Can Nissan rescue the Navara with MKII?

From snapping chassis’ to the suspension issues plaguing the NP300, is the new Series 2 NP300 enough to claw back sales, and bring back the solid workhorse name that the Navara has fought to make for itself?

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When Nissan announced the NP300 Navara we were all, frankly, rather bloody excited. For years the industry had been waiting for a manufacturer that had mastered coil springs well enough to put a set in a decent load-carrying ute. Leaf springs had indeed worked spectacularly since the horse-drawn cart was invented; however the sacrifice was feeling like you were driving a 1930s Chev. Then came the NP300 Navara. The first model change in too many years, but it brought with it a coil-sprung rear end, a twin-turbo diesel with plenty of power and torque (though down 100Nm of torque from the D40 ST-X 550), some rather updated looks, and a whole swathe of new paint colours to excite the masses.

 

The problem was that the coils were so far from perfect, they were struggling to hit ‘satisfactory’ on the report card. Nissan then made the mistake of releasing images of the new Navara – both unladen, and with 410kg in the back. The problem for punters was that in the empty Navara you had a solid eight inches between the tyre and rear wheel arch, which made it look tall and proud and able to carry a massive payload. However, in the very next photo with a bit of weight in the tray, there was one scant inch. Unfortunately for the Nissan marketing people who made this very slight but obvious mistake, a hell of a lot of people noticed.

 

And this is not to mention how bad the arse-end sag was for the people who bought one, and wanted to use it as an actual work ute. Then you had the issue of the rather heavy steering and wallowy ride as all of the perfectly-aligned suspension geometry gets thrown out the window. Suffice to say, more than a few people who ended up with a new Navara in the driveweay were rather underwhelmed.

 

So what has Nissan done with the new release, the Series 2 NP300? Apparently a fair bit… but the Navara 2 we drove still had some of the old niggles. It feels firmer on the road, yet still somewhat disconnected from the rear suspension – insofar as the bumps in the front feel completely different in the back. The steering, despite the revisions, is still heavy at low speeds and requires nearly 400 turns lock to lock (OK, maybe 7.5, but whatever). Once a bit of weight was added to the Navara 2, we noticed the bigger difference. With just under half the payload limit reached (900-plus kg apparently – we had 400kg in it), it still sat a lot lower than it probably should have. But at least it didn’t smash us into the bump-stops when we went over the average Sydney pothole. They’ve also knocked in a new set of shocks to dampen the obvious coil shortcomings, and a set of new rebound dampers in the rear.

 

Other than the suspension, minor infotainment system updates and the removal of the NP300 badge (which appeared to confuse more than help), the Navara has remained very much the same. Oh, besides another new model – the SL – because well, the DX, RX, ST and ST-X just weren’t enough (not even mentioning the single-cab, king-cab, dual-cab or 4X4/4X2 models). For those interested, the SL sits between the RX and ST models and is marketed towards the mid-range tradies – if that makes sense… ’cause well, that’s what we thought the RX was, after the DX, but then why not just get an ST for more comfort, or just go the ST-X, over the RX, because it’s better than the DX. Right?

 

Right? Yeah, we’re confused too.

 

BUT WILL IT BE ENOUGH?

As most of us will remember, the D22 and D40 had an almost cult following; however amongst those who never drank the Kool-aid, both models were still known to fall apart around you as you drove down the highway. Despite the shortcomings of the NP300, sales are on the up; but they’re still well short of the HiLux, Triton and Ranger. And unfortunately with the continuation of the coils, and their less-than-stellar performance, it appears it may well be the same story again. Despite the upgrades.

 

We’ve said this before, but all Nissan really needs to do to fix all of these issues and essentially own all of the market share is bring the Titan XD over, market it as the Navara NP1000, throw a $70-80K price tag at it, and sit back and watch the punters roll in to the dealerships… (NB – if you’re a Nissan marketing exec reading this, I’m happy for you to use my idea here, and all I ask as payment is just one Titan I can keep… yeah?). In all honesty, the coil rear is a great idea, but it really needs some tweaking to make it work. The Navara overall is not a bad bit of kit, but time will tell if it will stand up to typical Aussie punishment – and that is where people will make up their minds.

 

UTE SALES OVERALL

Toyota HiLux – 42,104 (up from 35,161)

Ford Ranger – 36,934 (up from 29,185)

Mitsubishi Triton – 21,987 (down from 25,338)

Holden Colorado – 18,386 (down from 18,520)

Nissan Navara – 16,755 (up from 13,897)

Isuzu D-Max – 16,359 (up from 14,640

Mazda BT-50 – 14,504 (up from 13,500)

Volkswagen Amarok – 8,261 (down from 8,545)

Foton Funland – 839 (down from 1,065)

Great Wall Steed – 99 (new model)

 

$10 GRAND IN THE HAND 

HOW TO MAKE THE NAV AUSSIE-READY

 

Bags in the back

Coils in the back are a great idea in a ute; but as many Navara owners have already found, things can become complicated when you add a load in the back. The obvious choice is to add helper air bags in the springs, but we’d go a step further and ditch the coils altogether for a full replacement air bag system. You retain your full range of suspension travel and add or remove air depending on the load you’re carrying. The only pitfall is you need to keep a close eye on your GVM and weight distribution. Bent chassis’ are no-one’s idea of a good time.

 

Barwork

A front bar, sliders and some underbody protection go a long way on any vehicle. We’d also look at getting some weld-on plates to strengthen the frame up to prevent the aforementioned ‘my car now looks like it’s doing yoga’ problem.

 

Lift ’n’ Tyres

“Geez these stock Highway Terrains are grouse…” said nobody ever. A 50mm lift tailored to the static weight of your vehicle, some properly rated shocks and some decent AT rubber is just about mandatory for any ute that wants to put in some off-road kilometres (not just the Nav). It may be worth looking at getting a kit that upgrades the GVM at the same time. Money well spent if you’re towing or loaded up.

 

Gauges

We’re not saying the twin-turbo four-pot is by any means unreliable, but it’s still a fairly unknown quantity – so a boost and EGT gauge would be cheap insurance against mechanical failure halfway across the French Line.

 

Minor Tweaks

If there’s any money left in the kitty, we’d probably look at upgrading the steering (either the pump or the rack); and maybe throwing a chip and exhaust at it to get a bit more grunt, economy and towing ability. Combined with the above fairly straightforward mods you’d have a vehicle that’s ready for just about anything, we reckon.

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