Roughing it out in Ilocos Norte with the Nissan Navara

Long drives are something that I always look forward to. Aside from the fact that it's one of my many forms of 'escape', it also allows me to explore far flung places one would only normally see in postcards or in pictures. So far, the longest distance that I've driven was around 135 km which took me all the way to southern coast of Mabini, Batangas.

But that was nothing compared to my recent drive with Nissan. As a way to celebrate the 2nd anniversary of the all-new Navara, the automaker recently invited us to the Nissan Navara Northern Drive. This was no ordinary drive as the journey itself was a test of endurance. Our destination: Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte — which was 560 km away from Metro Manila.

The Long Haul: Northern Luzon with the Nissan Navara

Daunting it may be, I was ready to take it on as this gave me a chance to gauge my long-distance driving prowess, as well as explore the northern provinces to which I've never been to.

To be frank, this was my first time getting to drive the Nissan Navara. With a coil spring rear suspension, 7-speed automatic gearbox and having the most car-like interior, let's just say I was really interested in how the Navara would perform.

We departed from the Nissan High Performance Center in QC at around 2:30 AM and proceeded to head north to our first stop, the Makkan Ilocano restaurant in Agoo, La Union. With me during the journey was my roadtrip buddy, Jenna, and fellow motoring colleagues, Earl and Davein. I only got about 3 to 4 hours of sleep prior but I was surprisingly awake and alert that I ended up covering 234 kilometers on the first day.

Crossing the bridge while on our way to Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte

At our disposal was the top-of-the-range 4x4 VL Navara, which is powered by a 2.5-liter turbo-diesel that cranks out 190 PS and 450 Nm of torque. With three other people in tow with generous amounts of luggage, the Navara had its work cut out for it. With that torque at our disposal, overtaking trucks was done with ease along the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX). Driving way before dawn and with not much traffic, we were able to cruise at a steady 100 km/h.

To be honest, I was not really expecting a pliant ride in the Navara, but I was pleasantly surprised by its soft damping. Sure, the ute is a workhorse at heart, but never did I expect the Navara to ride like a plush SUV.

When you're in for the long haul, a comfortable seat is a must. On a drive like this, the Navara's Zero Gravity seats were a godsend. I do admit, however, that it felt unnerving when I first sat on them. It is as if the seat is slowly molding into the shape of your body, which is sort of like memory foam only this has more support.

Taking the tight bends in the Nissan Navara

Pulling power from the 2.5-liter YD25DDTi turbo-diesel was potent and there was always enough low-end torque to keep the pickup moving. The 7-speed automatic transmission goes through the gears smoothly, though I would have liked it more if it responded quicker during overtaking (i.e. kickdown). Geared towards economy, it felt reluctant to downshift but eager to upshift. But then again, it is a pickup, built for hauling rather than performance.

It took us 4 hours before finally arriving at our first stop, Makkan Ilocano. We already had breakfast at the High Performance Center, but since Laoag City was about 6 hours away, it was only right that we have 'second' breakfast.

We departed from Makkan at around 7:30. For me, it was time to get comfortable as I took the backseat and watched the world go by. As a testament to the Navara's ride quality, I was able to doze off several times. It was also nice to see that the Navara has rear aircon vents, making it the only pickup in the segment to have such a feature. Comfortable the ride may be, I did find that the rear bench somewhat lacked leg support. You won't notice it if you're only going around the city, but in my case, I had to stretch my legs every so often while I was at the back.

A breathtaking view of the coastline with the Nissan Navara

Just when we thought we were free from congestion, the unthinkable happened. To our dismay, there was heavy traffic along MacArthur Highway near Bacnotan, La Union. With phone in hand, Jenna was able to trace out another route going to Laoag. That predicament turned out to be a blessing in disguise as we soon found ourselves along a scenic route.

The detour brought us to the coastal route of Bacnotan-Luna-Baloan Road. It deviated from the main thoroughfare, but since it's along the coastline with little to no traffic, we were able to make good time. The scienic drive lasted for about 40 minutes and we soon found ourselves back along MacArthur Highway.

The Bangui Windmills in the background as we were nearing our destination

After what felt like an eternity, we finally reached Laoag City at around 1:30 PM to have lunch at La Preciosa. An hour later, it was time for us to leave for our campsite located at Adonai EcoBeach Resort in Pagudpud. I decided to get behind the wheel of the Navara once again as the final leg consisted of twisty roads and a bit of off-roading.

Turn after turn, the Navara kept itself composed through the many bends that we had to take. For a top-heavy vehicle, it kept its tires grounded and body roll was kept within reasonable levels. With the sunny weather, we just had to stop at a picturesque view of the coastline along the Pan-Philippine Highway and appreciate the view.

Driving just as the sun set with the Nissan Navara

As much as we wanted to stay, we had to depart quickly so we could arrive at our campsite just before nightfall. But alas, the weather had other plans. We were just 30 minutes away from Adonai when we noticed that the skies were turning dark. On the flipside, the cold weather meant it would be quite a chilly night.

Our campsite at the Adonai EcoBeach Resort

At long last, we finally arrived at our campsite just past 5:30 PM. We were still feeling bummed that we weren't able to catch the sunset, but seeing the splendor that is Paselang Bay was worth the long drive. Thankfully, it did not rain that night so we were able to hang out by the bonfire, catch up with fellow colleagues and laugh through the night before finally resting for the night in our tents.

A backdrop of the Ilocos coastline with the Nissan Navara

On the second day of our trip, Nissan set us up for an off-road trip to Camp Adams to explore this pick-up's ability in the rough stuff. Luckily for us, that meant going through the famous Patapat viaduct. The way the road cuts right through mountainside and coastline is just perfect for taking photos. Perhaps Nissan should bring the GT-R soon to this part of Ilocos Norte.

The Nissan Navaras along the famous Patapat Viaduct

It was now time to get off the main highway and go off the beaten path. I was expecting light trails going to Camp Adams, but since the local government was busy improving the road, we were faced with muddy terrain, gravel roads, river crossings and some pretty steep drop offs. In true pickup fashion, the Navara took it all just fine and the soft damping really worked wonders, especially when going through uneven terrain.

Roughing it out with the Nissan Navara

After kicking up mud, it was time for us to head to Kapuluan Resort and Casa Consuelo to have some much needed rest. It was not long before we're on the road again, however, as we just had to check out the Bangui Windmills that dotted the northern coastline. I've only seen these engineering marvels on television and I was not going to let this opportunity pass by.

The 30-minute or so drive felt like an hour as we had a bit of trouble finding the road going there, but thanks again to Jenna's map-reading skills (and my sharp eyes), we finally found the road that led us to the windmills

Getting to see these things up close as their blades sliced through the winds was awe-inspiring and frankly left me speechless. Originally, I thought they were only a handful of these wind catchers. In fact, there were dozens of them that lined the coast. They may be tourist traps for some, but getting to know that these are actually working windmills that deliver electricity to villages was a pleasant thought. Standing underneath these giants also made the long drive worth it, to say the least — a wonderful backdrop to the chiseled lines of the Navara.

The Nissan Navara having some fun at the beach

Satisfied that we were able to reach the northern tip of Luzon, we went back to the resort feeling happy and content that we were able to marvel what Ilocos Norte had to offer.

After being with the Navara for several days, it's safe to say that the pickup is slowly becoming more of a lifestyle vehicle. It has to be comfortable and pliant for city driving, but must also be tough enough to carry heavy loads and endure long-distance driving. With it, Nissan was able to break the mold of just having a utilitarian vehicle for everyday use.

The crew with the Nissan Navara

Putting a multi-link rear suspension on a pickup may sound like an oxymoron, but if you're the type that values a soft ride without sacrificing cargo carrying capacity, the Navara is able to do just that. After riding the Navara through more than 550-km of road, I do believe that Nissan had the right formula in making a roadtrip vehicle; it's comfy, quite agile, has good pulling power and can carry loads of cargo without a hitch.

If you ever want a vehicle to get away from it all, consider the Nissan Navara at the top of your list.