A lot has been said and expected of the heavily updated Nissan Navara since the Japanese automaker announced local production at its Rosslyn plant outside Pretoria two years ago.
While it is no secret that the current D23 has been a sales underachiever and nowhere as popular as its D40 predecessor, the first meeting with the locally assembled model last month served as the clearest indication yet that Nissan means business with the Yokohama based firm making no bones as to where the Navara should find itself; third on the bakkie podium behind the Toyota Hilux and Ford Ranger.
Despite the meeting in question having been with an almost production ready SE spec Navara, the commencing of production earlier this month necessitated a proper unveiling, which, somewhat unexpectedly, largely centred around one aspect: off-road prowess.
Although the Navara had proved itself both on and off-road during our pre-production sampling, the trek from Lanseria to the Blue Groove Outdoor Adventure Park on the outskirts of Hartbeespoort Dam would be a lot more technical and the ideal test for the thoroughly reworked coil spring rear suspension, new front suspension struts and the strengthened chassis.
With the formalities and breakfast at The Culinary Table adjacent to the Lanseria Airport over, my colleagues and I faced what seemed like an easy 17 km drive to the Glen Afric Game Reserve piloting the LE specced Navara 4×4 equipped with the seven-speed automatic gearbox.
As it turned out, tar gave way to dirt after less than 15 km in the form of an initial smooth gravel road that changed to one laced with rocky sections and a couple of jumps akin to a Cross Country Series stage.
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It was however a test the Navara yawned at as the varying surface changes were soaked up with ease by the suspension in a sensation more akin to levitating than driving. In addition, the big Nissan, as experienced before, felt composed and unflustered by the humps with the impression of the suspension “hitting through” still absent.
What also remained was the lack of noise. While unsurprisingly prevalent from the outside, the reworked 2.5-litre YD25DDTI turbodiesel engine, which has been nicked from the D40 in place of the twin-turbo 2.3-litre YS23DDTI until, is noticeably quiet from inside cabin, even on gravel, as a result of Nissan having applied significantly more sound deadening materials than before.
Our stop at Glen Afric, which consisted of a game drive, visit to the predator enclosure and rendezvous at the local school to paint a donated book shelf over, a quick shift from gravel to tar soon has us traversing the former once again upon arrival at Blue Groove.
It soon became apparent that the real fun was about the start as our instructor issued us with the following; switch to low range and keep a safe following distance.
Leading the way in the top-spec Navara Pro-4X, we headed around the venue’s motorcross track and into the playpen of a quarry that presented no challenge at all. That however changed the moment we started to climb while noticing the metamorphosis from stones to rocky outcrops and massive boulders.
Blue Groove Outdoor Adventure Park off-road trail presented a worthwhile challenge.
The destination at the top of the mountain was one worth seeing though, a Boer War era outlook tower that provided a surround view of the area as well as sighting of any British soldiers.
Unlike the Boers though, our ascent was a lot easier and much more comfortable as the coil springs ensured no harsh bumping or rebounds over the sharp puncture prone rocks.
View even going down was stunning.
Body shake was also kept to a minimum and while we still had to keep our wits about ourselves with regards to tyre placing and keeping momentum up despite the route being grade 2 rated, a level this writer believes should be amended by another notch, the Navara didn’t bottom-out or scratch its chin on the rocks with the only sounds of worry being the occasional thump from the side steps and the vegetation inscribing their signatures on the body.
Coil springs made the trek comfortable.
No sooner had we arrived at the top and visited the tower with its breath-taking view over Harties, it was time to time head down with our instructor once again encouraging caution as well as instructing the use of not only the Hill Descent Control rather than relying on the brakes, but to slot the gearbox in manual mode and in first gear to avoid a faster and potentially car damaging decent.
Letting the Navara do the work, the descent was easy if a little nerve wracking as attention still needed to be payed to wheel position and rock avoidance.
Nose down but no bashing or bouncing.
Once more, only encounters with the shrubbery on the sides were prevalent as the Navara’s four-wheel-drive system and 220 mm of ground clearance made the course a doddle, aided by that suspension, which not only ensured the ride remaining comfortable, but at no point resulting in a bouncy feel or going soft when the terrain got very tricky.
As daunting it is appeared, the trek was in fact easy and thoroughly enjoyable as the new Nissan Navara added another feather to its cap earned during the pre-production sampling. While likely to still attract criticism for sporting a un-bakkie-like rear suspension, it has proven to be a setup that works both on and off-road much better than before.