We have on numerous occasions discussed how competitive the market is for double-cab bakkies, especially since they offer such unique versatility for its owners. It’s also truly surprising just how loyal and outspoken bakkie owners are, and as such there is always a genuinely heated debate whenever a new model is released. Most of the double-cabs available locally have been here for a number of years already, and with the long and thorough marketing process employed by Volkswagen prior to launching the Amarok, it again put the spotlight on the existing models and their perceived strengths and weaknesses.
While many consider the Amarok to be a game changer with its smaller capacity engine that delivers similar power and torque outputs to that of the established three-liters, many also forget that Nissan had done exactly the same thing in the Navara long before the Amarok reached our shores. Where Toyota, Isuzu, Ford and Mazda’s diesel-driven range-toppers are all fitted with 3.0-litre engines, the range-topping Navara comes “only” with a 2.5…
I’ve personally always liked the Navara’s styling – the bold machismo of its front and the squared-off, purposeful rear comes across as suitably rugged and manly, with quite a demanding presence. It’s also slightly larger than the others, which is why it’s interesting to not that it is the Amarok’s only real competitor in terms of size. That said, it is showing its age ever so slightly, especially so in the bland colours that are so popular among bakkie owners (and especially so on our white test model, which arrived in range-topping LE specification). That said, exterior changes earlier in the year included a new bonnet, revised grille and a new bumper assembly, which added 80mm to the bakkie’s length. While I can’t see much without my glasses, these changes give new meaning to the word ‘subtle’.
The interior also benefited from some changes, including new switchgear, revised door trims, new seat fabric and chrome highlights here and there. Switchgear changes include an easier to use, all-wheel drive command control switch, while our test model also came equipped with steering wheel controls for the phone and audio system. Safety improvements include new side and curtain airbags. Don’t be fooled by the fancy words though: as with the Amarok, the Navara’s interior is still a bakkie interior, albeit a more comfortable (dare I say upmarket?) variation.
What’s probably this Navara’s best feature, though, is its fantastic 2.5-litre dCi four-cylinder, turbodiesel engine. Earlier this year, this particular engine was enhanced in terms of refinement and performance, which rose with 11% overall. This gives the engine a class-leading 140kW of power and 450Nm of torque – more than all the 3.0-litre diesels. In fact, only the Amarok comes close in terms of torque output (405Nm). Acceleration to 100km/h takes 12.21 seconds, on to a top speed of 179km/h. Despite the increase in power, the Navara’s fuel consumption was reduced with 1.3-litres/100km to 8.5-litres/100km. Carbon emissions are rated at 224g/km.
Driving the Navara was a pleasure. While it still sounds like a bakkie, there’s a pleasant grumble to the dCi engine. Power delivery is smooth and the big amount of torque is immediately evident, especially when going uphill, when you’ve got a load on the back and off the beaten track. What’s important to reiterate at this point, however, is that that it’s still a bakkie. The press release makes much of the fact that the Navara, especially in LE 4X4 spec, is a suitable alternative to a similarly specced SUV, but there are vast differences, even when compared to its Pathfinder sibling with the same engine.
That said I found the Navara to be one of the best-rounded double-cabs I’ve driven in a while. The Amarok is its most logical competitor in my mind simply because of its physical size and similarities in engine outputs, but let’s not forget the Ford Ranger 3.0 TDCI (look out for our test of the Wildtrak in the coming weeks) and the Isuzu KB300 D-TEQ (see our road test here). We’ve been struggling to get a Hilux from Toyota for most of the year, which means we can’t objectively compare any of these bakkies against the country’s best-selling one-tonner. None of these bakkies can match the Navara on power or torque output, with the Amarok the only bakkie to deliver more than 400Nm of torque (look out for our test in the coming weeks). But, at R404 150, the Navara is also most expensive compared to its rivals.
The Hilux, Isuzu and Ranger fall away quite abruptly because of their honest (read: simplistic) nature. As we said in our test of the Isuzu, they offer passenger space that’s comfortable and practical combined with reliable and proven engines with proven abilities, but nothing more, as not all double-cab buyers require Xanadu-like opulence on wheels. While there’s a stunning new Ranger (and hideous new Mazda BT-50) on the way, the Isuzu replacement is more than a year away with no firm word yet on a new Hilux. In that sense, the Navara is already slightly superior: it’s rugged and manly, the way a bakkie should be. And it’s aged very gracefully. While I prefer the Amarok’s styling, it’s what’s under the bonnet, especially in the case of the Navara 2.5 dCi LE 4X4, which wins this battle.
- Christo Valentyn