Jude Morte / Jude Morte | March 11, 2008 00:00
Blueprint of a beast of burdenThe Nissan Frontier has always been depicted as a huge rival against pickups from other manufacturers, but rarely took top sales honors. But in line with its "Shift_the future" slogan - and the advantage of seeing what the Toyota Hilux, Mitsubishi Strada, Isuzu D-Max and Ford Ranger had to offer - Universal Motors Corporation (UMC, official distributor of Nissan commercial vehicles) has come up with what may arguably be the blueprint for beasts of burden.
The Nissan Frontier Navara borrows the same front visual identity as its bigger US-market Titan sibling, giving it a large but seemingly joyful stance. On the other hand, its flanks and rear exude practicality with a bit of panache, veering its overall design away from the spartan look of the Isuzu D-Max and placing it right within lifestyle pickup (synonymous with the Mitsubishi Strada) territory.
MUCH improved is the interior, which now sports a pleasing khaki colorway, lighting between the front visors and in the middle of the ceiling, a three-spoke steering wheel similar to its 350Z brethren, relaxing fabric seatcovers and allows all occupants - including those at the rear - to seat comfortably instead of squatting. Storage bins (including cupholders) inside are numerous, and a big plus are the receptacles with raised nubs above the head unit and below the airconditioning controls. Speaking of the head unit and the a/c, the trademark COLD Nissan a/c is there and the head unit's ergonomic design takes a page from its Teana executive car sibling. Sadly, audio entertainment is middling, with tone replication at head unit's bass end being paltry.
A given with any pickup is the ability to haul cargo, and the Navara (specifically, a P 1.026 million 4x2 m/t variant) doesn't disappoint. Rubber lining on the rear bumper and a bedliner prevent scratches during loading and unloading, and the bed itself can fit a La Germania four burner gas range, an 80-90kg washing machine, two 11kg LPG tanks and two people.
Bringing its 1,730 kg curb weight is a STRONG YD25DDTi 2.5L engine. It may not have the hair trigger - and somewhat dangerous (due to the lunge that feels beyond control of the driver) - acceleration of the Ford Ranger, but the Navara can jump off the line better than most passenger cars. Waking up the turbo (2,250 rpm) and getting into the powerband (1,900 rpm) is relatively easy due to the fat power curve. The results are surprising - a 181 kph top speed and 10 km/l on four days of mixed driving.
Nissan did one thing right when it coupled a six-speed m/t to the Navara's 2.5-liter common rail direct injection diesel. One can even use fifth gear for acceleration on flat tarmac, but for mountain passes fourth gear (or third, depending on the incline's severity) is suggested. The m/t also has a unique reverse gear with a shift lock of sorts to prevent accidental launches backwards. Just dump the clutch, push down on the stick, row the stick to the rightmost side and downwards, let go of the left pedal, step on the gas and watch the pickup go in reverse.
Normally pickups are absolute handfuls when it comes to handling, but the Navara is an exception. There's little body roll, and the ride is similar to its Patrol sibling in comfort, whether the cargo bed has load or not. Traction from the Continental 4x4 Contact 205R16C 110/108R M+S tires break at 68-69 kph; beyond that is a dramatic transition from understeer to manageable oversteer. Much like any pickup, steering is lumpy (or even numbing) in feedback but light in feel.
UMC made sure that people and cargo won't tumble about within the Navara. The brakes grab hard at the slightest prod, the ABS comes in one big push, and handbrake grip is surprisingly strong. The side mirrors reach up to the second lane of sight in latitude, and exterior lighting is bright. The foglights are bright enough to substitute for the headlights during night driving.
The Navara's forebears had much to offer, but rarely moved the sales needles when better competition arrived. But with the Navara, Nissan has a product that backs up what its ad copy on its MRT Boni Station (northbound) billboard brags about - the cure for the common pickup.