The new Nissan NP300 Navara pickup truck offers more power and cabin comforts, better fuel economy as well as improved off-road capability.
It also means that Nissan gets the crown of the most powerful 2.5-litre diesel pick-up.
Depending on variant, the 2.5-litre NP300 Navara can come with attractive specifications such as a seven-speed automatic transmission, LED projector headlamps, dual zone air conditioning, rear air-conditioning vents, keyless entry, engine start-stop button and a Kenwood DNX7330BT head unit featuring a seven-inch touch-screen colour display, rear view camera and navigation system, as well as USB, iPod and Bluetooth connectivity.
"When designing the NP300 Navara, we aimed to provide the interior quality and premium features of a mid-sized Japanese sedan," said Nissan Motor corporate vice president Kato Keno at a recent global media test drive of the 12th-generation workhorse in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
The NP300 Navara is produced at Nissan's new 3.7 billion baht (RM368.8mil) second Thai plant, located in Samut Prakan province and opened in July this year.
Nissan Motor general manager (global product communications) Victor Nacif said the NP300 Navara raises the bar in the pick-up truck segment.
"For this media event, it's no coincidence that we chose Thailand - the world's largest market for pick-ups. About 40% of all new vehicles sold in Thailand are pick-ups," said Nacif.
The NP300 Navara is available in King Cab and Double Cab models, and in either 4x2 or 4x4 versions.
Price tags range from 575,000 to 842,000 baht (RM57,224 to RM83,796) for the King Cab, and 656,000 to 996,000 baht (RM65,260 to RM99,147) for the Double Cab models.
Deliveries in Thailand will begin in mid-August.
The NP300 Navara is expected to enter Malaysia next year.
Better fuel economy
The NP300 Navara offers improved fuel economy due to its reduced vehicle weight, better aerodynamics as well as new and upgraded powertrains.
Markets such as Malaysia, where emission standards are less stringent, will get the new pick-up with an upgraded YD25DDTi 2.5-litre DOHC in-line 4-cylinder diesel engine.
This upgraded YD25DDTi engine is suitable for markets with emission standards of Euro IV and below, according to Edouard Masurel, a senior executive from the Nissan Navara global marketing team.
Fuel economy is improved by up to 11% compared with the previous Navara.
It has two states of tune, and outputs maximum power of 163hp or 190hp at 3,600rpm and maximum torque of 403Nm or 450Nm at 2,000rpm.
Another engine option is the new 2.3-litre YS23 diesel turbo engine which offers more torque at low speeds, and even better fuel economy of up to 20%.
The YS23 engine has a two-stage turbocharger, and outputs maximum power of 190hp at 3,750rpm and maximum torque of 450Nm at 1,500 - 2,500rpm."However, the new YS23 engine is only for markets with emission standards of Euro 5 and above," said Masurel.
Meanwhile, Nissan Motor chief vehicle engineer (light commercial vehicle) Takashi Fukui noted that compared with its predecessor, the NP300 Navara's weight was reduced by 50kg to 70kg, depending on model.
"We achieved significant mass reduction, via measures such as using more ultra-high tensile strength steel," said Fukui.
As for the NP300 Navara's seven-speed automatic transmission, Fukui said it is a reliable gearbox that was used in the previous-generation 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel Navara in Australia, and also the Infiniti QX56 luxury SUV (sport utility vehicle).
Also, compared with its predecessor, the NP300 Navara's wheelbase was reduced by 50mm to 3,150mm.
Other changes include a reduction in roof height and higher ground clearance, as well as a larger loading area.
However, Fukui said the new pick-up's cabin space is similar to its predecessor.
"We used smart engineering, and took measures such as a more forward positioning of the dashboard and redesigning the cabin's pillars."
Off-roading in Chiang Mai
In selected markets, the NP300 Navara gets a five-link rear suspension which can provide better comfort, handling and stability.
However, in Thailand, the pick-up has a rigid leaf-spring rear suspension.
According to Masurel, this was due to Thailand's vehicle classification and tax structure.
"With the multi-link rear suspension, the pick-up would be classified as a passenger vehicle in Thailand and hence, subject to higher duties or taxes," he said.
As such, our three test drive units were high-powered 190hp/450Nm variants with the rigid leaf-spring rear suspension.
The media test drive was on a 206km mixture of city roads, wide motorways, twisty uphill slopes and muddy off-road stretches.
There was a slight drizzle during the event held in Chiang Mai, also known as Thailand’s “Rose of the North”.
For the off-road session near the Maetaeng Elephant Park, we drove a 4x4 Double Cab (VL high-grade model) with a seven-speed automatic transmission.
The pick-up has a double-wishbone front suspension, and we found high levels of ride comfort, partly thanks to Nissan's spinal support front seats which are said to help reduce fatigue.
Road shocks were well-dampened on slippery off-road stretches littered with mud holes.
The NP300 Navara handled well and steered accurately when roughhousing in the mud, as we kept the pick-up in the 4-Low mode meant for difficult terrain.
The pick-up's shift-on-the-fly 4WD system allowed us to switch from 2WD mode (meant for city roads or highways) to 4WD with a simple twist of a push-button dial, at speeds of up to 100kph.
Meanwhile, when driven at 110kph on smooth highways, with the seven-speed automatic transmission, we noted that the tachometer needle was at 2,000rpm.
At 80kph, the needle was at 1,600rpm.
We also drove a 4x2 Double Cab (VL high-grade model) with a six-speed manual transmission.
In sixth gear, and at 110kph on the highway, the tachometer needle was at 2,250rpm.
At 80kph, the needle was at 1,600 to 1,700rpm.
Both the VL high-grade models were fitted with Toyo Open Country A25 tyres sized at 255/60 R18.
The VL high-grade pick-up's black-themed interior has a classy look, with its leather upholstery.
Other nice features include the powered driver's seat and chrome finish for the door handles.
There are plenty of storage options such as door bins, the rear underseat trunk, front seat-back pockets and numerous cupholders.
Both the sun visors have built-in lighted vanity mirrors, and we were impressed by the cabin's executive car-like ambience.
Much of this stretch involved steep and narrow, twisty hilly roads amidst lush green jungle dotted with hill tribe settlements.
We drove using first and second gears much of the time, and the high-powered NP300 Navara made light work of climbing and descending the hilly terrain.
The day's programme ended on a 4X4 track, where we explored the pick-up's HSA (hill start assist) and HDC (hill descent control) features, as well as its suspension travel and weight distribution aspects.
The NP300 Navara is said to have improved off-road capability with its higher ground clearance, sharper approach (31 degrees) and departure (25.6 degrees) angles, and wading depth of up to 450mm.
In summary, after a full day spent driving the NP300 Navara, we were impressed by the pick-up's performance, smooth acceleration and gear shifts, excellent manoeuvrability on narrow roads, as well as a high level of occupant comfort even on difficult off-road terrain.