. There is now an added step to the rear bumper for the higher grades, and an easy-lift tailgate with a torsion bar on all doublecabs.

The new Cshaped quad LED projector headlamps, each unit with its own intricate bezel shape, stood out on our silver LE 4×4 doublecab, while at the rear, seamless signature LED tail lamps enhanced its impressive appearance. The interior, while familiar, includes a new steering wheel and central eightinch touchscreen for the infotainment system, now with NissanConnect, for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility.

The seveninch TFT screen in front of the driver now has a higher resolution and the instrument panel still features hard plastic but the detailing gives it a quality feel. There are four USB ports, including two quick-charging ports, and three 12V power outlets, and the dual air-con in our LE model had additional vents for rear passengers. We found the rear seats to now be even more comfortable.

Making our way towards Ceres, the slight clatter of somewhat less sophisticated 2.5litre single turbo diesel engine now used, was comforting in a sense. Tried and tested in earlier Navara models, the uprated powertrain is bulletproof but I missed the smoother operation of the previously used 2.3litre twin-turbo …

That said, with 140 kW of power and 450 Nm of torque available, there is nothing wrong with the willingness of the 2.5litre mill. Yes, it is noisier under load but not intrusively so, thanks to better insulation. Its tractability is still more than sufficient in this application. 

What did impress was the on-road ride quality of the Navara. It is clear Nissan went to a lot of effort to improve this, and it worked, as even with its ladder-frame chassis the bakkie soaked up road imperfections with aplomb. The 18inch tyres also contributed to the softer ride.

Matroosberg Reserve

We set course for Matroosberg via the Navi app, and after a quick, pleasant trip, we arrived at the gate – where we were met with abundant enthusiasm … Unbeknown to us, the owners, and workers on the farm Erfdeel, who also manages the Matroosberg Reserve, are big Nissan fans!

We were greeted by Didi SmithDe Kock who runs Erfdeel with her brother Cordré and father, André Smith. The family has owned many Nissans over the years (André still has a Patrol) and after a thorough inspection and explaining Nissan Intelligent Mobility (NIM) with systems such as Forward Collision Warning, Emergency Braking, Driver Alertness, and High Beam Assist to them, they were suitably impressed by the newcomer.

However, the big test was still to come. After a recent cold snap, Matroosberg was covered with snow, and we wanted to see how the Navara cope up the quite difficult 4×4 route leading towards the 2 240 m high peak. Didi, an accomplished apple farmer and a renowned entrepreneur, offered us some locally developed energy drinks – she is now the distributor for the brand in the Western Cape – to enjoy on our way up.

Accompanied by a marshal on a quad, we started our ascent. Combined with the older engine, the shifts of the sevenspeed auto transmission felt less smooth but the ride comfort on the rough trail was surprisingly compliant thanks to better suspension stroke control by the dual rate springs. 

Selecting low-range on the shift-on-the-fly 4×4 ’box activated the Active Brake Limited Slip Differential System (ABLS) to manage power delivery and wheel braking between the axles, and the Navara gingerly but relentlessly negotiated its way across the slippery rocks and slushy grit. 

An initial surge of power from the engine made it difficult to modulate the accelerator efficiently but after a while, I was used to it, as we slowly but surely progressed up the greasy incline. In some narrow passages the Around View Monitor, with four cameras giving you a birds-eye-view around the vehicle, came in handy, and soon we were cutting through the snow close to the peak.

The view over the Ceres valley from the snow-enveloped top of the eight kilometre trail was spectacular. For the Navara, its chrome-bordered grille now gleaming in the abundant sunshine, the difficult, soggy climb was a breeze … Its fancy rims, however, took a pounding in the ruts, so keep this in mind when you want to do serious off-roading with your new Navara.

Mission accomplished 

After our brief but tough appraisal, we can confidently state Nissan has accomplished what it set out to do with its revamp of the Navara. The new tough and robust appearance grabs the attention, and it can compete with the best in terms of ride, handling, and off-roading. 

The engine and drivetrain, while hugely capable, does feel a bit dated compared to some newer powertrains in the class but engine and wind noise within the cabin has been effectively reduced. At its new competitive price point, the Navara certainly has the Hilux and Ranger in its sights …

Text: Ferdi de Vos | Images © Ryan Abbott