Twin-turbo tough guy: road testing the Nissan Navara 450
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2019 Nissan Navara 450 Twin Turbo 4x4
• Car-like driving dynamics
• Looks tough
• 2.3-litre a solid performer
• Getting a little old now
• Powertrain is noisy
• Reverse camera resolution
The common adage says that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
This saying used to be a favourite among car-makers, but times have been a changing. Manufacturers now need to appear to be environmentally conscious future-proofers. And, doing what they can to straddle the divide is Nissan.
Think about the Japanese brand’s line-up. There’s the advanced Nissan Leaf EV and the reasonably up-to-date Qashqai and X-Trail SUVs. Then on the flip-side you have the ageing 370Z and GT-R, the old-school Patrol, and one of the brand’s best sellers in New Zealand — the Navara.
To the Navara’s credit, it’s aged well over its tenure. Hitting the market in its current ‘NP300’ guise five years ago, it was ahead of the curve for driving dynamics and ride quality. Handsome styling has helped to no end, too. Now Nissan New Zealand has introduced a new trim-level to the range called the 450 Twin Turbo, which provides us with a great reason to revisit the platform.
For those wondering, the ‘450’ designates the 450Nm of torque that comes from the Navara’s 140kW 2.3-litre twin-turbo diesel four-cylinder engine. This is the same unit that we’ve become accustomed to in Navara models SL and above.
Indeed, most of the 450’s changes are cosmetic and comfort related. You get a new set of 18in wheels, blackened door handles and mirrors, black side steps, orange highlights inside and out, a slick decal kit, and new half-leather upholstery front and rear.
Other than that, the 450 is effectively the same spec as the formerly range-topping ST-X — meaning it also comes with a 360-degree camera, satnav, two-channel Utili-Track system in the bed, and heated front seats. Pricing starts at $54,140 for the two-wheel drive, and $64,140 for the four-wheel drive — a $1400 premium over the equivalent ST-Xs.
It’s very similar to the Navara N-Trek that Nissan has just unleashed on the Australian market, although we miss out on the macho wide-body arch extensions and jungle gym sports bar.
That pricing slaps the Navara 450 right next to the $65,490 Ford Ranger XLT Sport and the $64,990 Holden Colorado Z71.
What leaps out almost immediately is the size of the Navara’s engine relative to its peers. Its 2.3-litre comes up against the Holden and Toyota 2.8-litre engines and the five-cylinder 3.2 offered in the bulk of Ranger and Mazda BT-50 models. Thankfully the presence of a secondary turbo allays most of the concern.
Power delivery is reasonably instant and surprisingly linear. It feels strong, and in general usage doesn’t feel significantly less gutsy than any of its rivals. Quick to lend a hand in overtaking scenarios was the seven-speed automatic fitted to our tester. And a braked towing capacity of 3500kg means it’s as capable as anything else out there on paper.
It was reasonably economical too, returning 9.7L/100km in our time with it.
If there’s a downside to the engine, it’s refinement. Wind back the clock a handful of years, and the levels of noise from the 2.3 would be par for the course. But engine technology in this segment is evolving quickly.
We’ve been spoiled this year for quiet, pleasant double-cab diesel engines in the form of the 2-litre BiTurbo in the Ranger Wildtrak and Raptor, as well as the 2.2-litre diesel in the SsangYong Rhino. Compared to these, the Nissan’s twin-turbo unit is significantly more throaty and loud — with minimal extra payoff.
It’s a shame, because the noise overshadows the Navara’s sound cabin space. The dashboard layout could do with a refresh and the reverse camera is disappointingly grainy, but the recently revised 8in infotainment system is otherwise a joy to use. It also comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Beyond the engine, the Navara’s other big point of difference is its much talked about rear suspension set-up.
Few have followed Nissan’s lead in implementing a coil-sprung rear, but with the ute-buyer market ever changing I wouldn’t be surprised. The Navara’s ride quality is still among the best in the business, with minimal bounce and rebound from bumps in the road.
Combined with well formulated steering (reworked last year with an improved ratio) and healthy visibility, and the Navara feels very SUV-like in daily usage. Save for that loud engine, of course.
The inevitable trade-off is towing and payload–lugging capability. Nissan introduced a ‘dual-rate’ rear spring to the rear end of the Navara last year in order to improve the unique system’s versatility. The improvements theoretically improved the Nissan’s posture when laden with weight, while simultaneously retaining the system’s proven comfort.
That said, a Hilux or Ranger will still tow with more confidence.
But, neither can quite boast the daily usability of the Navara. It may not currently sit in New Zealand’s top 10 list of best selling vehicles, but in a world that made sense the Navara would be right there in the ring with the Colorado and Mitsubishi Triton.