Upon being offered the chance to go ‘camping’ in Sagada with Nissan Philippines Inc. (NPI), I figured participating in the trip would allow me to tick off plenty of firsts from the bucket list; my first time in Sagada, my first time behind the wheel of a Nissan for an extended period and, for that matter, my first time spending a few days with a pickup truck. With all these in mind, I took to the 2:30AM call time at Nissan North Edsa with expectations for each of these ‘firsts’.
Sagada brings to mind the cliché images of tall pine trees, being above the clouds, and generally cold climate. These are all true and indeed worth going for, but for people who’ve actually taken the journey to Sagada, they will never miss telling you one other thing: it’s FAR; close to 300 kilometers from the heart of Manila in fact. And while some would shrug this distance off thinking it’s all expressway, the fact is that half of that distance is purely on the twisty mountain roads of Kennon Road and the infamous Halsema Highway. My expectations for Sagada’s distance were indeed fully met, having finally arrived there at 3:00PM; a good 12 hours from the 3:00AM takeoff from Manila.
Now I will be honest: I am not too familiar with Nissans in general. Other than the odd shotgun ride in a friend’s drift-spec Silvia or the usual spiel about GT-Rs. The only thing I often hear about the cars is their penchant for having really cold air conditioning. It seems that this circumstance would be perfect then, as that makes the NP300 Navara my first impression of driving a Nissan.
Having taken the first stint driving from Manila to Baguio, I got fairly acquainted with the Navara’s road manners. Its 2.5L diesel motor, while not the largest displacement in its segment, yields more than enough torque, allowing for easy overtaking on the leftmost lanes of NLEX. The range-topping VL trimmed unit we were provided also gets the 7-speed automatic gearbox which helps keep the powerband where it needs to be at all times.
Now, power and torque is definitely something to look at with cars from the diesel/pickup segment, but beyond that there was something else that piqued my interest as I took on the long highway drive; the Navara’s ride comfort.
When they said I would be driving a pickup truck all the way to Sagada, to say that I’ve set the bar for ride comfort at about the height of a ruler should be pretty safe. Especially without weight on the bed, pickup trucks are infamously known for having the most jarring of rides. Thanks to the traditional leaf-spring setup for their beds, pickups would often sacrifice general comfort for extra payload capacity. And well, it seems that the Navara isn’t a traditional pickup.
At first I thought I was just too groggy and merely ‘putting up’ with the pickup’s ride. But then long past the expressways and up towards Baguio via Kennon Road, the Navara still felt as planted and comfortable to be in on rutted roads as much as it did on the highway. I later learned that the Navara is fitted with a multi-link rear suspension, a layout you would normally find on sedans or coupes instead of trucks. I guess that explains why it feels like any other car as it goes through bumps and ruts.
Our stop at Baguio City consisted of a sumptous buffet breakfast at Café by The Ruins. After a healthy fruit platter and only one round of the buffet — I swear, I’m on a diet… okay not really — we set off again towards the infamous Halsema Highway. Having covered a considerable distance for my stint, I decided to ride shotgun so I could get some proper shuteye… at least, that was the plan.
It seems the road had other plans however. With its tight, twisted corners and nary a straightaway in sight, the Halsema Highway could leave you dizzy and nauseated if you didn’t train your eyes on the road. Not that it wasn’t a welcome proposition though, I enjoy my fair share of mountain pass driving and having a vast mountain range serve as our trip’s background was indeed a highlight of the journey.
Despite looking forward to some twisties, the road was so long that I eventually fell asleep for a good half hour, only to find the convoy stopping over at Halsema Highway’s highest point. Standing at 7,400 feet (2,255 meters) above sea level, the highest point of the highway was not even halfway to Sagada coming from Baguio. After a quick photo-op and a good stretch, we resumed driving towards our destination at a rather gingerly pace.
The relaxed pace and the Navara’s well-sorted handling allowed passengers to fully appreciate the breathtaking sights of the Cordilleras, as well as giving the photographers a chance to capture the convoy set against the mountain range backdrop. Having driven from early morning till past noon, we eventually found ourselves in Sagada by around 3:00PM. While we were relieved that we finally arrived at Rock Inn hotel, it appears the guys at NPI had other plans for the night’s accommodations.
After a quick break at the hotel we then proceeded up to Kiltepan Peak, perhaps the most recognized camping area in Sagada. Upon our arrival, dozens of tents, chairs, and even a campfire had already been set up for us, courtesy of Coleman. Thanks to their sizeable tents, sleeping bags, and air beds, our evening’s rest was very swell despite the fact that we were outdoors.
Day two was a pretty lax one. Apart from a visit to Ganduyan Museum and the Hanging Coffins, we pretty much had the afternoon to ourselves. That said, we took our Navara out to explore Sagada and find good places to shoot. We eventually ended up at Lake Danum, a small and shallow pond that turns into an orange hue during summer and green during the rainy season. Seeing as we’re barely approaching summer, the ‘lake’ was in pretty much the same shade as our Savannah Yellow test unit. With not enough light left for more photos, we called it a day and retreated to Rock Inn for dinner and snacks over a campfire.
Our last day returning to Manila just further cemented what I thought about the Navara. Being able to drive at our own pace back, the Navara was able to further prove that it is a contendable choice for people who would see a car as a lifestyle choice rather than purely a workhorse. Its comfort, easily accessible powerband, and overall capacity to lug equipment like camping gear around makes the perfect mixture for a truck you can live with — especially on long drives. Thanks to Nissan’s showcasing of its pickup offering’s broad talents, it’s safe to say their products now have a good impression in my book.