Topping the Ante:
NISSAN NAVARA NP300
Words: Ardie Lopez
Phots: Jerel Fajardo
One of the most important things I’ve learned from my four-year stint in mainstream advertising many years ago, is that a product should have a single, unique selling proposition. Its positioning should be focused. It can’t claim to be several things to its target market- let alone be everything to everyone. If it could stand for something, it should stand for just one thing. Well that learning has been put to the test more than a few times after I’ve moved on to being a Motoring Journalist, and all of those times, that learning has proven to be correct. I’ve expressed it in my Editorial at the early part of this issue that automobile categories these days are wantonly crossing over each other, it’s causing a bit of dilution when it comes to what they’re known for to begin with. But here’s an automobile that may change all that.
Enter the Nissan Navara, all new, after a considerably long wait. It couldn’t have come at a better time for Nissan, for the brand under the leadership of its current President, Toti Zara, is definitely in full stride. Where its model lineup has been divided between two entities before (Nissan under NMPI and UMC), it’s now unified and solidified under Nissan Philippines, Inc. (NPI), and is gaining more and more momentum with its big push. Just like the all-new X-Trail, the new Navara is leaps above its predecessor. But the way it’s introduced to the media and to the public, surpassing its former iteration is the least of its intended function. A spectacular launch held just recently heralded its aggressive claims that point to it being the truck to beat, and the model to officially get the pickup wars started!
Rolling out with a couple of firsts, the Navara is currently the only truck to have a 5-link Coil Suspension that keeps its tough, fully boxed ladder frame smoothly afloat. Just the same, its 7-speed automatic transmission (the same one used on Nissan’s 370Z and Nissan’s other sport nameplates) is unique in its class. Already, these two key features of the Navara make it positively deviate from its main competitors, who’ve already set the bar high. There are actually several things more about the Navara that make it sound so exciting on paper, but they simply served as a more compelling invitation for a proper, thorough test drive.
Baler in Aurora Province was top of mind from a list of possible destinations, for the considerably long distance it takes to reach it (approximately a 240 Km, 6-hour drive from Manila), and the variety of terrain and road conditions one would encounter along the way- from the smoothly-paved expressways to test the vehicle at speed; to dirt, coarse gravel and rocky areas for some mild off-roading to get a good feel of its comfort and ride quality; to a very long series of twisties to reveal the vehicle’s dynamic characteristics, its braking performance, and simply how it is overall, on such an extended and pleasurably demanding drive.
Though we also had the 4X2 variant in convoy, it just had to be the top of the line Nissan Navara 4×4 VL7 AT for me to test and take the lead with to quell my pent up curiosity about this truck. Savanna Orange is what they call this sporty hue, and though it’s not unique to Nissan nor the Navara, it certainly is easy on the eyes and sits well with their insignia, kinda how this type of Orange clicked well with the Nissan 350Z when it first wowed the market. So as not to be hindered by Manila traffic, we assembled crazy early. Settling in its seat, I hit the Start/Stop button and scanned what would be my cockpit for the better part of the morning. Black leather and a brushed aluminum finish on the accents is a surefire combination. Also a restrained but not understated interior design motif is certainly the safe way to go- I may have been left wanting for a bit of a surprise, but I figured the classic sporty approach would give it some good longevity in terms of visual appeal. The interior feels and looks like that of a premium Nissan sport sedan, and that may have been the designers’ original intention. Pairing my phone via Bluetooth was a cinch with its 2-DIN entertainment command center with built-in navigation, CD player (for those who still use it, tee hee), MP3 compatibility, and iPod connectivity. I prepared “Roadsongs” playlist way in advance, and cueing up the Stone Temple Pilots’ Interstate Love Song sounded great on the Navara’s clear and well-balanced 6-speaker system, well, after I tweaked the EQ to my preferred settings. I was also glad to confirm, though I expected it, that it had complete audio, cruise and vehicle information controls built-in on its leather-wrapped steering wheel. And off we went.
This top tier variant comes equipped with an inline-4 cylinder 2.5 Liter CRDi Diesel engine with a Variable Geometry System (VGS) Turbocharger and Intercooler, with a delightfully ample 190 bhp output at 3600 RPM, and a robust 332 lb/ft of Torque that provides for pleasurable surges of effortless acceleration. Right off the bat, once could tell that the ride was devoid of the harsh feel usually associated with trucks. Breezing through the NLEx was almost a blur, smooth and easy, and visibility (at 2:30AM) was exceptional with its HID headlamps. The VGS worked pretty well in eradicating Turbo lag, as it complemented the silky-shifting 7-speed automatic transmission, as gears felt gapless on the upshifts. Steering was quite responsive, and if it weren’t for the Navara’s generous dimensions you’d tend to think you’re gliding in and out of lane in an executive sedan.
Our timing was good, as by the time sunlight started seeping through the sky, we were on more interesting terrain. Though I was enjoying the plush ride on the well-paved highways I was silently counting the Km’s on the Odometer to finally get off the road and feel what the Navara is like with its tamer suspension. Patches of rough road weren’t as abundant (funny, as I wouldn’t seek them out on other days) but I did take advantage of them whenever we came across them. True enough, the Independent Double Wishbone Suspension up front soaked up the ruts and small rocks well without any jarring sensation. After going through more aggressive terrain, I’ve been able to place, more or less, where the Navara’s ride quality ends up in comparison to its closest competitors. Having driven the Ford Ranger and the recently introduced Mitsubishi Strada, the Navara is somewhere in between- with a bias towards the direction of the Strada which is more car-like in feel and handling.
The Ford Ranger Wildtrak with a 3.2 Liter engine is as manly as it gets, brimming with power and athletic prowess, it doesn’t let you forget you’re driving a truck despite its improvement in comfort and handling quality over its earlier iterations. The top variant of the new Mitsubishi Strada, as I’ve driven it on a racetrack and an off-road course in Japan, felt more refined and car-like in every respect, enabling one to drive smoother with it at higher speeds. The Navara feels more like a plush SUV, which is where I believe my comfort levels and driving style towards will gravitate to, should I opt for a truck to own.
We’ve finally hit the long section of zigzag roads, which I’ve pegged to conclude my “real-world” handling test on, saving more aggressive off-roading for last. I wasn’t able to resist breaking off from our little convoy to push on a bit harder to get a more in-depth experience with Nissan’s front-lining multi-tasker truck and its touted revolutionary handling. It did feel reassuringly planted, as I took on the curves and hairpins with a racing line, paying attention to keeping a brisk pace without waking up my sleeping passenger with the lateral swings. Surprisingly, the Navara felt light and just a tad light on the rear end as it is, after all, a bona fide truck, but Nissan did a wonderful job with finding the sweet spot on the Navara’s power to weight ratio. Body roll was minimal, and the feeling of being in total control at speed never faded, especially with the combination of an effective Vehicle Dynamic Control and Active Brake Limited Slip system. Its grip was impressive, as with its “pointability” and balance, driving it as I would a very capable car without it losing composure.
By the time we reached Baler, the lighting conditions were gloomy but still ideal for some good Photography, what with the spectacular landscape backdrops Baler is famous for. As we got a bit too adventurous positioning our two model trucks against some picturesque rock formations, the 4×2 Navara got bogged down in the loose sand a few times- where any truck would get stuck anyway. I, of course, eagerly took every opportunity to bail it out, with the 4×4 Navara’s stump-pulling capability, all wheels digging deep into the sand with fascinating traction on its 4×4 Low setting, emerging victorious each time with its sibling in tow. With a sizeable grin across my face, I was stoked at how the Navara aced its final test. As our lead Photographer snapped away, I took my own set of photos with it, finally able to fully appreciate its handsome sculpted lines. So I thought back, my long-time training and beliefs ingrained by the world of Advertising were shaken, and significantly compromised. The new Nissan Navara does excel at being two things at the same time- a very capable and tough truck, and an incredibly enjoyable drive that’s akin to an exceptionally agile SUV as well. But then it dawned on me, the Navara’s unique selling proposition is just that- being the truck that can pull it off, by topping the ante.
Location: Front, Longitudinal
Displacement: 2,488 cc
Cylinder Block: Cast Iron
Cylinder Head: Aluminum, dohc, 4 valves per cylinder, Variable Turbocharger (VGS) and Intercooled DI-Diesel
Fuel Injector: Common Rail Direct Injection
Max Power: 190 bhp @ 3,600 rpm
Max Torque: 332 lb ft @ 2,000 rpm
Drag Coefficient: 0.37 cd
Transmission: 7-Speed Automatic Transmission with Manual Mode
Front Suspension: Independent Double Wishbone with Coil Spring and Stabilizers
Rear Suspension: Rigid 5-Link with Stabilizer
Fuel Capacity: 80 liters (21.1 gallons)
L x W x H: 5,255 mm x 1,850 mm x 1,840 mm
Wheelbase: 3,150 mm
Brakes: Front: 11.02” (280 mm) Ventilated Discs
Rear: 11.3” (287 mm) Leading and Trailing Drums With ABS, EBD, LSD, Vehicle Stability Control, Hill Descent Control, Hill Start Assist, Active Brake, Limited Slip and Traction Control.
Wheels: 18″ x 7.5 J Alloy
Tires: 255 / 60 R18
Weight: 1,946 kg (4292 lbs.)
0-100 km/h: 11.5 sec.
Top Speed: 180 km/h (112 mph)
Fuel Milage: 10.41 km/L Overall
Price as Tested: PhP 1,490,000.00
+The Navara’s aesthetics hit me as having a “smart masculine” appeal, athletic but not overtly truck-like. Handling is sharp and agile; seemingly light on its wheels despite the mid-sized dimensions. Its suspension’s configuration combined wih an effective “zero-G” seat design make sit the most comfortable truck I’ve driven so far. Looks like Nissan’s aced all departments with this one.
– On the most demanding terrain, the Navarra doesn’t feel built for serious heavy duty; this factor may have been the compromise to provide better driver/ occupants’ comfort. Little niggle: steering wheel mounted controls have a tendency to be actuated unintentionally.
C! Editor’s Rating: 9.5/10