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New Tricks: How Nissan made the Navara better and smarter

New Tricks: How Nissan made the Navara better and smarter image

Marcus De Guzman / Marcus De Guzman, Barney Biscocho | March 22, 2018 07:51

A 270 km journey through Mindoro in the 2018 Nissan Navara with Intelligent Mobility

Whoever said 'you can't teach an old dog new tricks' probably didn't see the evolution of the automobile. Take for example the pickup truck. For the common man, it is nothing more than a workhorse purpose-built for hauling and moving cargo. Fast forward to present day and it's still going strong. However, Nissan has given the Navara an upgrade, one that gives it an entirely new dimension in capability.

Recently updated for the 2018 model year, the third-gen Navara now comes with Nissan's suite of Intelligent Mobility safety tech. What does this mean for the go-anywhere pickup? Let's just say it now has a new set of tricks up its sleeve which makes the Navara easier to drive. We find out if it will be able to deliver.

Nissan Navara Mindoro Drive

What better way to test the Navara's new-found tech (as well as celebrate its third birthday) than a 270 km road trip in the island of Mindoro. We start our journey at the southern tip of Mindoro at San Jose. Arriving by plane in the early morning, we were more than eager to check out the sights and sounds of both the island and the refreshed Navara.

True enough, waiting for us at San Jose Airport were our steeds for the next few days. Upon closer inspection, it appears not much has changed on the 2018 Navara. In fact, the only change that I saw was the subtly restyled front grill. Everything else including the wheels and taillights have been carried over. Personally, they could have done more for the exterior but the pickup does still look fresh despite being three years old already.

Nissan Navara Mindoro Drive

What's different? A new set of cameras and sensors which gives the pickup an edge over the competition. Called Around-View Monitor (AVM), this feature essentially gives the driver a 360-degree, bird's-eye-view of the vehicle, effectively giving you an extra set of eyes. On a pickup such as the Navara, it is a handy feature indeed. Measuring more than 5250mm long and 1850mm wide, the Navara is a huge vehicle, meaning that driving along tight provincial roads and narrow side streets can be quite unnerving. But thanks to AVM, it makes driving (and parking) a pickup that much easier and safer, which I will get to later.

After a light breakfast and a short briefing, we were off to our first destination, Mt. Malasimbo. If the name sounds familiar, that's because it is where the famous Malasimbo Music & Arts Festival is held. I volunteered to get behind the wheel first as it has been awhile since I drove a pickup and I wanted to familiarize myself with the Navara again. With nearly 300 km of road ahead us, I had plenty of time to get reaquianted with the 2018 Navara.

Nissan Navara Mindoro Drive

With nearly 200 PS and a healthy 450 Nm of torque, the Navara has more than enough pulling power available. On the straights, the Navara had no trouble reaching crusing speeds thanks to its potent 2.5-liter turbo-diesel. Saddled to a smooth shifting seven-speed automatic gearbox, it kept on the power in both city and highway driving. However, I would have liked it more if the 'kickdown' from the tranmission was quicker. But then again, the automatic does come with manual-select mode which allows faster gear-changing.

Despite its utilitarian roots, the Navara felt car-like to drive around. Sure there is some body roll when it goes around corners but that is to be expected from a high-riding pickup. Feedback from the steering wheel was also good and it did not felt numb nor too light to turn. But what has always impressed us was its ride quality. As it is the only one that comes with a coil spring rear suspension, it rode admirably through road bumps, potholes and rutted streets. But don't let its comfort-oriented rear suspension fool you as the Navara is still capable of carrying nearly a ton of cargo.

Nissan Navara Mindoro Drive

But where does AVM come into play you may ask? Well imagine the trouble we went through when we had to snake our way through countless roadworks. Wide two-way streets can suddenly became narrow two-way bottlenecks which were not ideal for the pickup. But thanks to the 360-degree monitoring system, we were able to get past such congestions with peace of mind. However, like the one in the X-Trail, AVM will only work up to speeds of 10 km/h. Go beyond that speed and the system automatically shuts off.

After about nearly two hours on the road, we stopped to get lunch and some much needed rest before continuing on with our journey. Parking a pickup is not exactly the easiest of tasks. But with AVM, it allowed us to easily see the far flung corners of the pickup as well as check how near we were to another parked vehicle. To think this kind of technology used to be available only on upmarket brands.

Nissan Navara Mindoro Drive

Before long we found ourselves on the road again as we needed make it in time before the sun sets over Mt. Malasimbo. With a fairly straightforward route and light traffic ahead of us, we managed to make short work of the long road trip which took us nearly half a day to complete.

After what felt like an eternity we finally arrived at the foot of Mt. Malasimbo just before the sun began to set. Getting to the top proved to be quite tricky however as we found ourselves again on a very tight two-way road. It was so narrow one might mistake it for a one-way street. There was only so much space in between that our pickups nearly took up both lanes. Again, AVM played a major role in helping us avoid obstacles and other vehicles on our way up to Mt. Malasimbo.

Nissan Navara Mindoro Drive

Waiting for us at the top was a magnificent view of Puerto Galera and the surrounding coastline. The sun was still out but the cold breeze meant it was going to be one chilly evening for all of us. After a brief photo-op, it was now time to head to our campsite located near the Malasibmo ampitheater.

This was not your typical 'camping in the woods'. This was 'glamping' (glamorous camping). Sure we had tents but inside those tents were airbeds, blankets and rechargeable lanterns. Food and snacks were also available and were prepped by a dedicated crew. Truly a nice way to cap off our first day in Mindoro.

Nissan Navara Mindoro Drive

The next morning, Nissan had something special for us. To further demonstrate the capability of AVM and how it can help drivers off-road, local motorsports legend Georges Ramirez set up a course to show how it's done.

Normally when going off-road, drivers have to rely solely on their senses to check for rocky debris, steep drop-offs and even large pools of water. Some even have spotters which help guide them when dealing with narrow pathways and uneven terrain. In some ways, AVM acts as your extra pair of eyes as well as your partner off the beaten path.

Nissan Navara Mindoro Drive

Personally I wasn't so sure of AVM's ability to help us get around the course. Sure it's great when backing out of a tight parking spot or navigating through tight spaces but off-roading? My doubts, however, quickly disappeared when I was able to test it out myself. Crossing narrow bridges or avoiding debris like fallen trees or huge rocks proved to be a cinch with the help of AVM. No longer did I needed to look out the window to see if the vehicle was in any type of danger.

The system also helped us climb up and go down steep hills without causing damage to the vehicle. This proved once again how technology and the pickup truck have come a long way.

Nissan Navara Mindoro Drive

Just before noon, it was time to leave our campsite in Mt. Malasimbo to head to our final respite in our Mindoro advenute, Infinity Resort. Despite being only 8.5 km from the campsite. It took us nearly 45 minutes to reach the resort as we had to contend with twisty roads, more roadworks and pass through several barangays. Finally, we reached Infinity Resort where all of us were looking forward for some much needed rest and relaxation.

Nissan Navara Mindoro Drive

So what is my verdict for the 2018 Navara with Intelligent Mobility? I have already said it before but pickups today are no longer just rugged vehicles meant for hauling. They are now high-tech pieces of machinery that have evolved from their simpler and more rudimentary beginnings. The 2018 Navara presents a strong case that just because it's utilitarian does not mean it has to be boring or lack certain technologies.

More than just a pickup: Driving the smarter Nissan Navara in Mindoro

With Nissan being the first in the country to equip their pickup with a 360-degree around-view monitoring system, I wonder how or when other manufacturers will catch on to the idea. All I can say is, Nissan's AVM system for the Navara shows how far pickups, and technology, have come. You can indeed, teach an old dog a lot of new tricks.