Tough-look Navara joins 'muscle ute' crew

·4-min read

IT hasn't been the easiest decade to be a ute.

Oh sure, they've been popular. To the point where, among the handful of best-selling vehicles in the nation, the once-humble ute accounts for most of them. Toyota's timeless HiLux still regularly tops the national sales charts, with Ford's Ranger close behind.

Once the loyal servant of tradies, the ute has broken away from its workaday mould to become a car for all seasons, in the most egalitarian way: part-work truck; part-SUV; and, increasingly, part-family wagon.

With each successive model, the ute has become more comfortable, more civilised, more car-like as virtually every ute-maker headed down the same path with more style, more technology and more refinement.

That process hit its zenith when Mercedes-Benz put the famous three-pointed star on the front of a ute called the X-Class, and met only moderate success Down Under.

The latest move? The ute heads back towards its roots.

Ford's ultra-macho Ranger Raptor - a car literally straight out of a Lara Croft movie with its massive wheels, flared guards and menacing appearance, showed the way. Class-leader Toyota followed suit with the tough-looking Rugged and Rogue versions of its iconic Hi-Lux.

Now it's Nissan's turn.

Introducing the Navara Pro4X. A hairy-armed, swaggering example of how trends can so easily swing. No wonder they say that everything comes back into fashion if you wait long enough.

The Navara, ironically, was the machine that provided most of the components for that short-lived Mercedes X-Class. It was one of a number of platform-sharing projects between the German and Japanese manufacturers.

The Navara has been a stout performer in Australia for a couple of decades, so it's no surprise to see it sniffing the wind and joining the other heavy hitters of this popular and competitive, 4WD ute market.

The Pro4X enters the Navara range at the very top, becoming the most expensive Navara ever with its pumped-up $62,790 asking price for the dual cab, 4WD auto model.

That's almost twice the price of the entry-level Navara, an admittedly more modest 2WD, single cab chassis, costing $33,890.

The Pro4X certainly looks the part with its big black wheels and flared arches, massive grille, steel roll-cage and cargo rails and, of course, that muscular road presence.

But beneath that rugged, he-man exterior, the Navara retains the civilised road manners it developed over the previous decade.

First launched in 1985, the Navara has always retained the body-on-frame (ladder frame) format which underpins the car's durability and versatility, but years of evolution have helped add a surprisingly serene ride on this truck-like construction.

The blokey exterior hasn't been carried through to the cockpit, which is spacious, comfortable and impressively presented (it is one of the most expensive Nissan models on the market so it needs to feel a bit posh).

Plump leather seats - electronically adjustable, of course - are matched by an up-market, glossy feel to the cockpit which brings eight-inch touch-screen infotainment, satellite navigation, and generally high-quality finishes.

We were impressed by the 'advance drive assist' - Nissan slang for instrument display - which feels car-like in its functionality. Apple Car Play/Android Auto are standard fare.

Seven airbags, intelligent forward collision warning and intelligent emergency braking are standard safety aides across all models.

There's no hiding the Navara's size, which despite massive side mirrors and a reversing camera, can be a handful to insert into average-sized parking spots. Turning circle is more than 12 metres.

The 2.3-litre, four-cylinder diesel boasts twin turbochargers, which would normally suggest some sporty performance. In this case, though, its outputs aren't all that remarkable (140kW, 450NM, versus 120kW/402Nm for the single turbo option) but it offers a well of torque, smoothly delivered and without turbo lag. It also brings a hefty 3500kg braked towing capacity, an important feature in this market segment. Payload is a generous 1200kg.

The engine will be familiar to Navara devotees. It's quiet, sweet-spinning and decently efficient, even if it lacks some of the straight-up grunt of its rivals, including the bully-boy VW Amarok 590 and five-cylinder diesel Ford Ranger.

The Nissan's refined oil-burner is matched with an equally well-evolved seven-speed auto (or six-speed manual).

Switching to all-wheel-drive is a one-button affair, as it is with most of these modern machines.

Not many manual transmissions are expected to be found in these new battle wagons. These utes, and the people who buy them, might be tough, but they're not stupid.

NISSAN NAVARA PRO4X 4WD dual cab

* HOW BIG? A full-sized dual-cab brings comfortable seating for four (five at a pinch) plus class-leading space in the back

* HOW FAST? The diesel powerplant has plenty of low-down grunt but despite its twin turbochargers, won't win many drag races.

* HOW THIRSTY: Nissan claims an average thirst of 8.1L/100km for the automatic version, which is pretty decent.

* HOW MUCH? The top-spec Navara Pro4X is $62,790 plus on-road costs.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting