July 30, 2014 00:00 By Kingsley Wijayasinha
A high dose of comfort, loads of equipment, fine power delivery, oodles of space and exceptional off-roading capability make Nissan's latest pickup a class leader
Pickup trucks are known for their toughness and ability in hauling around heavy loads, but Japanese automaker Nissan has just given the vehicle new meaning. It’s now smart as well.
Nissan’s new Navara made its global debut in Thailand recently, and the Japanese company is pinning high hopes on its latest pickup, which is priced from Bt575,000 to Bt996,000 for the top-of-the-range Double Cab 4x4 model featured today.
Nissan has been producing pickups for ages, starting off with the Datsun 12 being introduced way back in 1933. The automaker has produced more than 14 million pickup trucks to date and has sold them in as many as 160 countries, with the largest market being the United States.
The Navara is the 12th-generation pickup from Nissan’s stable. And while the majority of 1-tonne pickup trucks (whether it is the Toyota Vigo, Isuzu D-Max, Mitsubishi Triton or Ford Ranger) aren’t offered in the US, where larger pickups are the preference, the Navara will be sold there. This shows the level of confidence Nissan has in its latest truck.
The new model features emotional design that exhibits tough, muscular highlights, particularly the bonnet and huge built-in fenders, but the biggest surprise of all seems to be the interior, which makes you feel you’re in a car rather than a pickup truck. The materials used are impressive, with the steering wheel and front seats reminding you of the Teana midsized sedan. There is commendable space inside, and tall passengers in the rear will find there’s ample legroom and headroom. The rear-seat backrest has enough incline and is comfortable to park your body in, although if a centre armrest was offered it would lend rear passengers even more comfort.
There is a large number of storage areas around the cabin, including under-seat storage at the back and cupholders for rear passengers, who also get the rear air-vent treatment. The air-conditioning system is dual-zone with digital controls. I like the matt aluminium finish around the cabin, but find the glossy chrome gear housing a little cheesy. I would have preferred the same finish as the rest of the pack.
Nissan has also decided to offer a very long list of features that make it the “smartest” pickup in the market. It’s the first and only pickup to come with a LED headlamp configuration including daytime running lights. The headlights promise 1.4 times better visibility and consume about half the power compared to conventional lamps.
Okay, so let’s start off with the smart-entry function that makes life a good deal easier for all of us: just open the door and press the engine start button. Between the rev counter and speedometer is a TFT screen that has some very attractive graphics displaying a variety of information. The steering wheel is also multi-function. Headlights are automatic, although the windshield wipers aren’t, which is a pity – they should have come as a package. On the rearview mirror is a digital compass display. It is also possible to customise settings for driver assistance, meters, vehicle, alerts, maintenance and even language (Engish and Thai).
Plumb on top of the centre of the console is a storage area with a 12-volt outlet, making it perfect for charging your phone or using a navigator if you don’t purchase a Navara equipped with a navigation system. Then there’s a Kenwood touchscreen display below the centre air vents that comes with a host of functions, including rearview camera and, of course, Bluetooth for audio and telephone.
Fans always say they choose Nissan pickups because of their toughness, and the new model will not disappoint them thanks to the fully boxed lightweight ladder frame with high-strength steel in critical areas plus a highly rigid construction. However, the truck is about 70kg lighter than its predecessor, and the better aerodynamics also help lower fuel consumption (but Nissan isn’t releasing any figures yet, so we’ll have to wait for them).
I settled in behind the wheel of the Navara during a test-drive event in Chiang Mai on Monday, and although we were not carrying any loads in the pickup bed, I was impressed with the vehicle’s ride quality. Yes, with the Navara you can forget the nightmarish bumpy ride of conventional pickups as it offers a smooth, pleasant driving experience.
Apart from the polished ride on the highway, the Navara actually tamed the rugged part of the test drive, absorbing shocks and vibration with ease, which led me to think that this could even be a safe vehicle for pregnant women to travel in as the soft ride means there is a lower risk of a miscarriage when the going gets tough. The steering is another highlight in the Navara, offering passenger car feel and precision.
Furthermore, the 4x4 Navara also comes with features you’d associate with SUVs costing much more. They include VDC (Vehicle Dynamic Control), ABLS (Active Brake Limited Slip), HDC (Hill Descent Control), HAS (Hill Start Assist) and LSD (no, not the drug but rather Limited Slip Differential). Nissan has also included “shift-on-the-fly”. And although the vehicle’s height has been lowered, its ground clearance has been increased. As a result, approach and departure angles have been improved to 31.0 and 25.6 degrees, respectively.
Thankfully, a brand new engine is offered and you’d be surprised once again to find that the 2.5-litre turbocharged power unit can pump out as much as 190hp and 450Nm. Even the standard 2.5 turbo engine produces 163hp and 403Nm, which is already impressive. The engine is 11 per cent more fuel economical and is mated to a 7-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift mode that is super smooth, delivering power to the wheels with abundant efficiency and continuity.
And what about safety? Besides the safety structure and side impact beams, there are probably more airbags than you can guess – dual front SRS, curtain, side, and driver knee airbags. Sounds more like a premium car model, right?
Well, many of you know that I’m not a pickup fan, but after driving the Navara for a short while I must admit that I was impressed. The high level of comfort, tonnes of equipment never heard of in a pickup, smooth power delivery, lots of space, emotional design and favourable off-roading capability makes the Navara a class leader, and all at a price below Bt1 million.
“The engineers have done their job really well,” I pointed out to the Nissan PR official who asked me what I thought of the vehicle. “Now it’s the sales and marketing team that will have to carry on the good work,” I added.