Words by Kevin C. Limjoco Photos by Nicolas A. Calanoc
The comeback kid is back with a vengeance. Locally, Nissan’s period of languishing has finally come to an end. It is truly great to see the brand and its new team thriving and charging forward with incredible energy with the products to back it all up, and it is just the beginning too! I finally got my turn to experience the new Navara during the huge Nissan Media Ride & Drive event in Ilocos Norte a few weeks ago and I can boldly state that they have done exactly what they sought out to accomplish; Nissan now makes the very best overall pick-up truck in the domestic market! The event itself was the grandest and most attended by local media of every genre amounting to almost 80 persons strong in my recollection.
Almost all the test driving was done on a single full day which began with two stages of cumulative economy runs that began at the Plaza del Norte hotel where we were billeted. The first stage took us to the scenic Bangui Windmills and the second stage ended at the Shell fuel station near the famous 18th century baroque Paoay Church (Iglesia de San Agustín de Paoay). The total travel distance was 148 kilometers for us and we conducted the challenge as we would under real-world conditions. We had the climate control on our Brilliant Silver top-range Navara 4×4 VL unit at a comfortable 21°C with the blower set on medium. I synced my iPhone 6 with ease the night before so audio streaming started a few moments after pressing the ignition button. The sound quality from the standard 6-speaker system was best in class and it was very easy to switch to full telephony using the steering wheel remote controls. Our average cruising speed ranged between 80 to 95 km/h (passing speeds up to 150 km/h) with three on board, two of which are heavy weights, me included, with the combined mass yielding a fourth person. I also kept the LED low beam lights on for additional awareness on the road. Even with frequent passing of the regular folks on the public roads, we used less than 10 liters of diesel fuel to accomplish the fuel economy run in total comfort and without the anxiety of deliberately trying to achieve a more aggressive yet unrealistic fuel figure.
Since we treated our test unit generally like a proper review vehicle, I also lightly challenged its limits and behavior on handling, cornering, acceleration and top speed. On the road, thanks to the upgraded chassis that boasts a new 5-link coil sprung rear live axle in place of the traditional leaf-spring, recalibrated and reinforced front double-wishbone suspension, slightly better aerodynamics at .37cd from .38cd, lighter curb weight by about 70kg compared to its predecessor, more potent and livelier engine at 187 bhp/332 lb-ft up from last year’s 174 bhp/297 lb-ft, the fabulous 7-speed automatic transmission used also in the 370Z sports coupé and almost every current Infiniti (QX70, Q60, Q50, Q40, Q70 and QX80) has two more gears with better spaced ratios to optimize the powertrain for both frugality and drivability, a better rear Limited Slip Differential complemented with ABLS (torque-vectoring), TCS (traction control) and Vehicle Dynamic Control (stability and hill descent controls) the new Navara VL performed with the agility, braking and acceleration that was more consistent with a mid-size utility vehicle. On a straight line you may even forget that you are driving an open bed pick-up truck. The overall smoothness, ride compliancy and significantly reduced wind/road noise contributes to a real strong impression.
C! Magazine has an on-going armada of long-term purchased vehicles across the market called the C! Fastfleet (which we assign to editors, and inclusive of vehicles that the board of directors owns personally) and we did buy and run our long-term gauntlet of testing on both the previous model top-range Nissan Navara and the current king-of-the-class the Ford Ranger 3.2 Wildtrak and I can tell you now that the new Navara has what it takes to dethrone the Ford even by a small margin.
The old Navara simply cannot hold a candle to the new one in any category except that the new bed is 8 mm shorter, but the formidable Ford can. The Ford does have a better water fording depth of 800mm compared to the Navara’s 600mm, it has a more commanding stance with meatier rubber on wider 18-inch alloys, a more stylish interior, it is dimensionally larger but has a less spacious rear seat (Nicolas is a big guy and he was way more comfortable seating directly behind me in the Navara), and has a more menacing exterior design which buyer’s love. The Navara has a longer list of standard equipment with better point-by-point features that include the Intelligent key/ignition, the superior LED projector headlights, a better rear reverse camera, better sounding audio system, better instruments, and more comfortable and supportive seating. Payload ratings are comparable to about 1,300 kg (3-ton towing) even if the Navara is slightly less powerful but makes up for it with less weight, better ground clearance, and better drivetrain. The Navara VL is now the quickest, most nimble, and most full–featured pick-up truck in the market. Not that I needed even more convincing, its real abilities were already enough, but Nissan saved the best uncommon experience for last by opening up the La Paz Sand Dunes or Bantay Bimmaboy to us to play, an awesome area of about 85 square kilometers with some sheltered sections reaching nearly 270 feet high though most of the traversed dunes rage between 30 to 90 feet.
The only modification done before I was released to frolic in the sand was to drop the tire pressure on all four 255/60HR18 Toyo Open Country all-terrain tires to approximately 16 psi to spread out traction. I kept the 4WD Shift-On-The-Fly on 4H and disabled the traction/stability controls. I did not engage the Hill Descent feature either even on the very first steep drop from rest on top of the hill to really feel what the Navara VL could do. With the instructor and my passenger, Jaime La’O, catching their breath as I pressed forward, as if we were in a roller coaster, the Navara performed like a Billie Goat with very confident and easily modulated throttle, brake, and steering. The celebration in the sand was glorious, one of my most enjoyable driving experiences in the country ever. The Navara VL ran effortlessly without ever bottoming out, losing control, or curbing pace. In fact our trail instructor who works in the dunes was astonished with how great the Navara VL was on his workplace, and how smooth and controllable it was through the staged course. He was the most vocal in the cabin which was most amusing. After all the fun in the sand, I drove the Navara to the nearest Shell station to pump up the tires back to their factory recommended 34 psi for the drive back to the hotel at dusk. On the casual drive back, the first-in-class LED projector lights illuminated the dark provincial countryside like no other pick-up or SUV priced under P2M; it was a fitting end to a very active day. The event was certainly a huge triumph for the Nissan Philippines team but the biggest benefactors will ultimately be the new pick-up buyers. Stiff competition simply helped create the finest pick-up standard yet.
Engine: Inline-4, 2488 cc, dohc 16V, Intercooled CRDI VGT Turbodiesel, 7-Speed AT
Max power: 187 bhp @ 3600 rpm
Max torque: 332 lb ft @ 2000 rpm
0-100 km/h: (0-62mph): 10.2 sec.
Top Speed: 194 km/h (121 mph)
Fuel Mileage: 15.2 Km/L overall as tested
Price as tested: PhP 1,490,000.00
+: The new Best-in-Class
-: Wish it had rear disc brakes, a lined bed, and better looking alloys
Editor’s rating: 9.5/10