Earthmoving Industry Insight, Reviews

Review: Nissan Navara 2021

With tried and tested mechanicals and a handsome exterior, it’s okay to judge the 2021 Nissan Navara by its cover. We gave this updated model a test drive and found that there is plenty to like

 

Nissan’s storied ute offers a compelling package

 

With an Australian legacy that reaches back to 1985 and the D21, Nissan’s Navara deserves recognition for its part in building the popularity of utes to the unprecedented levels you’ll find today. Go even further back, though, and you follow a long bloodline of pickups all the way to the Datsun 2225 that had its genesis in 1947. 

Unlike some relative newcomers to the market, therefore, it’s fair to say Nissan has well and truly earnt its ranking among a growing range of compelling options. But there’s only so far history and heritage will carry a brand in this fearsomely competitive market and, in the eyes of pragmatic Australian buyers, bang-for-buck is king. 

That’s precisely why you won’t find the short-lived X-Class in Mercedes showrooms for much longer. The resoundingly good one-tonner was at the very pointy end of the premium ute market, with a hefty price to match, and that’s before you got stuck into the options.  

Even the excellent V6 diesel flagship couldn’t convince enough local buyers to put their hands in their pockets. 

However, a little of the X-Class lives on in its mechanically-related sibling you see here, but now the Nissan Navara has been treated to an update for 2021 and, as before, Nissan says the mid-range ST-X will be the breadwinner of the line-up. 

 

The cabin is very familiar, apart from the excellent, more car-like steering wheel

 

REFRESHED DESIGN 

On the outside, a comprehensive facelift has re-sculpted the front and rear ends, including LED lighting, a massive grille, new wheel design and, significantly, a new bonnet.  

It’s a bold new look that strides ahead of the more benign look of its predecessor and into territory that appears inspired by US-market tastes. 

Newly designed wheels measuring 18-inches (46cm) or 17-inches (43cm) for the lower-spec variants, a new hero Forged Copper paint colour and Navara embossed lettering in the tailgate are aesthetic highlights. 

Those with a penchant for customising and enhancing their ride will be pleased to hear the range of original Nissan accessories has now been extended to include favourites such as a snorkel, winch-ready roo-bar, arch-flares, underbody protection, tow bar and LED light bars – all of which are covered by a five-year guarantee. 

Updates are less striking on the inside, where the cabin is very familiar, save for the excellent, more car-like, steering wheel that feels more sporty and ergonomic, as well as the part-leather upholstered seats. The latter better suits shorter-bodied occupants who want to sit high and appreciate a more commercial vehicle position. 

While some unchanged switches reveal the D23 Navara’s age, the large 8-inch (20.3cm) central touchscreen, complemented by a generous 7-inch (17.8cm) digital display between the driver’s dials help lift the interior for a more contemporary feel. 

An off-road monitor is also now available through the central screen and effectively repurposes the 360-degree cameras to show various points about the vehicle when rock-hopping around at up to 10km/h. It’s a useful feature and a clever use of existing hardware. 

 

The Navara is still a competent and confident all-terrain performer

 

THE RIDE 

Practically speaking, the 2021 Navara is still a strong contender even though it’s mechanically almost unchanged from the previous version. 

Aside from a larger-diameter rear brake drum and strengthened rear axle, the Navara’s underpinnings carry over include the choice of seven-speed automatic transmission or six-speed manual bolted to a 2.3-litre four-cylinder diesel. 

Only the entry-level single cab gets a single-turbo version while, with the update, more Navara variants are now treated to the beefier twin-turbo unit that packs 140kW and 450Nm, including all 4×4, king-cab and dual-cab versions. 

Unloaded, the Navara is lively off the line but the hardworking diesel only comes into its own when loaded up. With a 325kg brick dumped in the tray the Navara does not break a sweat with excellent acceleration and manners out on rural roads. 

The slightly uprated braking system offers a firm, confident pedal with excellent progressive feel, especially when loaded. With the load raised to include a combination of tray mass and a trailer totalling 1.1 tonnes, the transmission and engine combination is stoic, muscular and impressive. 

If a majority of the Navara’s freight will be on board, then its tray can accommodate more stuff with a little more space found during the update. All versions can accommodate at least one tonne in the back, which is an improvement on the previous ST-X’s 930kg max. 

While a new towing mode included with the three-setting D-mode driving presets is particularly good, holding gears for less brake-punishing descents and easier ascents, we question the relevance of a Sport mode for a vehicle of this type. 

There’s still an unpretentious amount of agricultural noise and rigidity through the Navara’s chassis, alluding to its tough construction but a revision of sound insulation has added a little extra refinement to the cabin especially on faster roads. 

Unfortunately, the rear-axle upgrade has not included another retune to try to crack the unloaded coil-spring ride comfort. While the unusual rear suspension layout does offer a degree more unloaded smoothness than some other more utilitarian utes, it’s still not the best, despite a few attempts by Nissan’s chassis engineers. 

Loaded, however, the tail is well-behaved and stable, matching the Navara’s obedient and confident front end, which is surprisingly pointy and responsive for a one-tonner. If you’re not the most confident hauler of trailers or intend to drag things close to the braked-trailer limit of 3,500kg, the update brings trailer sway control. 

 

More Navara variants are now treated to the beefier twin-turbo unit that packs 140kW and 450Nm, including all 4×4, king-cab and dual-cab versions

 

DRIVER COMFORT 

A decent amount of safety and driver-assistance kit including autonomous braking and seven airbags across the range is also [Text Wrapping Break]standard, with the ST and above gaining extra features such as lane-departure warning and assistance and blind-spot monitoring. ANCAP has awarded the Navara with the full five stars. 

While front seat comfort is reasonable, with a decent number of comfort features, including heated seats, the Navara cabin is on the smaller side compared with its rivals and you can feel it in the second row. 

Headspace is good but an upright seat back and limited legroom for taller passengers would wear thin on longer journeys. Perhaps you can distract them for a while with the unique electric central rear window or to chat with a kelpie in the tub? 

Unfortunately, our first (or should that be second) encounter with the updated D23 Navara didn’t include any time away from the open road and, while a blast out of the city with a loaded tray and trailer in tow represented one likely scenario for the model, a significant chunk of its owners will be wanting to tackle some more challenging terrain. 

The good news is that there’s nothing about the update that should detrimentally impact its off-road prowess.  

In previous testing and comparisons, the Navara has not proven itself as class-leading, but it is still a competent and confident all-terrain performer. 

Headlining its list of go-anywhere credentials is a rear locking differential, which does not disengage front traction control when activated. But off-road ability is limited by relatively short suspension travel and ground clearance when tackling the toughest stuff. 

That said, we’re looking forward to an excuse to get back behind the wheel of the Navara and take into the bush, looking for answers as well as the trail less travelled. 

 

All versions can accommodate at least one tonne in the back

 

VERDICT 

With a growing number of bargain-basement newcomer dual-cabs challenging the established longstanding models, the Navara cannot afford to miss an opportunity to evolve and improve. 

But capping off the Navara’s rich assortment of equipment, trail and worksite-ready mechanicals and a handsome exterior lift, is attractive range-wide driveaway pricing. Kicking off from $47,990 for the SL dual cab or $57,290 for the generously equipped ST-X equivalent, Nissan’s storied ute offers a compelling package and looks set to feature prominently in an Australian landscape for many years to come. 

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