Why Nissan turned over new leaf with its Navara pick-up
First drive in Majorca: Nissan Navara
Published 18/11/2015 | 02:30
The appeal of a pick-up lies in its versatility. Part workhorse, part family transport, it can combine heavy-duty load carrying or towing with transporting the family around and being a fashionable recreational vehicle in out-of-work hours.
However, being a jack-of-all-trades inevitably means compromises, and pick-ups have tended to fare badly compared with their SUV counterparts when it comes to ride and handling.
That's largely down to one feature common to all pick-ups up to now - leaf spring rear suspensions.
Very good when maximum payload is needed, leaf springs are less efficient when unladen, subjecting passengers to a skittish, bouncy ride.
It's why Nissan's new Navara is arguably the biggest development in the pick-up market in years.
The new NP300 Navara Double Cab, to give it its full title, forgoes leaf springs in favour of a coil-spring five-link rear suspension system.
That, says Nissan, improves comfort and refinement without impacting on durability or loading capacity.
You can still get leaf springs in a King Cab version, available in Ireland via special order, though Nissan expects most customers will opt for the five-seater Double Cab.
All models have a payload of more than a tonne, with the Navara capable of towing up to 3.5 tonnes compared with three tonnes for its predecessor.
Also worth noting are two new 2.3-litre diesel engines, a single turbo model with 160hp and 403Nm of torque, and a twin turbo outputting 190hp/450Nm.
They're paired with either a 6-spd manual or 7-spd auto box taken from the Infiniti QX70 luxury SUV.
CO2 emissions are as low as 167g/km and quoted fuel consumption of 6.3 l/100km (44.8) is pretty decent for this class of vehicle.
I drove a Double Cab Navara back to back with a King Cab version in Majorca recently and the differences in ride quality and overall refinement were striking.
It may ride on the same box-frame chassis as its predecessor, but the addition of independent rear suspension makes the Navara much more car-like and far less bouncy to drive on road.
Noise levels are impressively low and, with the auto box in particular, there's seamless progress that you would not tend to associate with pick-ups.
When I took it off-road the multi link suspension was equally adept at absorbing all the ruts and bumps.
By comparison it was noticeable how the entire chassis of a previous generation model on leaf springs bounced around much more.
Equipment on offer includes Nissan's Around View Monitor which proved unexpectedly useful in avoiding rocks and bushes off-road.
The cabin is well appointed. Nissan has drawn heavily on its success in the crossover segment with the Qashqai, Juke and X-Trail to bring more car-like features to the Navara.
With elements such as the 7ins NissanConnect touchscreen sat nav system in higher trim models, the interior is every bit on a par with that of the X-Trail.
Nissan interiors have improved a lot generally in family cars such as their Pulsar too so it is good to see that translating into the likes of the Navara.
All Navaras get the useful Forward Emergency Brake autonomous braking system and Hill Descent Control.
Prices have yet to be announced but four trim levels will be offered when it goes on sale in Ireland in January.
The pick-up market remains relatively niche but is growing, up 35pc this year compared with 2014.
Next year Nissan is predicting a market of 1,200 vehicles.
First impressions of the new Navara suggest that the figure may well be exceeded.