Introduction

We would like to say a very big thank you to the team at Gazley Nissan, Wellington (38 Kent Terrace) for inviting us along to their Launch of the Navara NP300. Drop in anytime to see them and to check out their complete range of new and used Nissans.

Launch

I arrive at Gazley 10 minutes before the invite time and the dealership is already buzzing.  Excitement fills the room, fuelled by caffeine and expectation that is shared by both guests and staff alike in anticipation of the new Navara NP300 Launch. The Navara NP300 is a completely new design, manufactured in a brand new, dedicated factory in Thailand.  Introduced in 2004, the outgoing Navara is now over ten years old, and yet continues to command strong market share in the very competitive New Zealand ute sector, and so it will be interesting to see what ten years does to a design.

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A fleet of Nissan cars wait outside the dealership to transport us to Boomrock once everyone arrives.  Boomrock is a private test facility just 30 minutes’ drive away from Wellington’s CBD and offers a wide variety of vehicle test environments, set against a stunning backdrop, fuelled by high quality hospitality facilities. I share the journey with a fleet buyer, and two Gazley customers.  Our conversation centres on how the Navara NP300 will fare against what is perceived as fresher designs from the competition, in particular recovering some of the market share that was grabbed by the Ford Ranger.  This time of the year seems to be launch season, the new Mitsubishi Triton ute was introduced a few days before the Navara in Wellington, and one was even seen parked near the launch dealership – coincidence perhaps?

As we reach Boomrock excitement builds on a clear crisp morning overlooking the Cook Strait. The weather is playing its part to ensure the best possible back drop as we make our way to the function centre and take in the stunning location.  Steaming cups of coffee in hand we are introduced to the headline points of the Navara NP300 by Aaron and Gareth from Gazley.  My takeaway from this presentation is that the top end models are targeting the SUV buyer and that refinement, quality and functionality have been improved to the point that they would be considered on equal terms with the versatility and workhorse ability that the deck out back provides.

As the introduction is concluding there is a roar of an engine and the new Navara NP300 appears over the top of a hill right next to where we are standing, mud flinging from the All-Terrain tyres as it comes to an abrupt halt outside the function room to a rapturous round of applause.

The Look

The guests quickly scrutinise every aspect of the Navara NP300 as doors and bonnet are flung open, the engine is started and stopped as guests clamour to get the prime spot to satisfy their appetite for information and intrigue. In these first few minutes the Hornet Gold Ute appears to be well received with positive conversations being overheard.  Me, I like the look of it, but I am concentrating on capturing images before the clean and shiny paintwork is covered in mud and debris from a day’s demanding activities.

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When I first saw images online of the Navara NP300 my initial thoughts were that the styling was too similar to the Hilux. This was a concern to me because the design would then be seen as slightly dated when compared against more recent releases such as the Ranger and Amarok.  However, this concern was not realised when it was parked in front of me.  The Navara NP300 carries the new Nissan common styling cues well, and looks fresh, and importantly not like a Hilux at all.

The Test

Gazley had brought along to the launch a Navara 450 ST-X 4×4 Dual Cab manual for comparison.  It was not so long ago that this was an aspirational Ute to own, and it still looked good parked next to the new line up.  Indeed, the old model 450 ST-X must represent strong value given the discounting that I have seen recently. It will be interesting to see what ten years of progress can do.

The model I spent most of my time in on this test is a top of the range, Hornet Gold, Double Cab ST-X Pick Up 4×4 automatic to give it its full name.  The cabin feels very comfortable and well-appointed and the drive across the paddock to the testing ground highlights the chassis control and ride to be standout. It is hard to believe you are in a ute at times. The auto box changes gear seamlessly without any perception of the change to the driver.  As we reach the bottom of the first muddy hill climb the instructor tells over the radio to select 4×4 high range.  This is easily done by a rotary control on lower dash just behind the gear stick. As we pull away and approach the hill, not only is the abundance of low down torque apparent, but also the smooth manner in which it is delivered.  There is no need to gun the engine to make the climb and as we crest the top of the hill we could have been driving up any one of the hills in Wellington’s CBD.

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Next we are to navigate the cross axle test section, and we are encouraged to take as high a line as we like to really test the suspension articulation.  As we attack the series of left and right inclines, the new five link axle setup in the rear of the NP300 makes light work of the task in hand.  All you can see out of the driver’s window is grass, out of the passenger window, sky.  Other than gravity doing its thing and trying to pull you through the door we could simply be parking up a kerb in the CBD.  The Navara NP300 instils confidence in the driver and does so with refinement and assurance that everything is ‘OK…’  you at no time feel you are extending the capabilities of the ute as  I have felt when undertaking similar tasks in other models.

The Interior

As we move from challenge to challenge I have the time to absorb the interior in more detail. The cabin appears more spacious than the previous model, the seat backs of the front seats have been slimmed substantially to create more leg room in the back, and the roof is sculpted to create more headroom.  When parked side by side the dimensions are very similar, and so the extra space has not come from an increase in exterior bulk, but smart packaging and design. This increase in rear accommodation allows the Navara NP300 to become a truly lifestyle-oriented product, with ample space in the back for full size passengers, while still functioning as a capable workhorse.

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The steering wheel was easy to adjust and I could find a good seating position with ease, on this model the 8 way electric adjustable seats should allow anyone to get a comfortable position. The dash and layout of the controls is well laid out and is very well thought through, and all of the dash appears to have been designed cohesively. There is a nice flow and feel to this dash, unlike some that come across as being designed by separate teams and only brought together when assembled.  The 7” integrated display and menu system on this top of the range model is intuitive in its operation and clear in the presentation of information, and benefits from a system that Nissan are calling NissanConnect.  Top of the range features on this model are as in any SUV – Sun roof, reverse camera, power rear window, leather heated seats and keyless start, Bluetooth, 3D Nav system and automatic hill descent.

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The Water Test.

Next up a water test; the Navara NP300 has a listed water fording depth of 800 mm, similar to its competitors, thanks to a raised ride-height and taller 18” wheels. Although we will not be getting anywhere near this depth on this test, the water feature laid out certainly focuses the mind.  I jump in the back for this test and am immediately comfortable and get a real sense of space and vision through to the windscreen. You do not get a sense of claustrophobia as you can in some models in the back. Low range 4WD is selected and off we go.  The class leading 7 speed auto transmission seamlessly selects the correct gear as we navigate our way through the muddy water, the windscreen wipers failing to clear the screen of the deluge of water that is created by the optimistic speed with which the driver enters the water.  This confidence is based on a surety that you get from behind the wheel that the Navara NP300 can take on any task effortlessly.  As the waters clears the cabin fills with laughter and we go around again for another go.

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As confidence and goading by others builds the water entry speed increases with each circuit and the Navara NP300 deals with this in its stride.  Some others are not so lucky and it is seen on one of the less durable vehicles loose the Engine undertray as they navigate the water.  For the duration of the off road test this Navara NP300 is equipped with Cooper all terrain tyres, and they complement the conditions and vehicle well, providing a good balance between grip off road and low noise on the road.

The Exploration

The next half an hour is spent testing the Navara in a less extreme environment by exploring the great expanse of rolling hills and muddy tracks that Boomrock offers, mimicking the needs of the farmer that makes up a large portion of the target market.

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We arrive back at the skid pan to observe the end of the latest timed session. The Navara NP300 is putting on a good demonstration of its on-road handling abilities to those spectating.  The on-road environment is likely to be a place where a majority of the purchased utes will no doubt spend a most of their time. Although not near Jeremy Clarkson’s time of 34 seconds set in a Ford Focus, the Navara  NP300 shows good handling traits, indeed on one occasion lifting both inside wheels of the ground to make the hairpin turn when one ‘wanna be’ racer takes his turn – the chassis certainly maximises tyre grip.  On another run it was also interesting to note that the ASC and other electronics could be heard working the brakes when a rather exuberant corner entry speed was attempted, bringing the ute back inline to make the corner and not understeering off into the paddock that was the trajectory before electronic intervention.

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The (on) Road Test

As the day draws to a close at Boomrock I am left impressed by the Navara NP300 and only one major test remains, arguably the most important, on road performance.  Nissan are targeting this top of the range model at the SUV market buyer as a workhorse that is also at home in the Boss’ car park at the office, with an interior and ride that makes the family feel special at the weekend whilst retaining the ability to get the job done on weekdays.

Despite the Cooper All Terrain tyres the highway ride is almost silent, there is very little wind noise in the cabin and the five link rear suspension provides a ride quality that differentiates this Ute from the live axle ones I have recently driven.  This is particularly apparent with no load in the deck that usually results in a choppy, bouncy ride, nothing but surety and smoothness here. The people I share the ride back to Gazely with are tradesman and small business owners, pretty much the target market for this ute and it seems to resonate with their needs and expectations.

The run back into Wellington also demonstrates that the new Diesel engine is less peaky than the last version and that it is well matched to the Auto transmission.  Progress is smooth and refined with just a gentle press of the throttle pedal. As we turn off the motorway onto the local roads near the CBD the Navara NP300 makes it hard not to feel a little aloof, and it is with a little disappointment that the day comes to end as we pull up outside Gazley.

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Features

The New Navara NP300 Range in NZ starts with the DX 4X2 Double Cab at $31,990 +ORC up to $62,990+ORC for the ST-X 4X4 Double Cab tested here.

Safety is excellent with a number of included features.  The top of the range model tested had hill descent and automatic hill start, as well as 7 airbags including driver knee airbag, Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC), Traction Control System (TCS), Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist (BA)

Standard features on the ST-X 4X4 Double cab include;

5 Link Rear Suspension that has transformed the ride, Fatigue-reducing all-day comfort front seats that are 8 way electrically adjustable, daytime running lights, 3.5 tonne-braked towing capacity. The Rear Power Sliding Window is a bit of a party piece – although I could not find a control for it in the back – and Remote Keyless Entry.

The 140kW Twin Turbo Diesel Engine is smooth and provides a very flat torque response that starts at very low revs.  This was noticeable against the older model tested that frequently got stuck due to wheel spin induced by the peaky nature of torque provided; apparently having “nothing” below 1500 rpm and then everything all at once! NissanConnect™ smartphone connectivity offers good functionality with Bluetooth streaming of media to the screen, LED Headlights with Signature Daytime Running Lights and a  Rearview Camera, which was great for watching others getting stuck behind you and watching the plumes of mud thrown at them from the All Terrain tyres.

The Hill Descent Control and Hill Start Assist will no doubt be beneficial for rural use and were easy to use. Leather Accented Seat Trim, Satellite Navigation and 7″ colour display all add to the sense of being in a special place when sat in the cabin.  There are a number of storage bins and boxes that should consume all the bits and pieces that often need to find a home when on the road. It was also noted that the glove box on the new model is much larger than on the previous one and allowed substantially more than just a pair of gloves to be stowed.  Although sunny on the day, the sunroof was not used, but the glass roof added much light into the cabin and created a feeling of space and airiness.  Headroom was not compromised by the sunroof as can be the case when this option is ticked due to the sculptured nature of the ceiling.

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What’s it up against?

Brand / ModelEnginePowerFuel L/100kmMax Towing Capacity (braked) kgPrice Highest to Lowest
Toyota Hilux SR5 turbo diesel3.0 litre 4 cylinder in-line Turbo Diesel126kw/ 343 Nm8.7L/100km2,800$65,290
Toyota Hilux SR5 V6 petrol4.0 litre V6 Petrol175kw/ 376 Nm13.0L/100km2,800$65,290
Nissan Navara NP300 ST XAuto2.3 Litre twin turbo Diesel140kw/450Nm7l/100km3,500$62,990
VW Amarok TDI Dbl Highline Auto2.0-litre Twin Turbo Diesel132kw / 420Nm7.8L/100km3,000$65,990
Holden Colorado LTZ Crew Cab Sports Auto2.8-litre Turbo Diesel147kw / 440Nm7.9L/100km3,500$61,990
Ford Ranger XLT Dbl Cab3.2-litre Turbo Diesel147kw / 470Nm9.4L/100km3,500$61,540
Mitsubishi Triton Utility 4WD Double Cab GLS2.5-litre Turbo Diesel133kw / 356Nm9.6L/100km3,000$59,490
Isuzu D-Max LS Double Cab3.0-litre Turbo Diesel130kw / 380Nm8.1L/100km3,500$56,990
Great Wall V200 Utility2.0-litre Turbo Diesel105kw / 310Nm8.3L/100km2,000$29,990

The good and the bad

ProsCons
  • Ride and refinement
  • Quiet
  • Spacious inside
  • Improved response from diesel engine
  • Auto Box
  • Blends workhorse ability with family and SUV appeal
  • Fit, finish and quality of package
  • Difficult to place the front corners. Bonnet seems higher and restricts view of front in tight places.
  • Gap between tailgate and bed will allow dirt and debris in when used for Family jaunts with a canopy on.
  • Everyone will want to borrow it!

 

What do we think?

When compared with the Toyota and Holden utes, (I have ignored the budget targeted brands) the interior quality of controls and surfaces is a step up, without so much rattly plastic and what feels like fragile buttons and controls in the Holden I recently used.

I was impressed with the refinement of the ride, the quality and specifications of the interior and the retainment of a dependable workhorse appeal that this ute offers.  All of this is wrapped up in a vehicle that would not look out of place in the manager’s car parking space, or on the farm, or construction site. Certainly I would not mind arriving at meetings in this ute and stepping out in a suit, or in my trades work wear in the week and then loading it up with the family and “stuff” for the weekend, with the bikes and tramping gear replacing the tools and materials in the back.

I overheard a number of positive comments and a couple of possible sales made on the day, and so I think this ute resonates well with the market place and the target buyers.

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After spending a day with new Navara NP300, I drove it up steep wet grassy hills, through rutted deep muddy tracks, waded through water features, endeavoured to wear the tyres out on the skid pan and drove it on the highway. Perhaps I epitomise the target market for the Nissan Navara NP300 and that they have done their research very well, but I found myself wanting to own one on the drive back to the Dealership without any real need for one.  I think Nissan are on to a winner.

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Nissan NavaraNP300 ST-X 4X4 Dual Cab

Vehicle TypeUtility vehicle
Starting Price$31,990 + ORC NZD
Tested Price$62,990 + ORC NZD
EngineYS23DDTT 2.3 litre intercooled twin turbo-diesel, DOHC 140KW/450NM
Transmission7-speed automatic with manual mode
Gross Vehicle Mass1850kg
Length x Width x Height5255 x 1850 x 1840 mm
Towing Capacity – unbraked/braked (kg)750/3500
Fuel Tank80 Litres
Fuel Consumption – diesel/petrol7L/10

 

 

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