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First drive: the new Nissan NP300 Navara pick-up

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What’s this?

Nissan’s latest one-tonne pick-up truck, the NP300 Navara.

One tonne? That’s quite light for a truck, isn’t it?

That’s not the weight of the truck – it’s the payload capacity class it sits in. The flatbed in the new Navara will carry up to one tonne of cargo. While towing another 3.5 tonnes behind it. 

And it’ll drive up a near-30-degree slope over just about any terrain you can aim it at. It’s a proper workhorse.

So it’s pretty awful to drive on-road then?

Actually, it isn’t. And the reason for this is that Nissan has binned the old Navara’s Roman-Empire-parts-bin leaf springs (on some models, which we’ll explain in a bit), and bolted in multi-link rear suspension. 

Much tuning has gone into the Navara’s design to make sure the more car-like ride quality isn’t flummoxed the moment it’s also asked to carry two Caterhams-worth of gravel in the load bay.

The idea is to make the Navara drive less like a truck and more like one of Nissan’s wildly successful crossovers, but still shrug off visits to hardware outlets. Or quarries. Keep the faithful happy, and ensnare a new type of buyer…

But surely pick-up drivers don’t want a wimpy crossover feel in their big butch truck?

Apparently they do. We’re told pick-up trucks (like all 4x4s) are slowly being approached by regular car buyers, seduced not by the everyday need to carry 40 bags of cement and tow the necessary mixer, but because of the outdoorsy image.

These people, like the individuals who trample around south London in a Land Rover Defender or Jeep, thrive on the idea that, at any given moment, they could lob a couple of surfboards in the bed and plough off through the wilderness towards coastal adventures. 

Even if they live in a second-floor flat in Clapham Junction.

Nissan shouldn’t be pandering to wannabe-Shackleton hipsters, should it?

There’s a more serious business case to consider, too. Nissan sold 750,000 vehicles across Europe last year, but just 50,000 of those were ‘commercial vehicles’ – i.e. pick-ups and vans. 

If Nissan can make the idea of an open-boot SUV more palatable to buyers who don’t have their own building firms, it’d be a massive boost for the company bank balance. Enough to keep Infiniti going for at least a fortnight.

So, has it worked?

Yes and no. Yes, the Navara is very well-mannered for a pick-up. You only get the modern suspension on the four-door double-cab version, with the coach door-equipped ‘King cab’ (only a sales footnote in Europe, but popular in Asia) sticking with leaf springs. 

Swapping between the two reveals just how much more fidgety and unsettled the carthorse version is. The King cab really needs some cargo in the back to settle the rear end down, and stop it skipping around like the proverbial bucking horse. 

However, despite Nissan’s ardent protestations to the contrary, even the double-cab Navara is no crossover driving experience. Through very tight corners the rear diff starts to lock, skittering the tyres across the surface. The endless steering lock is another tell-tale this is no mumsy school run-mobile. It’s somewhere between a Defender and an X-Trail. Much more tolerable than you’d expect, but not the complete town tractor. 

We rather like that. Pick-ups should remains the last bastion of the no-bull, bulletproof automotive Swiss army knife. The Navara has grown up, but its incredibly heavy, lethargic steering and heave-ho gearbox still takes some concentration. 

Is it fast?

No. You can have either 158bhp or 187bhp from the grunty 2.3-litre four-pot diesel (the brawnier one has 332lb ft, thanks to two turbos instead of one), but whether you have the six-speed manual or Infiniti-sourced seven-speed automatic, progress is noisy and slow compared to a car, but par for the course for trucks. 

Top speed? A heady 114mph, if you’ve got the time.

Is it smart inside?

A bit too smart, actually. Brought wholesale from X-Trail is much chrome-garnished switchgear, silvery plasti-metal trim and many screens and readouts. Frankly, it all looks a bit too nice to be prodded with mucky fingers, and makes the Navara feels a bit, well, tarty inside. 

So is this the new king of pick-ups?

According to Nissan’s data, you’ll go further on a gallon, lugging more cargo, with a Navara than a Mitsubishi L200 or VW Amarok. But the crucial number is price, and the cheapest double-cab model is £23,995 (before you knock off the deductible VAT if bought as a commercial vehicle, not a family runaround). So actually it’s a £20,043 car. 

For one with an automatic gearbox and some leathery bits around the toys, it’s £28,145, which looks like a lot for a farm hack.

The secret will be to get the double-cab Navara with the proper suspension, but leave all the techy bits on the shelf for the crossovers to fight over. And then go and actually use it in the rough. For your sake and everyone else’s, don’t bring it into town.

7/10

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