Less than a year ago, the motoring world – for a change – shifted its gaze from small, efficient city cars and striking performance models to the double-cab bakkie market as Volkswagen launched its much-awaited Amarok. As fantastic as the Amarok was (and still is), it had its shortcomings, leaving many of us digging around to find a true alternative, a competitor if you will. At DieselDrive, that competitor came in the form of Nissan’s Navara 2.5 dCi. As the Toyotas, Isuzus and Ford were eliminated from the equation, the Navara emerged triumphant with its rugged and manly styling, its larger dimensions and, for me at least, graceful ageing. While I still preferred the Amarok’s styling, it’s what was under the Navara’s bonnet that pushed it to the front in my books.
While I doubt that my high praise for the Navara or my complimentary remarks about some other double-cabs was a catalyst in the matter, I can see how the folks at Nissan sat down one day considering ways to make the Navara stand out, ways to make people stop and look at it again. Since there is only so much one can do to a bakkie’s styling bar starting from scratch, the Navara’s recent face-lift, as subtle as it was, would have to suffice on that front. Someone may have suggested creating the GT-R of Navaras to give Chevrolet’s Lumina a go. Most people in the meeting laughed it off, but a handful of people thought to themselves that it could work. And so the mother of all Navaras was created.
Okay, odds are that nothing even resembling this meeting ever happened, but Nissan did at some point realise that the Navara could do with a lot more power. Enter the new V9X 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel engine, which shouldn’t come as a surprise, because Nissan builds more than a million V6 engines every year. But whereas their expertise were mostly utilised in petrol engines, such as the one in the GT-R, the V9X engine utilises it in a technologically advanced, high-displacement multi-valve V-configuration to deliver the same high levels of performance and driving pleasure as its petrol counterparts. This engine has made the Navara the first one-ton bakkie in SA with a V6 diesel engine and 7-speed automatic gearbox.
Developed in France with Renault’s help, V9X has several unique features. One of these features is its unusual vee angle of 65 degrees, but what probably stands out most is the material used for the engine block. After exhaustive evaluation, Compacted Graphite Iron (CGI) was selected for its ability to deliver all the strengths of cast iron, including high levels of stiffness and excellent noise absorption qualities, without the significant weight penalty of this more traditionally accepted construction method. While CGI does make for a heavier block than one made of pure alloy, there is no need to add stiffening ribs or extra sound deadening material so the weight gain is largely offset thanks to the superior inherent qualities. There are many other such features, but suffice to say that there’s a multitude of engine mastery that has gone into the development of this engine.
The V9X delivers a magnificent 170kW of power in addition to a headline-grabbing 550Nm of torque, available from as low as 1700 r/min all the way to 2500 r/min. As much as 500Nm is available from a mere 1500r/min, with idle speed an exceptionally low 650r/min with none of the harsh vibrations or intrusive noise usually associated with a diesel engine. The result is strong low-end performance with comfortably refined delivery and exemplary throttle response. Acceleration from 0 to 100km/h is a quick 9.3 seconds, with a top speed of 195km/h. Fuel consumption is a claimed 9.5-litres/100km in the combined cycle, while carbon emissions are rated at 250g/km.
In addition to the gains made by the changes to the combustion chamber, the V9X engine also incorporates a number of innovative details. Among these is the adoption of an overcooled Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) system that further reduces harmful NOx emissions, incorporating an integrated exhaust gas bypass in the EGR cooler to quickly achieve the optimum temperature after start-up so that the full cooling capacity can be employed. Equally significant is the treatment of the tailpipe emissions themselves, as the exhaust system comprises a metallic oxidation catalytic converter offering lower pressure loss compared to a ceramic system, making for a more efficient engine overall as less diesel is consumed.
For the V9X model, Nissan gave the Navara another aesthetic update comprising a revised front end and an enhanced interior design. A bold, chrome-gilted new grille design and a smoother and better-integrated bumper lift the exterior, while the new bonnet helps contribute to a lower coefficient of drag, which plays its own small role in the impressive consumption figures of these vehicles. The changes are, once again, extremely subtle, retaining the Navara’s rugged stance and appeal. Despite its age (it was launched in SA in 2005, with only slight updates over the years), it’s still one of the better-looking double-cabs in my opinion.
Inside, higher quality materials have been employed and new switchgear complements the centre console, which would also house the optional high-tech Nissan Premium Connect infotainment system, which was not fitted to our test model. Occupant safety is comprehensive, with front and side airbags for both front passengers and curtain airbags to absorb the forces of side-on incidents, as well as a bevy of active safety systems to help the driver in preventing any collisions in the first place. These include Anti-lock braking (ABS) with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist (BA), Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) and the fitment of an Active Brake Limited Slip (ABLS) to ensure controlled and maintained stability and traction. These systems complement the superb Intelligent Driving Control 4WD setup, which allows the driver to manually select between 2WD, 4WD HI, and 4WD LO modes. Attention was also given to the suspension, with new spring rates and shock absorber rebound calibrations.
Driving the Navara 3.0 V6 dCi in normal circumstances didn’t offer anything out of the ordinary – it’s still a double-cab, after all. There’s still no remarkable diesel clutter, but the V9X does bring a lovely V6 grumble to the mix. It’s when you’re accelerating and overtaking that the engine comes to life and it’s extremely difficult to not fall head over heels in love with all the torque. I would have liked this monster Navara to stand out from the other Navaras a bit more, as the only way to identify it is to look for the very subtle “V6” badge on the side. Bigger wheels in a chunkier and exclusive V9X design would’ve done the trick, as would a V6 or V9X badge on the tailgate.
In the double-cab segment, the Navara 3.0 V6 dCi has no competition, in my opinion not even from the ultra-niche Chevrolet Lumina SS (more power, less torque, single-cab, quite useless for lovers of double-cabs). There is no Ford Ranger, Mazda BT-50, Mitsubishi Triton, Isuzu KB, Toyota Hilux or Volkswagen Amarok that offers nearly as much power or torque or fuel efficiency. That said, be prepared to fork out more money that you ever thought you would on a double-cab, because this monster Navara will set you back a whopping R508 400! It is this price tag that will probably be its biggest deterrent, but then again, there’s no car in that price range that can match its price or practicality either. The Navara 3.0 V6 dCi is quite simply magnificent and without a doubt the ultimate diesel-powered double-cab to take home.
- Christo Valentyn