Open gallery Close by Alan Taylor-Jones 11 November 2015 Follow @alantaylorjones Share
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This is the latest in a long line of Nissan pick-ups, from a family tree that stretches back 80 years. Things move quickly in the motoring world though, and a class-leading vehicle can soon find itself an also-ran in just a few short months.
Ten years is therefore the motoring equivalent of an age, but despite this, that’s exactly how long the second generation of Nissan Navara had been on sale in the UK.
Would an SUV be as good off-road or be able to haul quite so much cargo? That’s very unlikely, especially for this moneyAlan Taylor-JonesReviewer
As good as it was, time waits for no man (or 4×4). So with impeccable timing, Nissan has brought its third-generation Navara, the NP300 to the forefront. Considering that there are refreshed versions of the Ford Ranger, Toyota Hilux, Volkswagen Amarok and Mitsubishi L200 all entering the market, the Nissan has some stiff competition. However, this fight for supremacy is only set to intensify with the Renault Alaskan (based on the Navara) and Fiat’s Fullback (based on the L200) both priming themselves to enter the battle, while Mercedes-Benz, Peugeot and Citroën are all watching on from the horizon.
Therefore it’s a good thing that Nissan has been thorough with the NP300, then. Although the chassis and 4WD system are modified versions of those found on the second-generation Navara, everything else is new. The engine has predictably been downsized and now comes in at 2.3 litres, a reduction of around 200cc.
Two outputs are available: 158bhp and 187bhp. You might expect Nissan to have simply cranked the boost up to get the additional power, but they’ve been a little more thorough than that, bolting on an extra turbo to create extra grunt. Naturally, both engines feature economy and emissions improvements, too.
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The big news is that the Double Cab ditches the old-school leaf sprung rear end of the previous generation. In its place is an all-new five-link set-up with coil springs that promises greater ride comfort and improved handling. Despite this change, it can still carry over a tonne in the bed and tow 3.5 tonnes.
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While King-Cab models still soldier on with cart springs, these will account for less than 10% of projected sales and are likely to be bought purely as workhorses. As the Double Cab is the one that will appeal to private buyers, potentially as an alternative to an SUV, that’s the model we’re looking at here.
We’re not going to beat around the bush, the NP300 Navara has the best ride comfort of any unladen pick-up we’ve experienced, although the latest generation Toyota Hilux has run it close. Where the previous-generation Navara (and other leaf-sprung competitors) would become bouncy and unsettled, the new model feels much more like a conventional SUV.
Even over sizeable bumps the rear end soaked up the initial hit before settling back down again almost immediately. Any pogo action you might have expected is notable only by its absence, which makes for much more comfortable progress over a variety of surfaces.
Handling is also much improved. You can carry a surprising amount of speed around bends while even rapid direction changes are completed without fuss. You’d never call it fun – slow steering and the laws of physics see to that – but it really does feel like a very stable vehicle and much better than you’d expect from a pick-up.
Despite this, the NP300 is still more than capable off-road. The Double Cab is 4WD only and comes complete with a low range ’box, hill descent control and excellent axle articulation. If you want to get really serious, a rear diff-lock is on the options list, too. Up a steep and rocky trail, the Navara didn’t even break into a sweat.
While it is a significant step forward over the old model, there are still reminders that the Navara is, in essence, a working vehicle. The rear suspension is a massive improvement, but there’s no getting away from the fact there’s a heavy-duty live axle attached to a ladder frame chassis.