First drive: 2017 Nissan Navara in Spain
Nissan made its debut in the pick-up segment way back in 1933 with its pint-sized Datsun 12, yet Toyota managed to comprehensively usurp it with the launch of its Hilux in 1968. The latter’s dominance in this region is especially emphatic, and the stats reflect this -– the Hilux has succeeded in cornering a huge 75% of the segment in the GCC, while the existing Navara and Pickup have been able to muster up just 12% between them. Nissan aims to at least partly redress this imbalance via its new “NP300” Navara line-up, which replaces not only the old Navara, but also the ancient Pickup.
Helping in its task of fulfilling the 2017 Navara’s twin-pronged role is the fact that it’s offered in Narrow Body and Wide Body formats, with the former targeted at the fleet/commercial sector, and the latter at retail buyers who’d contemplate purchasing it as a recreational vehicle that’s also fit for the daily grind. It’s pretty much the same strategy that Ford has adopted with its latest Ranger, which comprises both utilitarian workhorses and the lifestyle-oriented Wildtrak.
Pricing is a relatively strong suit of the new NP300 Navara range, with the entry-level Narrow Body model kicking off at a sharp Dhs 67,095. There are four more spec levels above it, with the fully-loaded version pegged at Dhs 81,550.
The Wide Body range starts with the Dhs 82,630 SE, with the fully equipped LE topping out at Dhs 102,920 before dealer markups. The range-topper comes with goodies such as push-button start, cruise control, Bluetooth, electric folding mirrors, intelligent key, five-inch LCD display screen, daytime running lights, LED front lamps, dual-zone climate control, leather steering wheel, rear-view camera, 16-inch alloys, side steps, limited-slip differential, Hill Descent Control and Hill Start Assist.
All models (barring the 4WD-only Wide Body flagship) are offered in 2WD and 4WD guises, with latter versions also gaining a differential lock and traction control. A 6-speed manual is standard and optional is — in what is another first for the LCV segment — a 7-speed automatic.
There are two powertrain choices. The vast majority of Navaras sold in our region will be equipped with a 2.5-litre petrol unit that puts out 168 hp and 244 Nm, but there’s also the option of a 2.5-litre turbodiesel that generates 161 hp and a beefy 403 Nm of torque.
The NP300 Navara is available in King Cab and Dual Cab configurations, but it’s expected that 80% of buyers in the GCC will opt for the latter. It has a payload of one tonne and a claimed towing capacity of 3500 kg.
Nissan execs have high hopes of the new Navara, bullishly predicting a 41% increase in sales over the outgoing Navara and Pickup. One of the key improvements, according to them, is a strengthened fully boxed frame chassis designed to address the public perception that the old model lacked durability. There’s also a new rigid-leaf rear suspension that’s claimed to be more robust than before, as well as allegedly improving ride comfort and handling.
One of the key reasons why the Hilux has a stranglehold on the pick-up segment is the overall economy of the ownership experience, but Nissan claims to have gone one better with the new Navara, boasting of unmatched fuel efficiency and the lowest maintenance costs for its class, although that remains to be seen in the real world.
Our maiden drive of the vehicle took place mainly in the Pyrenees mountain region of northern Spain, with our route taking us across freeways, country roads and extended gravel sections –- ostensibly to demonstrate its all-terrain prowess.
Unfortunately, only the 2.5-litre petrol versions were on hand to sample, but this is the motor that is in any case more relevant to our market. We initially mounted up in a basic-spec Narrow Body model with the 6-speed manual transmission.
First impressions were that this felt purely like a pick-up (and not car-like in any way). The steering has enough free play that you could rotate it 10 degrees in either direction without any tangible change in the vehicle’s trajectory. The 6-speed manual also has long throws, so there was no prospect of wrist-flicking the gearbox from one cog to the next. At the end of the day, though, this is a commercial vehicle, so neither of these gripes would be deal breakers for its intended audience.
However, what could deter some buyers is the petrol motor’s lack of torque. Nissan may well boast that the NP300 Navara is equipped with the most powerful engine in its class, but the reality feels anything but. We suspect the diesel would be a lot better but there weren’t any of these to sample at the launch.
After a brief halt, we switched to a fully kitted-out Wide Body model with cruise control, better seats, a 7-speed automatic and a host of other mod-cons. This variant immediately felt far better to drive –- the steering seemed more direct, the vehicle seemed better planted and it was just a more relaxing mode of transport, relatively speaking.
The ‘off-road’ sections of the drive program were a slight misnomer as there wasn’t even one occasion where the vehicle needed to be switched into 4WD via the rotary dial on the dashboard, let alone engage the diff lock. Suffice to say, the Navara waltzed across it all, so based on this inconclusive drive, it appears to be as capable in rough terrain as a Nissan Juke.
However, if there’s one area where the NP300 Navara scores handsomely over the Hilux, it’s in the visual department. Its sleek nose with swept-back headlights is a far more appealing proposition than the somewhat frumpy looking Hilux’s bluff beak. The Wide Body Navara looks particularly good with its flared wheel arches, 16-inch alloys and side steps, although Ford’s Ranger Wildtrak does a far better job at looking tough.
The acid test for the NP300 Navara will come in the hands of the end users. If they find the vehicle is able to withstand the wear and tear of daily duties without costing them more than a Hilux to operate, then its prospects appear bright. We don’t see much of a market for the top-end model, given its engine options. Either way, it appears to be enough of an improvement over the oldie to deliver at least some of the 41% increase in sales that Nissan is targeting.
For UAE prices and GCC specs, visit the Nissan buyer guide.
Photos by Nissan Middle East.