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Nissan Navara ST-X Dual Cab 2017 review: road test

CarsGuide logo CarsGuide 20/05/2017 Mark Oastler
The S2 ST-X is a stylish, competent and well-equipped vehicle. (Image credit: Mark Oastler) © CarsGuide.com.au The S2 ST-X is a stylish, competent and well-equipped vehicle. (Image credit: Mark Oastler)

When Nissan launched its all-new NP300 Navara range in 2015, it certainly raised eyebrows with its bold decision to equip all of its dual cabs except cab chassis with coil-spring rear suspension.

This was a notable departure from the long accepted wisdom of leaf springs, which since the horse-and-cart days have (in most cases) been the preferred method for suspending heavy payloads.

Nissan argued that coil springs provide superior ride quality to leaf springs particularly when unladen, which is the majority of time for most ute owners. Even so, in late 2016 the company released a Series 2 Navara range which amongst numerous changes included a locally-engineered suspension revision based on feedback from customers and dealers.

The major goals were to provide a firmer ride and less of a tail-down-nose-up stance under load without sacrificing unladen ride quality. These changes included revised front and rear shock absorber bump and rebound valving, 10 per cent stiffer rear coil springs and reshaping of the rear rubber cones (or second stage suspension) to provide more progressive engagement with the chassis rails under heavy loads.

Nissan claims this has resulted in more refined ride and handling, with improved lateral stability when carrying loads, but we have to admit the changes are subtle.

Design

The ST-X rides on a 3150mm wheelbase which is 70mm shorter than Ford's Ranger, but 65mm longer than Toyota's HiLux. Its off-road credentials include a competitive 228mm of ground clearance, an excellent lateral tilt angle of up to 50 degrees, 32.4 degrees approach angle, 26.7 degrees departure and 23.8 degrees ramp-over angle, with a wading depth of 700mm.

The rugged ladder frame chassis features double wishbone/coil spring independent front suspension and a coil-sprung five-link live rear axle. Braking is via front discs and rear drums inside 18-inch alloy wheels with 255/60R18 tyres and a full-size alloy spare.

There's good driver and front passenger comfort and big grab handles on the windscreen pillars for easy entry. Rear passengers have adequate head and shoulder room, well-placed arm rests and central pillar grab handles, however tall adults may demand more rest stops on long trips due to a low seat cushion height resulting in a high knee position that concentrates weight on the lower back.

Practicality

With a kerb weight of 1969kg and a GVM (gross vehicle mass) of 2910kg, the Navara ST-X is rated to carry a 941kg payload. It's also rated to tow a braked trailer weighing up to 3500kg with a 300kg maximum tow-ball download.

However, if you need to tow 3500kg, be aware that with a GCM (gross combined mass) of 5910kg you will have to reduce the ST-X's payload by a whopping 500kg or half a tonne to do it legally. In other words, you will only be left with a payload of 441kg (or roughly 4-5 adults with no luggage). Keep those numbers in mind if heavy towing is important to you.

The pick-up's cargo bed floor is 1503mm long, 1560mm wide and 474mm deep with 1130mm between the wheel arches so it won't take a standard 1160mm-square Aussie pallet like the Amarok.

Inside the cabin are single bottle holders and storage pockets in each of the four doors plus an upper dashboard storage tray and two pop-out cup holders, centre console storage including a lidded box, two cup holders and front cubby, single glovebox, driver and front passenger seat-back pockets plus an overhead console with sunglasses holder.

Price and features

Our ST-X dual cab 4x4 test vehicle with automatic transmission is the top rung on the Navara model ladder. At $52,490 plus on-roads it costs considerably more than the top-shelf Mitsubishi Triton Exceed ($48,000) but considerably less than either of the premium offerings from Toyota (HiLux SR-5 at $55,900) and Ford (Ranger Wildtrak at $61,590).

The ST-X comes well equipped with numerous luxury appointments including heated and leather-accented front seats with an eight-way power adjustable driver's seat, leather accented handbrake and tilt-adjustable steering wheel, dual-zone climate and multi-media dashboard interface including smartphone and Bluetooth connectivity, six-speaker sound system and lots more.

It's also well-dressed outside with a polished alloy sports bar, satin alloy roof racks and side steps, LED projector headlights, heated power door mirrors, heaps of chrome highlights and a slide-adjustable load securing system in the cargo bed, to name a few.

Engine & trans

A Navara highlight is the smooth, quiet and powerful (YS23DDTT) 2.3-litre four cylinder twin-turbo diesel exclusive to ST, ST-X (and new SL-spec) dual cab utes. Its two-stage inline turbochargers provide a steady stream of power and torque throughout the rev range, with a small primary unit providing good throttle response at low rpm and a larger secondary taking charge at higher rpm. With 140kW at 3750rpm and a hearty 450Nm serving of torque from 1500-2500rpm, it's an efficient match for the ST-X's relatively light 1969kg kerb weight.

The ST-X is still a competent and comfortable highway cruiser with only 1800rpm at 100km/h and 2000rpm at 110km/h.

The seven-speed automatic transmission is smooth-shifting and refined with shift protocols that generally keep the engine humming in its 1000rpm peak torque band for maximum efficiency. It also has a sequential-shift manual mode which is handy when hauling big loads and the overdriven sixth and seventh ratios provide low rpm fuel economy at highway speeds.

The dual-range, part-time 4x4 drivetrain allows electronic engagement at speeds up to 100km/h and its 4.886 first gear, 3.357:1 diff ratio and 2.717:1 low range reduction results in a 44.56:1 crawler gear for the toughest off-road terrain. This is backed up by electronic traction control, hill start assist, hill descent control and an electronic rear differential lock.

Fuel consumption

Nissan claims an optimistic combined figure of only 7.0L/100km but at the end of our road test the dashboard display was showing 9.0L/100km. However, our figures based on actual fuel bowser and trip meter readings came in at 10.34L/100km, which is about average for this segment. Based on those figures, expect a range of around 750-800km from its 80-litre fuel tank.

Driving

The Navara's slightly firmer unladen ride will probably go unnoticed by most owners. Acceleration is brisk and braking is good but the steering has an overly heavy or ‘dead weight' feel to it that remains linear regardless of road speed.

It feels outdated compared to the latest variable-ratio electric and hydraulic systems in rivals, which are very light at parking speeds and become firmer as speeds rise.

However, the ST-X is still a competent and comfortable highway cruiser with only 1800rpm at 100km/h and 2000rpm at 110km/h which right in middle of its 1500-2500rpm torque zone. We noticed a bit of wind noise at these speeds, mostly around the large door mirrors, but tyre noise and other sources of NVH were pleasantly low. Unladen ride quality was generally good with a slightly jittery feel on some surfaces due to the firmer suspension.

We then loaded 770kg into the cargo bed, which with a 92kg driver was a payload of 862kg, or just under 80kg less than its 941kg peak payload rating. Despite the slightly stiffer rear springs the Navara displayed a similar tail-down-nose-up stance to its predecessor, with the front rising 15mm and the rear dropping 80mm.

The 2.3-litre twin-turbo diesel and seven-speed auto proved a good team on our long 14 per cent gradient set climb.

Given that the ST we tested in 2016 compressed 120mm with about 60kg less load, this may seem like an improvement in springing support. However, the ST was fitted with 16-inch diameter wheels (50mm smaller diameter than the ST-X's 18s) and we always measure from the top of the wheel rim to the wheel arch lip, so it's much the same.

A look under the tail also revealed that, like its predecessor, the rear coils had compressed to a point where the load was again largely being supported by the solid rubber cones which sit outboard of the coils on each side of the axle housing. Although these are designed to progressively engage with the chassis rails as a second stage of damping under heavy loads, it is still in effect like riding on extended bump stops.

Even so, the 2.3-litre twin-turbo diesel and seven-speed auto proved a good team on our long 14 per cent gradient set climb with more than three quarters of a tonne on board; the ample 450Nm of torque easily maintaining the 60km/h speed limit at 2000rpm in sixth gear all the way to the top.

Its engine braking was also impressive for such a small capacity engine, with only the occasional brush of the brake pedal required to peg over-run at 4000rpm (4500rpm redline).

Safety

Maximum ANCAP five star rating. Passive safety features include driver and front passenger front and side airbags, driver's knee airbag and side-curtain airbags front and rear. The rear seat has three lap-sash belts but no centre headrest and three top tether child seat anchorage points but no ISOFIX.

Active safety includes numerous electronic stability controls including brake force distribution (important for load haulers) but no auto emergency braking (AEB), blind spot detection or collision alert. There's also LED daytime running lights, a reversing camera, reversing sensors, and more.

Ownership

Nissan includes a three year/100,000km warranty, with extended warranty option for the Navara ST-X.

There's also a three year 24 Hour Roadside Assistance Program.

Servicing is required every 12 months or 20,000km whichever comes first, and capped price servicing applies to the first six scheduled services up to 120,000km, with costs varying between $547.00 (minimum) and $738.00 (maximum) per service.

Verdict

The S2 ST-X is a stylish, competent and well-equipped vehicle that will meet the diverse requirements of many premium dual cab ute owners. The only possible exception is if they need to regularly carry maximum payloads.  We could see merit in Nissan's two-stage system first time around, reasoning that typical ST/ST-X owners would favour coil-spring handling and ride quality over a rare requirement for maximum payload hauling. And that probably still rings true.

However, the unladen handling and ride qualities of the ST-X and numerous leaf-spring rivals are now so similar we have to question if the coil spring case can still be defended given the compromises that still exist under heavy loads.

Fact is, if you want a premium grade ute that can lug its maximum payload on springs alone - and maintain a more level ride height while doing it - there are numerous alternatives with a horse-and-cart heritage. We hope Nissan will at least offer this option in future top shelf dual cabs, because it must be a deal breaker for some.

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