SOMETIMES you climb into a vehicle and find an instant affinity with it. Comfy seats, a funky console, quality styling and that distinctive new-car smell all play a part.
Mostly it's just that inexplicable feeling of content, pretty much like when you first meet someone you know will be a friend for life.
It wasn't like that for me and the Nissan Navara. Well, not at first anyway.
Sure, the electric blue was captivating and it stood strong on its haunches but I found the straighter than usual seating and turbo whine a bit disconcerting. The bulk, especially in shopping centres, was a hassle as was not being able to store stuff in the tray without exposing it to the elements.
But that was before the rains came. Then, I was grateful for the Navara's high ground clearance in a last-minute dash to the shop for batteries, water and baby supplies. I was happy for the bulk and a feeling of security, as false as it may be, as the rain thundered down and the high winds pushed us along. And though we were a million times more fortunate than the thousands of people who lost everything in the unprecedented floods, it was comforting to know as the canal rose to meet the back patio, the Navara was ready and able to shepherd us to higher ground.
How interesting that in cars, like people, it takes a few crisis moments to truly reveal mettle or perhaps to just truly see it.
With the exception of the engine, this is the area in which Nissan has most concentrated its efforts. Seats are more stylish and comfortable while the centre console, too, has had a makeover. The dash is still plastic but of a softer more yielding variety and the instrumentation has also been updated. The steering wheel is adjustable for rake only but the four-way tilt on the driver's seat ensures a good position is easily achieved. As in all vehicles of this type, backseat passengers do not revel in the most luxurious offerings, although the improved trim and cushioning make the Navara better than most.
On the road
The new 2.5-litre four-cylinder diesel engine produces 11% more power and 12% more torque, which according to Nissan makes the Navara a leader in its class. You can certainly feel the improved performance especially up steep hills or negotiating treacherous terrain in the aftermath of the floods. The ST-X has excellent road manners, handling more easily than its bulk suggests and sticking to the task with urgency. Turbo lag is hardly noticeable but the turbo whine can be trying.
What do you get?
With refined comfort comes an improvement in inclusions with the Navara now equipped with dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth capability, steering wheel controls, external temperature gauge, auxiliary audio input and a drive computer. There is a full complement of airbags as well as ESP, EBD and Brake Assist.
Nissan makes no secret that the Toyota HiLux ($53,690) is its main rival but competition will also come from the Mitsubishi Triton GLX-R ($50,490), the Mazda BT-50 ($40,950) and the Isuzu D-MAX LS-U ($44,200).
The Navara is quite obviously geared at tradies who want a reliable work vehicle during the week and a family transporter on the weekend. To that end the ST-X is tough and robust with storage available under the seats as well as in the tray and excellent ground clearance.
It also features a five-channel Utili-Track System which basically uses super-strong cleats that can move along a rail to allow you to secure a load quickly, safely and efficiently. The Navara may be easy to drive but it is a big vehicle. Parking spots are a challenge with some part of the ST-X almost always refusing to be restrained by the white lines.
Also, tub covers do not come standard which makes it difficult to protect loads from the elements.
The improved engine has meant a 14% decrease in fuel consumption that at 9.0 litres per 100km in the automatic is pretty fair going.
A slightly tweaked look adds to the Navara's appeal. The new sportier, shapely front bumper adds about 80mm to the vehicle's length while the 17-inch spoke alloys and revised grille allows it a touch of sparkle.
The Nissan Navara has always been a good option for a demographic that includes tradies, farmers and horse owners.
The new engine, comfort inclusions and external changes should merely firm it in the running.
Model: Nissan Navara ST-X.
Details: Four-wheel drive dual-cab ute.
Transmission: Six-speed manual or five-speed automatic.
Engine: 2.5-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel generating maximum power of 140kW @ 4000rpm and peak torque of 450Nm @ 2000rpm.
Consumption: 9.0 litres/100km (auto) combined average; 8.5 litres/100km (manual).
Bottom line: $53,240.
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