Expert car reviewers know their stuff, but sometimes you just need to put a real customer in a car to find out what really works, so we asked pick-up driver Charlie Grinnall to put the latest Nissan Navara to the test.
I’m not a journalist and don’t review cars for a living, but I do spend a considerable amount of my time outdoors and I’m well used to four-wheel-drive vehicles; I drive a Ford Ranger pickup as I run Outdoor Adventurer.
First impressions of the Nissan Navara are that it looks terrific, with plenty of exterior chrome work, 18-inch alloy wheels and a tailgate spoiler, all of which give it a more prestigious feel than you might expect of a working vehicle.
The interior is similarly impressive, although initially a bit daunting largely because I’m not great with modern technology. A deep delve into it revealed that it’s surprisingly easy to use, even the seven-inch touchscreen, which is clear and easy to operate. It all came as second nature after a short while.
I was also pleased to see three 12-volt power outlets, which are great for keeping all my electrical kit charged, whether that be smartphones and tablets for the kids or rechargeable headlamps, torches and cameras for me. Disappointingly though, there’s just a single USB socket.
The actual interior trim comprises a fair bit of plastic, which you’d expect in this price range. Having said that, it doesn’t look bad or feel cheap and it is certainly easy to wipe clean.
The softer trim is mainly leather which looks smart, but retains a utilitarian finish; I personally find leather seats work much better than cloth in a work vehicle as, like the plastic trim, it’s easy to wipe down and wears extremely well over the years and the miles.
Leather is also used for the steering wheel, gearknob, and armrest, all of which gives a premium feel to what might otherwise be too down-to-earth for the sort of folk who buy pickups as a bit of a tax dodge.
There is plenty of cabin storage, too. The hidey-holes include a glovebox, a centre console cubby box, and also some large door pockets in all four doors. There are also some little hatches hidden under the rear seat. These aren’t huge but they are handy to stow away something safe or even to keep your towing accessories organised.
The lack of cup holders in the back is a bit of a shame. First World problems I know, but their absence was notable when the Navara was being used as a family wagon with the kids on board. I also found there to be an unusually placed lump hidden under the carpet to the left of the clutch, which felt a bit out of place and uncomfortable underfoot when pressing the clutch.
These minor grumbles aside, the Navara’s major and minor controls are exactly where you’d expect them, making it an easy vehicle to jump into a just drive. The driving position is comfortable too and gives good visibility all around.
It does feel huge, even if the reality is that it’s no bigger than the competition. Maybe it’s just clever design, with its lines and ride height conspiring to make it feel much bigger than it really is? No matter why, the feeling is one of indomitability. I liked that.
Initial performance after pulling away from a standstill felt a little hesitant but after that initial pause, the engine soon roars into action. As pickup trucks are getting bigger and heavier, and the engines smaller in capacity and more highly tuned, I shouldn’t be surprised there may be that little delay on pulling off from a junction.
However, once you get moving the 2.3-litre twin-turbo diesel doesn’t hang about. With 190hp on tap it pulls well through the gears despite the new engine being 200cc smaller than previous Nissan Navara models.
More important is the 450Nm of torque that is available from 1500rpm. This is an impressive figure and bodes well for the Navara’s potential in sticky mud or when towing a heavy trailer or caravan. With a towing capacity of 3,500kg and a maximum payload of 1,054kg, you should find it beefy enough for almost anything the average tradesman, farmer or outdoor enthusiast throws at it.
The rear load bed is also a decent size and come with adjustable tie-down hoops for securing goods, something that not every manufacturer provides.
As the week went by, I found myself starting to like it just a little bit more day-by-day. I used it for commuting, dropping the little one off at school, and to explore the Cotswolds, an area I call home. I used it, in short, just as most people would.
The Nissan Navara took it all in its stride, conquering the Cotswold hills with ease, gripping well even on wet and muddy country lanes, and handling the fast-flowing fords without hesitation.
The four-wheel-drive system was easy to use and, once selected, the traction available is hugely impressive. My test vehicle was also fitted with the optional rear differential lock. At £450 fitted, it’s a bit of a bargain and I’d highly recommend choosing it if you intend to use your Navara off-road.
Reversing and parking is made easy thanks to the Navara’s reversing cameras and its 360-degree bird’s eye view, which gets displayed clearly on the seven-inch touchscreen.
The ride is reasonably comfortable too; the Navara actually feels more like driving an SUV than a hulking old pickup. At least some of the credit must go to the new five-link, coil spring suspension. Huge, 296mm ventilated disc brakes up front give it impressive stopping power too.
Another surprise was the fuel economy. I managed to eke high 30s, which I think is pretty good for such a large and heavy pickup. With a lighter right foot, I can see that 40mpg would be within grasp.
The Navara is a strong offering, with a fairly decent, moderately premium interior. It’ll find friends among those who appreciate the reduced company car tax liability that a pickup enables and, because it’s got the usual 3,500kg towing capacity and ability to carry a one-tonne bag of sand in the back, it should also find a ready market with the sort of folk who need a modern pick-up’s load-carrying ability.
It’s not necessarily going to be the cheapest option in its class, but the starting prices are reasonable and the kit is impressive as you move up the range.