When Nissan revealed a new and updated 2021 Navara in Thailand, I was honestly a bit underwhelmed.
I do drive a pre-facelift 2020 Navara VL every day, and I remember looking at the photos of the new 2021 Navara and thinking that the update wasn't as thorough as I had expected. Yes, the look is new, but the engine is the same, the transmission is the same, and the dashboard is the same.
But after taking the 2021 Navara (and a Pro-4X variant, no less) on a 500-kilometer journey from Metro Manila to Laoag, another 200+ kilometers around Ilocos, and 500 kilometers on the return, across expressways, provincial highways, bypass roads, and even on sand dunes, I'd like to revise that initial opinion. There's more to the Navara than meets the eye.
The first thing we need to make clear is that this is not an all-new or new generation model. This Navara is still a D23 which succeeded the D40 in 2014. Fun fact: the D23 was never introduced in North America. If you wanted a pick-up there, then you either went for the much larger Titan or D40 Frontier as they never switched over to a new generation model in 2014/2015. Only this year will they change to an all-new Frontier which is largely unrelated to the one we have.
When Nissan launched the D23 here in 2015, they were confident they were bringing something unique to the segment. Indeed they were as Nissan was the first automaker (AFAIK) to offer a double cab pick-up truck in its size category with coil springs as standard in the rear for all grades, setting it apart from all competitors because it was more comfortable than that trucks that had leaf springs. In other countries, the Navara was sold with leaf springs in the back, but for us, Nissan opted for all coils for comfortable driving. That's probably why there have been over 63,000 Navara units sold in the Philippines since 2015.
Nissan is offering four distinct grades of the Navara, all of which are double cab. At the more affordable side of the spectrum, we get the 2021 Navara EL as the most basic model, available only in 4x2 and with a manual gearbox. The next higher grade is the VE and that can be had either in 4x4 manual, 4x2 manual, as well as a 4x2 automatic; the VE grade is actually a new designation for the Navara. Then there's the VL Navara which is available as a 4x2 automatic, 4x4 manual, or a 4x4 automatic.
In the last 5 years, it was the VL that was the top grade of the Navara, but not anymore. That's now the territory of the Navara Pro-4X; the more rugged hero model of the Navara range. And that's what we're driving.
The Navara may not a be a new generation, but boy does it look good. The Pro-4X they tossed us the keys to is finished in something they call Stealth Gray. We jokingly refer to it as Primer Gray because, uh, it looks like paint primer.
Nissan basically changed out the front and gave it a Titan-ish makeover with those headlights, a more muscular bumper, and that huge front grille. Truth be told, the jury is still out on the massive grille particularly on the variants with chrome, but on the de-chromed Pro-4X, it looks exceptionally good. Even the roof rails are black on the Pro-4X and also the Nissan emblem; it's black with orange lettering.
The Navara, as I learned, isn't just a superficial update. This isn't merely a facelift, as the changes are far more meaningful and were made in response to customer requests. For starters, there's the hood (or bonnet, for those in the UK); it's been reshaped in a rather big way. In the 2014-2020 Navara, the hood was rather flat but had sides that were raised. Customers said they wanted to see more over the side of the hood from the driver's POV, so Nissan made the new hood more domed; it's more convex instead of more concave.
The bed has also been changed significantly. Being that the Navara has coil springs in the back, it does have a tendency to squat when loaded with significant weight. Coil springs generally don't cope as well with a lot of weight like leaf springs that you'd find in other pick-up trucks (or utes, for those in Australia). Load up several bags of either concrete or sacks of rice (but not together, that may be a bad idea) and the back will droop down, depending on the weight.
Nissan, however, wanted to retain the coil spring rear suspension for comfort, so what they did was to raise up the tailgate by about 2 inches. That's why the gap from the top of the taillight to the top of the tub has increased. But the extension wasn't uniformly applied; over in the front near the backglass, the raise was only 1 inch.
If you check the lateral panel of the tub, you'll see the original height of the bed; only the side panels and tailgate were extended vertically. What that creates is an upward angle of about 1 degree for the side panels of the tub from front to back like a ducktail spoiler. It's kicked up, and that was meant to compensate for when the vehicle is loaded as the angle would (or should) even out.
There are some other meaningful upgrades here in the back. For one, Nissan didn't fit the Navara Pro-4X with a bed liner (actually, none of the 2021 models seem to have a bed liner) but they did retain the standard tie-down points on the lower portion of the bed. The big difference is the addition of a C-channel system (aluminum, I think) for both side panels with four adjustable and re-positionable anchors (probably cast aluminum).
This is a very welcome upgrade. In the U.S., Nissan refers to this system as Utili-Track, just by looking at it, I'm already imagining the possibilities. Oh, fun fact: if you look at the C-channel from the side, you can see the angle of the side panel in relation to the rails which are perfectly parallel with the deck floor.
The rear bumper is more integrated into the body design; it's not a chrome unit that kind of sticks out like before. Also, it now has a lowered step so getting in and out is much easier. This was clearly a customer request, but another one is even much simpler and very convenient: the tailgate assist. Basically, it's just a torsion bar/spring that makes lifting the tailgate much easier. We asked Nissan why, and it was because there are a lot of lady Navara drivers out worldwide, and many have requested this feature.
But the tub and tailgate aren't as major an upgrade as the frame in the rear. If you're familiar with the chassis of the D23, then you'll spot the extra reinforcement welded onto the frame. This is meant to give customers confidence that the back of the Navara won't break. There were issues with previous generation D40 Navara/Frontier units with frames that broke, but none of those (that we know of) were in the Philippines. This should help prevent that and give customers confidence.
The rear axle and differential housing have also changed. Nissan says it's stronger than before and now comes with larger rear drum brakes. We didn't get the exact numbers in the spec, but my tape measure came in handy: the 2014-2020 model had 276mm drums, but this new one is closer to 300mm.
The suspension has also changed in several ways. For one, the way the link arms were mounted to the frame have changed; there's a wider gap between the frame mounts, altering the suspension geometry slightly as the upper control links are positioned slightly higher. This should lead to better stability, but may slightly reduce axle articulation if I'm looking at it correctly.
The bigger change is the rear coils. Unlike before when the Navara had coil springs with equal gaps between the coils, the new Navara has springs with smaller gaps on the upper section and larger gaps on the lower portion. This is what's called a dual-rate spring; the upper section with the smaller gaps is the soft rate while the lower section with wider gaps is meant to be the firmer rate. It's quite literally two springs in one and is effectively meant to give you the best of both worlds, cliché as that may be. We'll see how that works when we drive it.
These upgrades have also raised the Navara's payload capacity beyond 1000 kilograms. 2014-2020 models were rated for under 1000 kg; that's the trade-off with coils. The new one, with its many upgrades to the bed and frame, is now rated for 1017 kg in the Pro-4X. The VE 4x2 with the 7-speed automatic has the highest payload rating of all variants at 1043 kg.
So, now we come to the interior. The back seat is definitely a big improvement. Nissan raised up the cushion so you sit a bit higher. Actually, it seems almost theater-like because my eye-line when sitting behind the driver's seat is significantly higher which is unusual in a pick-up truck.
Nissan upped the backseat experience too new upholstery and a new fold-down armrest with dual cupholders. The Pro-4X lost the cupholders on the floor along with the umbrella holder, as well as the seatback pockets; that last one I found odd. Thankfully, they retained the dual A/C vents for the rear passengers and even tossed in a USB charging port. The little recess beside it is strange though; it's not big or deep enough for a phone unless maybe you still use a 3210.
In the front, the Navara's interior feels very familiar, but they did change out quite a few things. The most striking one is how they removed almost all of the chrome on this version; the door handles, audio panel trim, and cupholder trim are all in dark gray or black. The only chrome in the whole vehicle is the garnish panel for the gear selector; that's it.
Being a Pro-4X this one has embroidery on the leather, which is nice. But everything is largely the same. I had actually hoped that Nissan changed out the dashboard as the Navara's dash does feel dated compared to some of its competitors, but they didn't. Thankfully they made it clear that our market wanted to retain the dashtop tray; other markets have omitted that rather useful feature. The steering wheel is also new, and I like it so much I was half tempted to bring out a wrench and swap mine in its place.
The infotainment system is still mostly the same: it's an 8-inch touchscreen with 6 speakers, Bluetooth, Aux-In, and a USB port. The upgrade, however, is the addition of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Just be sure to use a high-quality or original cable to ensure that the connection via the front USB port remains uninterrupted. Another welcome upgrade is the climate control system; it just maintains a nice and steady temperature all throughout. Unusually this doesn't get the power adjust seats for the driver; that was reserved for the VL model.
The major tech update isn't with the audio system, but with safety. This new Pro-4X has 6 airbags (dual front, dual side, dual curtain airbags), stability control, anti-lock brakes, and trailer stability are standard, among others. All seatbelts are 3-point, and there are anchor points for child seats in the back. Nissan finally added speed sensing door locks and a front and rear parking sensor system in this Navara, and the latter ties in with the new Nissan Intelligent Mobility tech package.
If you fiddle around with the new multi-info display in the middle of the new gauge cluster, you'll see most of the functions of the new NIM package. These features are dependent on cameras under the Nissan badge on the grille, on the tailgate handle, under the side mirrors, and even one neatly concealed above the rear-view mirror. The camera system is also integrated with the sensors as well as another radar system in front; it's that little rectangle on the lower portion of the grille.
This Navara can warn you or stop automatically if you fail to recognize an obstacle ahead. This Navara will warn you if you've been driving for too long. This Navara will alert you if you're reversing out of a parking slot with a vehicle approaching from the side. This Navara will warn you if there's a vehicle in your blind spot. This Navara can switch from high to low beam and vice versa, depending on the situation. This Navara also has the now-signature 360-degree camera system known as AVM, but has been enhanced with moving object detection, very useful if there are blissfully unaware titas that still somehow wandered into your path whilst you back out of a parking slot with your hazards on. True story.
What I liked about the way Nissan executed this package is that it's not too intrusive in terms of alerts. For instance, I don't like the forward collision warning on the Fords because the mad blinking lights and alerts can raise absolute panic in a driver's mind. The alerts on this Pro-4X are more gentle, but just as effective without raising your BP. What I really wanted Nissan to do was to enhance the main screen as the resolution of the AVM still isn't HD, or at least closer to it.
Now, here's the important bit: Nissan didn't change the engine. This Pro-4X basically has the same engine as the one under the hood of my 2020 VL: a 2.5-liter YD25 turbodiesel that has 190 PS and 450 Nm of torque. The gearbox is the same too: this one has the 7-speed automatic and the 4x4 system.
The only major powertrain change with the Navara range is the way they reallocated the higher output YD25 amongst the models. Before, if you wanted a 4x2 Navara you were restricted to the low output 163 PS YD25. Now, you can get the 190 PS YD25 in a 4x2, albeit only in the 7-speed automatic models. The 6-speed MT 4x2 models only get the 163 PS version.
As a result of the non-upgrade of the engine, the Pro-4X feels exactly the same as my 2020 VL in terms of acceleration. Nothing new to report, really. 100 km/h is dispatched in 12.28 seconds; decent, but already behind the Hilux Conquest with its new 200+ horsepower 2.8L turbodiesel.
Fuel economy is decent but isn't stellar. Don't be surprised if you're getting upwards of 7.5 kilometers per liter in city driving (22 km/h average) or just 12.3 km/l if you're driving a steady pace on the expressway (80 km/h average). The fuel economy, especially in the city, is probably due to the gearing and when peak torque comes in: the max 450 Nm is delivered at 2000 rpm. Other models tend to have peak torque (and more of it) at well below 2000 rpm. More torque down low means lower revs which in turn means better fuel economy.
But despite my critical view of the powertrain, there are a lot of bright spots with the Pro-4X and the 2021 Navara in general. For one, the comfort has definitely improved. The rear springs seem well suited to dealing with the many minor bumps that a vehicle typically deals with when driving on a provincial highway whether the surface is concrete or asphalt. The soft section of the springs does work very well, taking the road imperfections nicely and allowing the firmer spring rate to relax for a bit more.
The second is the steering. Nissan says the steering rack has been changed out for this new Navara, and that it's a new and improved version. We're not quite sure whether it's a more robust one as there have been some reports of steering system issues (haven't had problems in mine yet), but what I'm sure of is that it feels better at low-speed driving. It's lighter at low speed, and that makes city driving and parking easier. That was also a request from Navara customers.
The third, and perhaps the one I enjoyed the most when we brought it to Laoag, is the off-road capability. This part of the country is known for its sand dunes, and I remember it well because during the launch of the original version of the D23 in 2015 we went here for some Dakar-inspired dune bashing fun.
This time it's different though. In 2015, we had to lower our tire pressures because the VL was on highway terrain (H/T) tires. This Pro-4X has all-terrain tires, so we may not need to pressure down... unless we actually get stuck.
Do keep in mind that on sand there are no guarantees. It's still a tricky terrain to drive on, and even with A/T's some were getting stuck. If you maintain your momentum though, you'll be perfectly fine. But what made the difference was the rear diff lock. Unlike before, all 4x4 versions of the Navara have electronic locking rear diffs, and that makes a lot of off-road work easier especially when one of the rear wheels is lifted off the ground.
Yes, this Pro-4X is very capable, but there is one thing we wish Nissan uprated: the water wading. After 6 years, Nissan is still hesitant to claim beyond 600 millimeters. That is a bit disappointing because we know the Navara can do much better than that because the Terra is already being rated for 800 millimeters after Nissan Philippines actually showed it going through water that deep. Both Navara and Terra have the same engine and intake system so it stands to reason that the truck can do the same, but Nissan won't say it outright. Maybe it's time they actually did a demonstration so they can upgrade that water wading depth rating.
Yes, the new Pro-4X is a very welcome addition to the 2021 Navara model range. I do like the look, much more so than the 2021 VL variants with all the chrome. I like the wheels, the tires, the new bed, the improved rear suspension, and the NIM package, and many more about this new vehicle. But there is a question that really needs answering.
Is the 2021 Navara Pro-4X compelling?
My assessment is that it depends on your point of view. If you're coming from a pre-2021 Navara VL, maybe not. I still wish Nissan did more with the dashboard, with the engine, and with the resolution of the screen. If you're coming from a pre-2021 4x2 Navara, yes the upgrades may be enough especially if you're looking at the Pro-4X. If you've been on the fence about getting a Navara, then maybe the new model will have enough to convince you.
What makes 2021 different for the Navara is that it arrives amidst a renewed pick-up war. There's a facelifted Ranger with a new FX4 Max variants, a facelifted Hilux Conquest with more power, a new Strada Athlete variant, as well as an all-new D-Max. Nissan is fielding a Navara that is behind in some respects, but ahead in some.
If there is one key advantage the Navara Pro-4X has, it's the pricing. The PhP 1,849,000 price tag for the Pro-4X seems high versus the Hilux Conquest, Strada Athlete, and D-Max, but the important thing to remember is that the Pro-4X already factors in the 110k DTI safeguard bond. Once you add the SG to the Toyota, the Strada, and the Isuzu, the prices of those models will far exceed the Pro-4X.
Only the FX4 MAX undercuts the Pro-4X on price, but the Ranger is a much older platform than the Nissan. And I would still prefer the Navara over the Ranger any day of the week and twice on Sunday.