It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again: the Australian ute buyer has never had it so good! We are definitely spoilt for choice at the moment. Take the Nissan Navara for instance. Released last year with great fanfare, the new model NP300 actually lived up to the hype. It comes in a choice of petrol or twin turbo diesel engines, with options for coil springs at the rear or a leaf spring set up.
The Navara is a very good ute, suited just as well to work on weekdays and play time on weekends. And with 27 variants on offer – thanks to many drive lines, body styles, engine and transmission choices – there’s one for every need. The King Cab, for instance, is available in the RX, ST and STX configurations, each adding feature upon feature.
Autos are very popular in diesels these days, but for those of us who don’t mind a bit of leg movement when driving there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with changing gears manually – and that’s exactly what the Navara 4x4 RX King Cab was all about. With its 6-speed manual gear box, this ute was very enjoyable to drive thanks to a well-spaced set of gear ratios, a very smooth clutch and a 2.3L turbo diesel engine that seemed to have no end of pulling power compared to its modest size. It was also quite responsive.
The King Cab designation refers to seating arrangements that see the front seats complemented by a short-term use rear seat set-up accessed via a rearward opening door. The front seats were very comfortable and well formed, and the paired rear seats were large enough to accommodate two adults for a short time. Alternatively, they can be folded up to accommodate a heap of gear for a weekend away.
The rear seating set-up was better than some others on today’s market, given that there were adjustable head rests and even air vents. Finding a handle to open a rear door was a bit tricky at first, but it doesn’t take long to get the hang of it.
The RX sits second from the bottom in the Navara NP300 features and trim stable, but it doesn’t seem much like a base vehicle. There were power windows (including the sliding one between rear of cabin and tray); carpeted flooring; well-shaped, cloth-covered seats; and cruise control. There were even a couple of 12V outlets in the cabin, one between the front seats and another up on the dash for the GPS, plus an extra one other in the rear cargo area.
Air conditioning was also standard and there was a defrost option for the rear glass section of the cabin, something not all utes in this class have. Other handy features were a radio that offered Bluetooth streaming and a USB socket and line-in jack. Coupled with a very high standard of fit and finish, the front seating and dash area were almost sedan-like. Hardly a poverty pack!
Storage was also pretty well catered for, with plenty of cubby holes and dedicated areas such as a tray on the dash, another between seats and a mobile phone storage area for the front passenger.
On the exterior, the grille was dressed up with plenty of chrome, as were the large external door mirrors with the elongated cabin reflecting the King Cab’s unique styling. Wheels sported modest 205 R16 steel rims, but with the Nissan’s retail price well below quite a few of its competitors, who’s complaining?
On the city roads and country highways, the Nissan was a very easy drive. The 4x4’s overall height offered excellent visibility all round, and the transmission very capably mated with the 4-cylinder diesel engine’s 120kW of power, 403Nm of torque to see it quite quick off the mark. It easily answered power requirements to move up to a highway cruising speed, which it maintained effortlessly. Towing our 4.3m Bullshark with its 40 Evinrude was a non-event, and with a braked trailer tow rating of 3500kg and an unbraked rating of 750kg, the Navara would satisfy a lot of boat owners’ requirements.
I had the opportunity to try out the 4WD capability of the King Cab when I had to back the unit a fair way down on a muddy boat ramp on the Logan River. The Navara easily removed the Bullshark from the low tide mess of slimy mud. A quick flick of the dash dial to 4x4 high, and gently easing out the clutch on first gear, saw the car and boat up the ramp like a cork out of a bottle. It’s one of those times when the money spent on 4WD instead of 2WD is well worth it.
Overall, the Navara’s ride was better than I expected from a leaf-sprung ute. I have never regarded Navaras as rough riding by any stretch of the imagination, but Nissan have now modified the rear spring assembly to shorten springs (when compared to previous Navaras) as well as mounting them in a rubber assembly to reduce perceived rebound.
Fuel consumption is always a talking point, and while Nissan claim a little more modest consumption than the 7.5L per 100km I achieved, there is certainly not much wrong with consumption of that order. With an 80L tank under the rear tub (1800mm long and 1120mm wide between wheel arches) the King Cab certainly has an excellent cruising range.
My impression of the Navara RX King Cab is that it’s going to make choosing the right ute for work and play just that bit harder. There’s a multitude of similar 1-tonne capacity vehicles on offer, but the overall fit and finish, decent levels of standard features plus ride quality make the RX King Cab an attractive choice. The warranty is three years/100,000km, and a 5-star ANCAP safety rating is assured.Reads: 135