60-second summary

What is it?
The current Nissan Navara is the third generation of a core pick-up contender.

Key features
Multi-link rear suspension, improved interior, downsized engines

Our view
The current, third-generation Nissan Navara does a very good job of bringing SUV-like refinement to the pick-up sector without compromising payload capacity or off-road ability.

Rear suspension changes, in particular, have made the Navara Double Cab a vehicle one can confidently use at work in the week and at play over the weekend.

Similar cars
Ford Ranger, Mitsubishi L200, Toyota Hilux

Nissan Navara crossing a stream (The Van Expert)Full review

Introduction

The Nissan Navara is one of the best-known pick-up trucks on the market, and when the latest, third-generation model went on sale in 2016, it replaced a model that had lasted for a decade.

The revamp was not before time for other reasons. The Navara has always had core rivals in the Toyota Hilux and Mitsubishi L200, but recently the pick-up market has significantly expanded.

The Renault Alaskan is essentially a reskinned version of the Nissan; the Volkswagen Amarok is rising in popularity, and in particular Ford’s decision to properly sell its Ranger in Europe for the first time has proved a big success, the model becoming very familiar on UK roads. And if money’s no object, one can even buy a Mercedes-Benz pick-up now – like the Alaskan, it’s also built on the Nissan Navara chassis.

So the Navara has had to raise its game, and Nissan’s recipe has been to make improvements in several areas without compromising the features that have previously made the vehicle so popular, especially its go-anywhere all-wheel-drive capability.

The Navara is available as a King Cab or Double Cab – our test vehicle is the latter, and it is this that has seen the major chassis changes. The leaf springs formerly suspending the back axle may have suited the working environment but they were somewhat harsh on rear-seat occupants, so the replacement with a multi-link setup was welcome.

Up front, the 2016 update saw the diesel engine downsized to 2.3 litres, which can be had with either 160 or 190hp. It’s up to 24% more efficient than the engine it replaced.

Inside there were major quality upgrades, along with a healthy injection of the latest technology including such niceties as the 360-degree around view monitor which Nissan was an early adopter of.

Buying and owning a Nissan Navara

As mentioned our test model is the Double Cab version of the Navara – it is also available as a King Cab (halfway between single and double with narrower rear-seat passenger accommodation but more load space) but not as the Single Cab which its Ford and Mitsubishi rivals offer.

Nissan has made some changes to increase the Navara’s capacity. Our Double Cab has a load bed extended by 67mm over its predecessor – at 1,578mm long, it’s at the top end of the sector. Combine that with a payload rating in excess of one tonne and a 3.5-tonne towing ability, and this vehicle is built to be a workhorse.

The load bed is swathed in tough plastic while notable is the C-channel load system, a neat addition. Solidly-built channels are fitted to the rear of the cabin bulkhead and the sides of the load bed, in which clamps slide to secure cargo. With pick-ups naturally light in the rear end the last thing one wants is up to a tonne sliding around in the rear as you go around corners…

One of the stated aims with the latest Navara was to make it more SUV-like and our test model came fitted with the Grand Truckman hard top, the less expensive of two options in this area. For around £2,000 fitted, the unit completely covers the load bed and includes a heated rear window, pop-out side windows, an interior light and roof bars, while also dialling into the vehicle’s central locking. There is also a premium version, costing close to £3,900, that adds full interior lighting and trim, as well as a stop light.

Mechanically, the choice of Navara is simple – one diesel engine, two power levels, manual or auto transmission, selectable all-wheel-drive on all models except one version of the King Cab. Four trim levels are available, while standard equipment on all versions includes seven airbags, an electronic braking differential, off-road electronic aids including hill start assist, cruise control and electric windows.

The five-year warranty is a welcome part of the standard specification, while when tested in 2015 the Navara earned a four-star Euro NCAP safety rating. It scored particularly highly in a side impact barrier test, but in other tests protection of the rear-seat passengers was marked down, while the low-speed autonomous emergency braking system was only an option.

Inside the Nissan Navara

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Nissan has tried very hard to improve the interior quality of the Navara, appreciating that many owners will want to use their weekday workhorse as weekend family transport, while some will buy it simply because they like driving pick-ups.

For the third generation the insides underwent a complete redesign, making use of Nissan’s experience with its more road-only SUVs and in the process freeing up more space. Anyone getting into this after a Qashqai or an X-Trail will be in familiar surroundings.

So while the fixtures and fittings remain robust, as they must be in a working vehicle, there is also a sense of style and quality, with in our top-spec model a lot of piano black trim included. It’s good looking without descending to a level that would be impractical in such a vehicle.

We are told that the support in the front seats was evolved from techniques created by the NASA space programme! Whatever, it works – the seats are very comfortable even after a long trip, the writer completing a couple of hundred motorway miles in the Navara.

Our test car is to top-line Tekna specification, so comes with plenty of toys. Those seats are leather upholstered, and heated. The seven-inch touchscreen of the NissanConnect infotainment system dominates the centre console, and includes DAB digital radio, a rear colour reversing camera (combined with sensors on the Tekna), Bluetooth audio streaming, app integration and live traffic updates.

Said screen also serves as the screen for the Around View Monitor. This system, which uses cameras to give the driver a bird’s eye view of the car, is particularly useful when negotiating a tricky and tight off-road course.

In total the revamp of the interior has been well executed, and only the height above the ground reminds occupants that they are in a pick-up.

Driving the Nissan Navara

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With our test vehicle boasting the higher power engine there was no shortage of get up and go. Nissan has provided a proper engineering solution to adding potency to the 2.3-litre diesel unit, the 190hp employing two turbochargers whereas the 160 unit has only one. As a result acceleration is smooth and refined, quite unlike the loud, clattery progress that once was the norm on such vehicles.

Our test model is fitted with the six-speed manual transmission and this is less impressive than the engine. The long gear lever can sometimes be a little vague to shift. There is an auto option that we haven’t tried but which could be a viable alternative in this environment.

All-wheel-drive is easily selected from a dial on the centre console, and it includes both high and low-range settings – a locking differential is available as an option but in standard form the Navara is more than capable off-road, and comes with such aids as hill-descent control.

Without doubt the biggest gain on the latest version is the change to the rear suspension. The five-link unit that now comes as standard on the Double Cab is in a different league to the former leaf-spring setup (which remains on the King Cab). Once when driving such vehicles the attention was always on the over-lively rear end, but now it feels just like an SUV to drive, while rear-seat passengers will particularly appreciate the improvements in comfort.

From the driver’s seat this pick-up is still one high-up machine, but also one that can carry far more speed into corners with confidence. Grip levels are improved and there is far less of that waggly rear-end sensation that used to have one treating bendy bits with caution, especially in damp conditions.

One aspect that is notable – the exterior restyling that accompanied Navara Mk3 included a raising of the front wings, probably to make it look more like an SUV. This does make them a little too prominent in the eye line when driving, though generally this is a good vehicle to see out of, with the around-view monitor as back-up.

Summary

The Nissan Navara has always been a leading contender amongst workhorse pick-up trucks, but today such vehicles are expected to do a lot more than simply be workhorses. In its third-generation form the Navara addresses these requirements and meets them in style.

The current Navara is a good-looking vehicle which inside offers much comfort in quality surroundings, and plenty of technology.

It is also a comfortable vehicle to ride in, so long as one chooses the Double Cab which the vast majority of buyers will. The rear suspension changes have effectively revolutionised the vehicle’s ride quality and handling ability.

At the same time, the Navara has lost none of the robust ability that vehicles of this type need first and foremost. It offers a good-sized load bed with excellent payload and towing capacity. And it can carry that payload into the most inhospitable of conditions thanks to a very effective all-wheel-drive chassis.

For anyone who would really like an SUV, but who needs a pick-up, the Navara will be high on the consideration list.

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REVIEW OVERVIEW
Design
8.0
Comfort
7.0
Driving experience
7.0
Value for money
8.0
Safety
7.0
Andrew Charman
Andrew is the News and Road Test Editor for The Van Expert. He is a member of the Guild of Motoring Writers, and has been testing and writing about new cars for more than 20 years. Today he is well known to senior personnel at the major car manufacturers and attends many new model launches each year.

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