THE BAKKIE WARS have hotted up lately with the arrival of VW’s Amarok, so Nissan stepped up smartly to the plate, hauled out a Nissan-Renault alliance engine in product planning for almost 12 years, and ta da, presented the public with the first V6 turbodiesel in a local LCV the Navara (and the Pathfinder SUV sibling). Let’s ignore for a moment the 6.0-litre diesel monsters in American mid-size pick-ups, because this techy three-litre is frugal (9.3/100km), quiet and powerful no argument with 175kW and 550Nm from impressively low revs. In another local first for a bakkie, itâs mated to a seven-speed automatic that helps put the power down seamlessly without more than a slightly elastic quality to the lag inherent in turbo spool-up and auto drag. Use the gearbox like a manual and that lag is quickly dispelled.
Nissan’s buff, bluff and wide Navara has always offered a nifty combination of high spec, strong engines (2.5 DCi has 140kW/450Nm in 4×4 guise) and great cruising ability. Now add extra grunt for the guy who’s sold on power and likes to tow a ski-boat or caravan (3tonnes Navara, 3.5tonnes Pathfinder braked). The new engine, which features on Renault Laguna and Infiniti in other markets, is based on a light-but-strong Compacted Graphite Iron (CGI) block with a 65 degree cylinder bank angle, lowish 16:1 compression ratio to mute harshness and common-rail injection based on Bosch seven-hole piezo injectors operating at 1800 bar.
The engines arrive alongside an external facelift, including a new bonnet, slightly altered grille and smoother bumpers. Interiors have been tweaked too, using better materials, revised switchgear and a new instrument cluster, though the big news (which adds R25k to the price) is Nissan’s Premium Connect ‘infotainment’ set-up which combines in a user-friendly way a good satnav system and the rather good Bose sound system, plus the now de rigeur Aux connectivity. Safety kit is at a high level, comprising front and side airbags, plus a full electronic suite based on ABS brake force distribution, brake assist, vehicle dynamic control, and Nissan’s special Active Brake Limited Slip (ABLS) which, like the GT-R system, sends torque to the individual wheels that have traction by braking those that don’t. Works a treat on a trail.
Driving both the Navara and Pathfinder back to back on tar, gravel and on a gymkhana course set up at Karoo1 atop the Hex River Valley, it was clear they both rate very highly as fast distance munchers. The Pathfinder’s multi-link suspension scores for stability on corrugated gravel, settling well where the Navara’s load-spec leaf springs were more prone to bucking. On the rough stuff, the punchy V6 diesel and Pathfinder’s always-on 4WD system (Auto mode on the selector dial shuttles drive on demand) worked a treat, and the vehicle was slightly less prone to hooking up on steep breakover obstacles than the Navara with its longer wheelbase. Both are clearly up there for ability.
This time, the price to pay is principally in the price. In the case of Navara, how will the SA public react to paying half a million for a bakkie? Or R533 400 with the Premium Connect option. Or how will Pathfinder, priced at R644 900 all in, and now on par with the mid-size SUV guns for powertain spec (V6 diesel, seven-speed auto), break into Prado, Discovery and even Pajero sales when its high kit levels are let down by a still cramped rear? Fact is, all 300 Navaras ordered for the 2010 intake have been pre-sold. Power has its place.