In June, Nissan revealed their next generation global contender in the pick-up truck segment: the 2015 Nissan NP300, otherwise known as the Navara.

Without a doubt, this is a model that Nissan Philippines, Inc., the new national sales company, is very eager to market in the country. They're so excited for this new pick-up that they sent us to Chiang Mai, Thailand for the Global Media Drive of the all new model, just so we can fully evaluate the truck's capabilities and potential in the Philippine market.

We will gladly (and thoroughly) oblige them with our own evaluation of the 2015 Nissan NP300 Navara.


Back in truck-crazy Thailand

When we arrived at Chiang Mai, Thailand we were greeted by senior members of Nissan's development and communications teams; this being an important launch of a very important global model to be sold in nearly every market that the brand is present in.

Thailand is very much a nation of pick-up trucks. Single-cab pick-ups are very affordable in Thailand thanks to legislation enacted by the government that set the sales tax so low for locally-made single-cab pick-ups that they're actually cheaper than most subcompact sedans there. This is why Thailand is Asia's pick-up truck capital where sales comprise more than 40% of all new vehicles sold.

Nissan had set up a rather unique structure for the briefing on the NP300 Navara in the shape of two igloos, though they called it the “Dome”. Inside it, we met the senior members of the team who was in charge of the Navara's development, including Chief Vehicle Engineer Takashi Fukui. We'll chat with him later on in the day.

The morning brief was quick; actually it was just really a meet, greet and off you go for the drive right away. It's just what we wanted, given that Nissan's plan for the driving component involved a 100 kilometer roundtrip stint with the 4x2 versions of the NP300 over city streets, motorways and side roads as well as another 100 kilometer route aboard the 4x4 version of the NP300 over a mix of tricky mountain trails and paved roads.


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Hello, Navara

Seeing the new Navara for the first time in the metal, it's easy to be impressed with the look.

The front end looks quite distinguished for a utility vehicle as Nissan fully applied their V-motion design statement with the NP300 Navara, particularly in the way the fascia's elements blend in with the hood and fenders. Quality details such as the chrome and matte gray grill start off the design, flanked by a pair of first-in-class LED projector headlamps.

The problem that most pick-up trucks designers have is that they are generally constrained in their line of work. Unlike other vehicles like sedans, sportscars, hatchbacks, crossovers and SUVs where designers usually have a relatively free hand, pick-up trucks have beds that take up about half of the vehicle itself. Nissan sought a way around it by designing wide arches, car-style taillamps, a V-motion detail around the Nissan logo and even a detail that resemble a ducktail spoiler that's really a sill you can sit on (though not while the vehicle is moving). Clever.

Nissan's new pick up is almost like the Patrol Royale in terms of dignified design; that's already saying a lot. The cabin looks and feels very premium too; actually it's so impressive that you could almost swear they lifted it off of a top-spec executive sedan. Climate control, a Kenwood 2DIN audio unit with satellite navigation, steering wheel audio controls, Bluetooth and USB connectivity are all standard for the 2015 Nissan NP300 Navara 2.5L 4x2 and the 2.5L 4x4.

The most surprising features unique to the NP300 in the class? A/C vents for the rear passengers in the center console box and floor mounted rear cupholders with an umbrella holder. Again, clever.


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Powerplants to lead

Nissan opted to develop the next generation NP300 Navara pick-up with a choice of three powerplants: (1) a 2.5-liter DOHC 16-valve Inline-4 with a variable geometry turbo and intercooler called the YD25DDTi, (2) a 2.3-liter DOHC 16-valve Inline-4 with a variable geometry turbo and intercooler designated as the YS23DDTi and (3) an upcoming 2.5-liter QR25 naturally aspirated gasoline engine.

The reason for three different engines lies in the emissions standards in their respective markets; the YD25DDTi will be for markets which are Euro-4 compliant (like the Philippines for some stations) while the YS23DDTi will be for Euro-5. The gasoline engine is still being adapted to the Navara platform, so we'll have to wait and see what that will be like.

Also, like the Navara that preceded this one, the 2.5-liter and 2.3-liter diesels will have two different outputs. We don't have the specifics of the 2.3 liter engine yet, but the 2.5 liter version can be tuned to produce either 163 PS with 403 Newton-meters of torque (YD25DDTi Mid) or 190 PS with 450 Newton-meters (YD25DDTi High) depending on the variant.

Being that the Philippine market is strongly oriented towards double cabs for pick ups, all the models that we were assigned to drive were double cabs with the high powered version of the 2.5 liter diesel with 190 PS.

This should be interesting.


Driving the NP300 Navara 4x2

We made our way to our trucks for the morning drive: a pair of 2015 Nissan NP300 Navara 4x2 VL models with the 6-speed manual transmissions. These may be right-hand drive Thai-spec models but -given that they're double cab versions- they should be close enough to the trucks that Nissan would eventually offer in the Philippines.

After we settled into the truck, fired up the engine via the push button ignition (it's equipped with a smart key) and got reoriented to an RHD manual (read: stalled), off we went. Kenwood has a partnership with Garmin for their GPS program; familiar, easy-to-use and accurate, just the things we need from a navigation system in a foreign country where English isn't widely spoken.

The engine and transmission work really well together; great power coursed to the rear-wheels via a properly developed 6-speed manual gearbox. This may be a heavy truck (you can feel it) but the power and torque make it rather quick from a standing start.

Also of note is the ease by which the NP300 makes its way around urban areas. By no means is it light on its feet, but visibility is excellent and making 90-degree corners (common with urban areas) is easy. This one is fitted with a rear-view camera making parking easier as well.

We didn't have the proper facilities to do a full fuel economy test apart from the fuel computer. After zeroing the data on the highway for this 2015 Nissan NP300 Navara 2.5L 4x2 6MT, the truck achieved a consumption of 15.2 kilometers to the liter at an average speed of 79 km/h with three passengers.

What was truly unexpected was how comfortable the Navara was at all speeds whether on smooth highways and even on rougher, potholed roads. This certainly didn't feel like your usual truck, a trait of the 2015 Nissan Navara that their engineers explained when we got back to the hotel.


Back in the Domes

After absorbing our experience in the 4x2 Navara for the morning stint, we were herded back to the Domes for a more in-depth briefing on what they had done to make the truck feel the way it did.

Nissan took us on a rather neck-stretching experience by having the presentation's visuals projected 360 degrees onto the dome's ceiling, particularly with regards to their 81 year heritage in making trucks.

The history Nissan's (and Datsun's) trucks stretches back to 1933 when the company produced the Datsun 12 pick-up. The Nissan branded trucks began with the D21 (Nissan Hardbody/Eagle) in 1985, the D22 (Nissan Frontier) in 1997 and then the D40 (Nissan Navara) from 2005 to present. This new NP300 is designated as the D23, and is manufactured in a new Nissan facility in Thailand and will be exported to the region, as per industry norms.

Nissan's engineers took us through how the Navara was developed, particularly with the all-weather, all-conditions testing that they did through the ice, deserts, urban jungles and more to make sure that their new truck can hack it in the real world. Beyond the usual marketing speak and other bits, what really caught our ear was the rear suspension.

Nissan says that, depending on the market, the NP300 Navara could be made available with a unique 5-link rear suspension with coil springs instead of the traditional leaf spring rear suspension common to this class of pick-ups. Having coils instead of leafs (or is it leaves?) will sacrifice carrying capacity in terms of weight, but will greatly improve ride.

Based on this truck that we're driving with the 'classic' leaf spring suspension, however, the NP300 Navara's ride is already impressive, but let me put that into perspective. After having driven all of the trucks in the class with the Toyota Hilux, the Ford Ranger, the Isuzu D-Max, the Chevrolet Colorado and the Mitsubishi Strada, I would contend that the Mitsubishi is the most lifestyle-oriented (read: softly sprung) in the category, followed by the Ranger. I would characterize the ride of the 2015 NP300 Navara as somewhere in between the Strada and the Ranger.

The truck is comfortable, without a doubt; what more if they come out with the coil spring version for our market? Also of note are the front seats; they follow the same design principles as the ones aboard the Nissan Altima: the Zero-G seats that Nissan sought the help of NASA in designing. Improved support, low fatigue and maximum comfort are not just marketing-speak; they really do work.

More interestingly, the development of the 5-link coil spring suspension brings to light that Nissan could be closer to coming out with a Navara-based SUV that we initially thought... just add a wagon body.


Driving the NP300 Navara 4x4

After the briefing we switched on over to the top spec 2015 Nissan NP300 2.5L 4x4 VL... in that rather striking shade of Savannah Orange. No stalls for us this time; this Navara is equipped with the 7-speed automatic.

First up, we headed back onto city streets to try out this 4x4 truck; in rear-wheel drive mode, of course. Like before, it's comfortable and easy to maneuver for a pick-up, and it came equipped with all the bells and whistles like the 4x2 VL we drove earlier in the day. The engine is also the YD25DDTi with 190 PS, though now it comes with the convenience of the 7-speed auto with a manual mode if you wish to select the gears yourself.

The operation of the transmission is smooth and intuitive; just about what you want for any automatic on any car, truck or SUV. With the fuel economy reset, the Navara 4x4 7AT (in 4x2 mode) was able to achieve 14.2 kilometers per liter at an average speed of 84 kilometers per hour on the motorway. Again, pretty good.

After a few kilometers, however, we were told by the GPS to turn away from the smooth tarmac of Thailand's highly developed road system and onto back country and mountain roads; and by that, we mean a road that can only fit only 1.5 times the width of a car (what more a truck?) and where you typically encounter an elephant or two. Four, in our case.

And as for wading depths, Nissan says the Navara can make it through up to 600 millimeters of water.

UPDATE: Based on the presentation and Q&A by Nissan's engineers, the water wading was set at 600mm. Based on the material given to us, however, the water wading capability is stated at 450mm, though we're still trying to confirm which variant they were referring to. Judge for yourself: the 2015 NP300 Double Cab 4x2 has a ground clearance of 218mm while the 4x4 version is at 220mm.


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Onto the beaten path

Deeper we went into the mountains and soon enough the pavement disappeared, changing instead to the orange and red mud trails common in Thailand. The heavy monsoon only made it worse, so we engaged 4x4 High on the fly (yes, it's shift on the fly) and got on with the path.

The speed by which we drove through the tight trails filled with muck and mud was also surprising; we sustained a pace of 20-30 km/h and up to 40-50 km/h on some parts. It may not sound fast, but given the challenging path (with a few moments of opposite lock), it's plenty quick and was done in ample comfort.

In actuality, the 4x4 Shift on the Fly feature is only one of many features that the 4x4 variants of the NP300 comes with. Hill Descent Control (automatically crawl down a path), Hill Start Assist (3 sec. brake hold for inclines), Vehicle Dynamic Control, Active Brake Limited Slip and a Limited Slip Differential. These 4x4 driver aids (VDC and ABLS work on the road too) just make it easier; something we tested at the specially paved (yes, paved) 4x4 test track.

Nissan actually prepared a specific course to give us an appreciation of the capabilities of the new Navara. Here we tested all the off-road capabilities such as the approach angles, departure angles, articulation, traction control, HDC, HSA, among others, of the 2015 Nissan NP300 Navara. A fitting conclusion to our drive of Nissan's latest truck.


Tomorrow's truck, today

Rare as it may be, we really were thoroughly impressed in all respects with the next generation Nissan Navara. We have yet to test it with a bed full of cargo (as it's meant to be used), but we may have to to wait up to a year to be able to do that.

Yes, you read that right; the Navara might take anywhere between a few months to a year before it arrives in the Philippines. According to Fukui-san, Nissan is still working on rolling out the left-hand drive models out of the Navara from Thailand. That's the real story as to why all-new models take a while before arriving in the country, as we are one of only a few countries in ASEAN and the region that are LHD; the majority of the automotive volume in South East Asia are RHD. And so the wait begins.

Based on our drive, the NP300 is a pick-up truck where the designers and engineers thoroughly thought of everything and then made it better. No longer is a pick-up just for utility or for hauling stuff; the 2015 Nissan NP300 Navara is a true truck that can be enjoyed and driven comfortably to any place, on any terrain, any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

Yes, the 2015 Navara is going to be Nissan's next big thing.