NISSAN NAVARA 2.3 D/C 4×2 LE – Lots to Love

Nissan Navara 4x2

Driven covered the launch of the two-wheel-drive Nissan Navara last year, and eventually got around to testing the bakkie in the real world. To the surprise of BERNIE HELLBERG JR, there’s a lot more to love about the 4×2 Navara than meets the eye.

The South African love affair with the evergreen bakkie continues unabated, with more manufacturers jumping on the wagon than ever before. But soaring prices of new vehicles have some local buyers looking for better value without losing the street cred that only a high-riding bakkie can provide.

While the other big bakkie brands have had 4×2 options that still come with high levels of specification for style-conscious buyers, Nissan only joined that particular fray in April this year, adding four not-four-wheel-drive versions to their Navara line-up.

WHY THE 4X2 MAKES SENSE

Nissan Navara 4x2

From a value point of view – and considering what most pickup owners are likely to use their vehicles for; town cruisin’, pavement crawlin’, occasional off-roadin’ – a 4×2 double cab leisure vehicle makes sense. For most applications, it strikes a great balance between power and capability, image and practical usability.

I wasn’t quite expecting to enjoy our weeklong Navara 4×2 tester – a manual LE version in jet black (not seen here) – as much as I did when it arrived at the Driven offices. Sure, being a Nissan product with a decent track record, I expected the brooding Navara with its leather seats to be somewhat of an ‘also ran’, a watered-down version of the real thing.

To my surprise, I found that living with the Navara turned out to be more fun than I expected and returning it at the end of a week of testing, not so much.

I put this feeling down to a number of reasons. Firstly, I generally like the Navara. It might not have the same kind of sex appeal as a Hilux has to its burgeoning fan base or road presence of the also very popular Ford Ranger, but it’s a solid vehicle with decent handling characteristics and just the right amount of power for everyday driving.

Also, with a kerb weight of 1,799 kg, the four-by-two Navara is 76 kilograms lighter without all the four-by-four mechanicals on board. This might not sound like a lot of weight, and yes, it doesn’t make a massive difference when the vehicle is fully loaded with passengers and cargo, but when driving one up, with nothing in the load bay, the difference is noticeable, and the result is an overall more driveable vehicle.

Nissan Navara 4x2

Then, there is precious little tangible difference between the 4×2 LE and its 4×4 LE stablemate. The former is equipped, as is the latter, with seven airbags (including a driver knee bag) as standard, multi-function steering wheel controls, cruise control, climate control, navigation as standard, keyless entry and much more. The infotainment system is the same, the heated front seats, same, even the superfluous little rear sliding window, the same.

What isn’t the same, of course, is the price tag. For R57,000 less than its big brother, you only say adios to the Navara’s four-wheel-drive system.

Hands up those bakkie owners who have truly needed their vehicle’s 4×4 system on a regular basis. With electronic diff lock at the rear also standard on both versions, combined with the same 290 mm ground clearance on both, there will be precious few situations, if any, where the 4×2 Navara will come unstuck in mild off-road conditions.

POWER TO WOW

Nissan Navara 4x2

Most drivers will find, as I did, that the Navara’s stock standard 2.3-litre turbo four-cylinder is the right engine for this application. If any vehicle in the range could do with more grunt, it would be the 4×4, not the 4×2.

Maximum power of 140 kW is ample enough to get the Navara rolling, and low-down torque (peak torque already comes online from 1,500 r/min) is quite sufficient too. I did find that the usable torque band is way too narrow for my liking (max torque tops out at 2,500 r/min), which translates into very regular upshifts when you’re in a hurry. For comfort sake only, I would opt for the automatic gearbox option, although that pushes up the asking price from R569,500 excluding VAT, to R587,900 in total.

Curiously, though, the price difference between the 4×2 and 4×4 manual cars (R57,000) is less than the difference between the auto versions (R59,600). Although we had not approached Nissan about this at the time of going to print, I certainly would like to know why the difference in price for the same system in two different applications.

LAST WORD

Pricing anomalies aside, the 4×2 Navara is an excellent choice for a variety of applications. Powerful enough, practical enough, and handsome enough, it will do the job it is intended for with aplomb. Trust me, the 4×4 badge will not be missed.

Report by BERNIE HELLBERG JR | Images © NISSAN SOUTH AFRICA