The Nissan Navara might not produce the same reverence in the bakkie game as its Toyota and Ford counterparts do, but the new locally-produced facelift may mount a more formidable opposition in the premium double cab segment. We spent a few days with the PRO-2X derivative and put it through its paces both on and off the beaten path.
Depending on how you look at it, the Mercedes-Benz X-Class may not have been the most successful product proposition from the famed German automaker. It was simply priced too far out of the reach of the typical bakkie buyer yet was still too rudimentary a vehicle for the average Benz aficionado, despite all the luxury bits added on. It doesn’t change the fact that they ventured out into an unknown market in the attempt to fill a niche. If you didn’t already know, now would be a good time to inform you that the X-Class was a badge-engineered version of the Navara (also known as the Frontier on the other side of the Atlantic).
The platform and chassis were essentially the same as its Japanese counterpart with a good aesthetic overhaul to make it seamlessly blend alongside the rest of the 3-pointed star range. That being said, Mercedes-Benz has done their utmost to elevate their brand even higher than it has been before, upholding a reputation which is synonymous with premium build quality and a plush driving experience. What I am trying to get at is that if the Navara platform was good enough to pioneer Mercedes’ first bakkie, the actual Navara is in with a shout to give the popular bakkies a run for their money.
If that isn’t enough reason to consider this as an equal if not superior to the opposition, the fact that it is now locally produced might be. As of mid-June the first batch of the Japanese designed off-roader rolled off the production floor at the Nissan manufacturing plant in Rosslyn.
Tuned for local conditions and suited to the needs of local bakkie buyers, an additional bonus of this agreement of built in Africa for Africans means that the overall pricing of the range is some of the most competitive in the country, undercutting the likes of Ford, Toyota, Isuzu and GWM for certain derivatives.
The Navara range starts from R311 000 for the base petrol powered single cab 2.5DE XE 4X2 while the range topping PRO-4X 4X4 AT double cab will set you back R740 000 and all include a 6-year/150 000km warranty with a built in service plan for 6-years or up to 90 000km.
While the range is comprehensive with workhorse single cabs and crew cabs, we spent time driving the premium derivatives including the suitably styled 2.5D PRO-2X for a few days on test as well as the 2.5D LE 4×4 on launch too. While our skill and lack of off-road adventuring meant that neither of the bakkies ventured onto hardcore trails, we still managed to put them to good use on dirt roads and some slightly technical off road surfaces.
Both managed with ease which leads me to believe that not all bakkies need to be four wheel drive to be a viable and capable option for most consumers. Sure, that extra capability may be beneficial in exclusive situations but as a whole the limited rear wheel drive performance did not hinder us. For context, the PRO-2X costs R686 000 while the PRO-4X which is identical save from a four wheel drive system costs significantly more at R740 000.
The PRO-2X comes equipped with components that enable it to appeal to adventure orientated individuals that need both utility and comfort in a single offering which it does very well. It includes mounted rails and anchor hooks in the loadbin which can be used for hauling a whole lot of things around or to neatly secure a mountain bike (or something a with a bit more power) for a weekend morning outing.
Either way, it would be wise to spec a rubberized bin so the cool looking Warrior Grey paintwork does not get scuffed. While SUV’s and crossovers so often try to appeal to the adventure within ourselves, this bakkie does… and it does it in a stylish manner too.
The overall visual appeal of the facelifted bakkie has been improved with a more menacing, angular front end, not that its predecessor was an ugly duckling by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, Nissan bakkies have always stayed true to this mantra from as early as the Hardbody, so the updated Navara is a natural evolution of the existing aesthetic. Most importantly it looks like a bakkie should; formidable, wide and rugged which is compliments of its updated plastic trim and new lights.
The chunky aesthetic comes at the cost of brick-shaped aerodynamics which naturally limit any wallet-pleasing fuel economy. After a full week of urban dominated driving we returned 10.5l/100km from the updated 2.5-litre turbo diesel motor. An average of 8.1l/100 km is optimistically claimed by Nissan in mixed scenarios. The larger engine is a vast improvement over the old pre-facelift 2.3 litre power plant, with more torque and power than before suiting the model far better. Both the LE and PRO models incorporate this motor which produces a maximum of 140kW and a 450Nm.
The low end still produces some turbo lag but the 7-speed automatic gearbox mitigates most of this through a smooth delivery of torque. The transmission competes with the suspension bits and chassis setup as the most refined mechanical component of the vehicle, but the intuitive gear selection and faultless operation during our test made the drive ever so smooth.
Speaking of chassis and suspension, the ride is supremely comfortable on all road surfaces in comparison to the competition. The naturally high centre of gravity (particularly on PRO models’ raised suspension) still makes it prone to the sway of Spring-time highway winds, despite its hefty weight. Road vibrations and wind noise have been diminished almost completely despite its hefty weight of over 2 tons.
Jumping into the cabin, the look and feel of the materials and the design of the components still seem less luxurious and out of date. This is ever prevalent when interacting with the operating system on the 8″ touch screen display. While it has a more utilitarian theme about it, the overall impression is a let down in the context of a what has shaped up to be a great bakkie.
But that’s the thing, it is after all just a bakkie. It doesn’t really need to be incredible luxurious and as refined as an SUV for example – that is secondary to its purpose. Remember the X-Class from the beginning of the article? The antiquated OS is equipped with cable connected Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Comfortable leather seats and plenty of room outweight the bland looking dash, which with its few recesses and details and would be easy to clean after a muddy weekend away.
While the eternal Ranger vs Hilux rivalry forges on, we forget that Nissan gave us the trustworthy Champ which made its way into the homes and hearts of many South Africans. Bakkies are an integral part of the Japanese brands heritage in South Africa and the updated Navara is a confident step in the right direction once again. With the highly competitive market constantly growing with options from manufacturers all over the world, my preference in owning less common vehicles would yield the Navara PRO-2X as my first choice. The price jump for the PRO-4X is just uneconomical for the things that I would use it for.