By Ben Harrington
Editor's note: Readers will notice something different about Ben Harrington's review because he's from the U.K., writing about what we call mid-size pickup trucks. We thought it might be interesting to get an international perspective on what could eventually be coming to the U.S. (with the appropriate conversions in place). Here's what Harrington had to say about the 2017 Nissan Navara, which is very likely to turn into the Nissan Frontier we get next year.
The competition in the double-cab pickup truck market has increased dramatically over the years thanks in no small part to the dual-purpose nature of the small pickup segment.
Vehicles like the Mitsubishi L200, Ford Ranger and Toyota Hilux are the stalwarts in the field, but these days, you've got to consider Volkswagen's impressive Amarok and even the Fiat Fullback, as well.
Now we'd add the Nissan Navara to that grouping. We feel it more than merits a good amount of consideration.
What Makes the Navara Different
Where the Navara stands apart from the ever-increasing opposition is its use of a "proper" five-link rear suspension. Somewhat antiquated leaf-spring setups have long been the weapon of choice for pickups thanks in large part to their ability to cope with heavy loads. A consequence of this system, though, is a lack of driving refinement — especially unladed.
This more modern approach provides benefits that are especially evident at both higher speeds, where the Navara feels planted, and on less-than-perfect surfaces, where a leaf-sprung pickup traditionally tends to bounce around. Not so here; the Navara swiftly soaks up potholes and the like without deviation, and there's little in the way of traction loss as the rear tires stay firmly in contact with terra firma.
Choice of Two Turbo-Diesels
The 2017 Navara comes equipped with a 2.3-liter turbo-diesel engine standard. Depending on your trim level, you get to choose whether you'd like one or two turbos bolted to it, producing 160 or 190 horsepower, respectively. Our range-topping, Tekna-trimmed test truck had the higher-output twin-turbo model; what's more pertinent is its 332 pounds-feet of torque, making overtaking and quick getaways a lot easier than you might imagine in a vehicle with 1-metric-ton (2,000-pound-plus) carrying capability.
There's a choice of six-speed manual or speed-speed automatic transmissions, though the auto is restricted to the more powerful engine. You can also opt for either four-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive, but manual gear changes and 160 hp are compulsory if you want a two-wheel-drive-only Navara.
As with the suspension setup, the Navara's engine follows suit. It's quieter and more civilized than the agricultural efforts associated with the genre, especially from inside the cabin. The seven-speed automatic is also seamless until pushed hard; even then, though, there are no neck-jolting changes as it moves up through the upper ratios.
If you opt for the impressive automatic, there's the usual drop in fuel economy to consider, with combined mpg dropping from 44.9 mpg in the manual to 41.0 mpg, and CO2 emissions rising from 167 grams per kilometer to 183 grams per kilometer. Those differences are not significant amounts, and this seven-speed auto is plenty good enough to justify them.
Imposing Style All Around
To a certain extent, manufacturers have their hands tied when designing a double-cab pickup. They must start with the prerequisite large load area and then move forward, optimizing interior room for passengers. The result is a basic three-box shape that tends to look like everyone else in the competitive set.
But with the Navara, Nissan has done a good job of allowing a big ol' unit to look unashamedly like just that. Its large, flat grille is tall and imposing, switching back to a near-horizontal hood flanked by two, broad shoulders that follow the lines of the headlights and add to the Navara's striking overall impression of a larger size.
The high hood makes for a squat windshield, giving a sleeker look when looking head-on. The Navara's beltline then drops down aft the door mirrors, cleverly increasing visibility for rear passengers.
Flared wheel arches continue the Navara's muscular look, and the rear tailgate even sports a small spoiler — although how much it does for aerodynamics is debatable.
At almost 73 inches wide and 72 inches tall, you'd expect there to be plenty of living space inside the Navara. For the most part, you'd be right: The driving position is elevated on a wide, armchair-like seat, and you'd be hard-pressed to come into contact (never mind fight for elbow space) with another passenger. Just don't expect gripping bolster, like in some sports cars, as this pickup is built for long-haul comfort.
It's the same story in the backseats, with two tall adults fitting comfortably and no lack of head- or legroom unless you're quite tall. A third adult will fit in the center seat in a pinch, but things may feel cramped on longer journeys.
The Navara's dash layout is well-appointed and furnished with solid plastics that are just about middle ground in the class. Everything feels well-screwed together, and the Navara's attempt for civility continues with an actual dial for switching between 2WD/4WD/High and Low ratios, rather than the usual, unwieldy floor-mounted gear lever.
How's the Value?
Our test truck in Tekna trim is priced close to $34,000. It comes stuffed with kit including heated seats, a 7-inch high-definition touchscreen and dual-zone climate control. The Navara range starts from around $27,000, with five trim levels (including the Tekna) to choose from — two of which are chassis cabs.
In a vehicle of this size, the box I'd always tick on the options list would be parking sensors (worth every penny): At over 208 inches in length, low speed maneuvering would be daunting without them, especially as the rear window and rear corners are so far apart.
Thankfully, Nissan has acknowledged this, and they come as standard on every Navara pickup, with a rear parking camera included on Accenta Plus and N-Connecta option packages. If your budget will stretch to this Tekna model, Nissan's very helpful bird's-eye-view 360-degree camera is also included.
There may be more competition than ever in this pickup truck class here in England, but with its impressive new engines and some clever and interesting features, Nissan is showing that the 2017 Navara is up for the fight.
Cars.com photos by Ben Harrington