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Five reasons why the new 2018 Navara is a much better 4WD ute
A quick fang around the block doesn’t really tell you much about anything when it comes to reviewing a new 4WD. But one week in the High Country? Well, that’s a different story. I grabbed a new Navara from Nissan, threw the swag in the back and joined some folk from work up in the Australian Alps. Here is how it stacked up, and what you need to know about.
THE suspension (and steering)
This was the one, single (largest) failing of the first iteration of the ‘NP300’ Nissan Navara, and the Series II update that soon followed it. Nissan took a big leap with a new design back in 2015, adding a five-link coil-spring rear end in place of the ‘traditional’ leaf packs.
Unfortunately, they got the tuning horribly wrong. Instead of tuning the suspension for good handling and composure at high GVMs and GTMs, they went for something overall ‘soft’ and car-like. It was actually a tune the Thai market really likes. The Navara drove and felt like a car, but it also handled loads like a Fiat Punto. Nissan tried to fix the problem with new shock and bump-stop tuning; but that was like putting a band-aid on a machete wound.
Now it’s fixed. Not Series II ‘fixed’, either. New coil springs – along with those new shocks and bump-stops – have transformed the vehicle. It works as a load-lugger now, which means it’s worthy of your attention. This stiffer suspension has allowed Nissan to speed up the steering ratio as well, which is like icing on the cake: It all works better now.
Nothing has changed here, but that’s good news because it was a great setup off the bat. Many won’t like the fact that only 2.3 litres makes 140kW and 450Nm, whilst being force-fed compressed air via two turbochargers. While big, loping and lazy performance from an under-stressed big-block is awesome, engines like this (YS23DDTT, what a mouthful) are going to be increasingly common. Amarok, Ranger Raptor and Discovery (for example) all use small-capacity, twin-charged diesels.
The more important point for me is how it drives, and how it develops that power. Using a smaller, high-pressure turbo at lower revs, the peak torque of 450Nm is available at a lowly 1,500rpm. Wind it out, and 140kW is made available at 3,750rpm. That’s not a huge redline, making the engine feel like a mid-range chugger.
The seven-speed gearbox is great; it gets the best out of the motor. Acceleration is brisk and you can also lope along the highway at very low revs. Combined with a two-speed transfer case, you get great low gearing for off-road driving too.
The off-road performance
Coils in the rear were heralded by all as the next big step in 4WD ute development. For too long we have been stuck with leaf springs and drum brakes. Coils are better, no doubt.
Many folk love to say that only leaf springs can carry weight, and coils aren’t fit for purpose on a high-payload ute. Wrong, wrong, wrong. What Nissan initially did badly was grossly under-estimate what spring rate it really needed in the rear. The spring compressed way too quickly, and the bump-stops were copping a flogging.
Now, these new coils are strong enough for serious weight in the rear. A taller coil gives the ute some rake, and allows more clearance between axle and chassis. The good news here is that Nissan hasn’t overcooked it the other way. The ute feels way more tight and composed, and you’re only getting a slight jiggle over rough bumps to remind you of the increased spring rate.
Dual-rate coils are something new for the 4WD ute scene, but old news in other applications (and the aftermarket). Instead of the coil having the exact same profile from top to bottom, a dual-rate coil has two different setups. The top is wound closer together, giving a softer spring rate.
As the spring compresses, the softer winds close up and bind together – which then puts the stiffer spring into action. So, you have a coil spring which is soft at the start, and then stiffens up when compressed: Perfect for a 4X4 ute.
Off-road, the performance is still good. Nothing is lost from the taller, stiffer rear springs. Flex from the rear end is on par with other utes; and while the traction control makes some funny noises, it’s quite effective. It’s not the best, but it’s good enough. The Navara scores points for the rear locker (standard) which also works in unison with the traction control on the front end. Ground clearance is on par with the rest of the gang, and underbody protection is good. As a standard setup, the Navara is really well dialled.
This was there to start with, and it’s still there today. Coils are more refined than leaves, and the Navara interior is a nice place to hang out. The seats are cosseting and supportive, and all of the switchgear and materials feel good.
The 2.3-litre diesel is also nice and refined. Revs are kept low and quiet by the seven-speed auto, and kick-down is fairly responsive for when you want to boogie. Plus, fuel economy is very sharp.
The fact that the Navara now works well as an off-road 4WD, a working rig and a kilometre-cruncher turns it into a much more complete package. I would previously have only recommended the Navara to those who wanted a ute, but never really wanted to use it properly fully loaded or towing. Now it can do all of that… whilst also staying refined and capable off-road.
The Navara is the only 4WD ute that has a ‘towball mass penalty’, which knocks around your legal payload according to how many kilograms are on your towball. It’s definitely worth noting: Your GCM (gross combination mass) can’t go anywhere near the listed totals in the real world. But now, this is the only real shortcoming in a ute that has become a genuine contender.
2018 Nissan Navara ST Specifications
Engine: 2.3-litre, four-cylinder common-rail turbo-diesel. 140kW @ 3,750rpm, 450Nm @ 1,500-2,500rpm.
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic gearbox, part-time 4WD. Low-range transfer case.
Dimensions: 5,255mm long x 1,850mm wide x 1,825mm high. 3,150mm wheelbase.
Ground clearance: 225mm. 33.1º approach, 28.1º departure and 24.5º rampover angles.
Suspension: Independent double-wishbone front suspension, five-link live-axle rear suspension.
Fuel capacity: 80 litres.
Weights: 1,936kg kerb, 2,910kg GVM, 974kg payload.
Towing: 3,500kg payload, 5,910kg GCM.
The Unsealed 4X4 Review
On-road performance: 8.0
Off-road performance: 8.5
Family practicality: 7.0
Interior and technology: 8.0
Fuel economy: 8.0
Aftermarket support: 8.0