Revealed: Nissan’s toughest ute yet
INSPIRED by the success of Ford's Ranger Raptor ute, Nissan has unveiled its own tough truck, the Navara N-Trek Warrior - which in turn was developed by the team renowned for Australian fast Fords.
The maker reckons the market has "shifted considerably" in the past two years, with sales of "super high grade" utes such as the Ranger Raptor, Toyota HiLux Rugged X and HSV SportsCat growing faster than other commercial vehicles.
"Ute buyers are looking for a higher grade with more features that make their vehicle stand out," says Nissan managing director Stephen Lester. "The Navara N-Trek Warrior is locally redesigned and engineered for Australian conditions and looks tough. We expect this to be a popular variant."
As dealers and owners had started customising Navaras with high-riding suspension, Tonka truck tyres and butch graphics, it made sense to produce a factory edition backed by Nissan's five-year warranty.
The task of developing the Warrior went to Melbourne outfit Premcar, formerly known as Prodrive and Tickford Vehicle Engineering.
It was partly responsible for a wide range of high-performance Fords including the Falcon GT and XR6 Turbo, as well as Toyota's supercharged TRD HiLux and Aurion.
The Warrior starts life as a Navara N-Trek, a cosmetic pack that adds black and orange details including a dark treatment for the grille, wheels, fender flares and roof rails.
Engineering tweaks for the Warrior include 17-inch alloys shod with fat all-terrain Cooper tyres. The high riding Monroe suspension has big-bore shock absorbers and taller springs, delivering an extra 40mm of ground clearance and an unmistakably tough stance.
An alloy bulbar with an integrated Hella LED light bar joins 3mm-thick underbody armour. The Warrior's revised tow bar allows the use of a full-size spare while retaining the standard 3500kg towing ability.
The interior gets orange stitching, black leather seats with orange mesh, embroidered headrests and new floor mats. The eight-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto remains. The colour schemes are white or silver with black stickers and a rather fetching black-on-black look with orange details.
"Twin Turbo" door decals suggest extra mumbo from the ute's 2.3-litre, four-cylinder turbo diesel but the hint is all you get - outputs, unchanged at 140kW/450Nm, go via six-speed manual or seven-speed automatic transmission to dual-range four-wheel drive.
Sharing regular models' engines hasn't harmed sales of the Raptor, Rugged-X or HSV-fettled Holden Colorado
Working folk should be mindful that the Warrior's maximum payload is about 200kg less than the regular Navara at 724kg. Full details including prices will be available later.
Our first taste of the Navara Warrior came during the car's development at Big Desert on the Victoria-SA border.
Driven back-to-back with a regular Navara, the Warrior had a clear advantage off the beaten track. Those fat tyres clawed at sandy surfaces to haul up hills that stopped the standard model and the beefed-up shocks inspired confidence with a more stable ride and improved composure.
There was more weight to the steering and a better front-to rear balance than the regular Navara's tail-high stance. We didn't drive on tarmac, so will reserve judgment until the car is formally launched later this year.
Premcar tried more than 100 shock absorbers before settling on the final combination. Engineering director Bernie Quinn says the original brief from Nissan was "really quite simple".
"It was, 'We want this to be the best-looking Navara in the country and the target audience is a mad grey nomad,' " he says. "We wanted to create a Navara that was a lot of fun on all surfaces."