Nissan Navara: Looking for hard work

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Nissan's Pathfinder and Navara. Photos by Richard Bosselman.

Days after Nissan set media on a circumnavigation of the Arrowsmith and Raggedy ranges, the weather utterly packed in.

What rotten luck we missed this.

I've a feeling the new Nissans on preview, the Navara ST-X 450 and the similarly powered Pathfinder, would still have come through the rain and snow OK.

On a cold and overcast day, the 2010 editions seemed unfazed tackling the gravel roads and rocky station tracks linking two Canterbury high country sheep stations, Glenfalloch and Lake Heron.

Greatest consideration for care came at the track's highest point, perhaps because it also seemed to be especially narrow, which heightened the requirement for careful wheel placement.

Some of the ruts also required forethought, although even over these nobody felt the need to go into low range.

That tells you something of the awesome strength of a new engine that has gone into the seven-seater wagon and the flagship edition of the ute built on the same platform.

It was great to take these rigs into testing terrain.

The ST-X especially has excellent ground clearance, good steering feel and visibility is largely unencumbered by the metalwork.

Comfort is fine and it's still the best-riding truck in its class.

But that engine is the main reason for excitement.

That seamless surge of heft on tap from 1000rpm, swelling in intensity to around 3500rpm, is something to behold.

The old truck was hardly weak with 128kW and 403Nm, so why bump it up another 12kW and 47Nm? There is no actual benefit to its utility as the carrying capacity has not altered, nor has the maximum towing capability of three tonnes braked.

And prices increase by up to $3000.

One-upmanship seems the logical explanation: Nissan was stung by being bumped down the muscle ranks, latterly by the Mitsubishi Triton.

And should this happen again, there's conceivably always the big gun - a 170kW/550Nm Renault 3.0-litre turbodiesel V6 that goes into the Europe-market D40.

Pathfinder drivers will also be delighted by the new grunt but you can see why Nissan is focusing attention on the ute.

It's a bigger seller by far and the ST-X is a particular favourite, snaring 600 of the 1466 Navara registrations for 2009.

That's four ST-Xs sold for every Pathfinder.

Nissan New Zealand marketing manager Peter Merrie stops short of calling the ST-X a townies' truck, but agrees it has been expressly tailored for play as much as work.

"[It's] for those who attack the weekend as hard as the work day."

That's why Nissan has upped the luxury, implemented softer and more welcoming trim materials and given it ESP stability control (although only on the diesel), and dual front and side airbags as well as curtain airbags.

The rear-drive edition of the ST-X also takes the new engine but in less muscular form, and it has notably flatter power and torque curves.

The Pathfinder is less of a star.

It rides as well as the Navara, but the cabin remains poorly conceived for interior space.

The mid- and rear-row seats are set too low for adults and there's little foot-space.

Another Nissan to undergo an upgrade is the Qashqai, the five-seater developed originally as a 4WD diesel crossover but selling here as a 2.0-litre front-drive petrol five-seater hatchback.

The bolder nose treatment is the obvious change, but it also scores improved sound insulation, slightly altered ride quality, better instrumentation and a lift in standard equipment, including bigger wheels on the top Ti.

Next month a new seven-seater version, the Qashqai "plus 2", will arrive.

In profile it's obviously longer and taller, so gets new front and rear doors, a revised side glass-line and a new tailgate.

The new model is expected to bump monthly sales from 55-60 vehicles to 100, making it the most popular Nissan car here.

The "plus two" is expected to contribute to about 20% of Qashqai sales.

To fit in the extra row of seats, dimensions have swollen significantly though, at 4541mm in length, it is still shorter than most other small loadalls.

The two extra seats are designed for those under 1.6m tall but the middle row slides back and forth and the extended body also offers better storage, a maximum 1520 litres when the seats fold flat.

Mindful that most buyers will likely be families on a budget, Nissan NZ has chosen to take the seven-seater in base ST form.

Price? No call on that yet, but logically it would sit between the five-door ST, which has risen $400, and the Ti, up $1600.

The latest facelift sidesteps any mechanical change to the 102kW/198Nm 1998cc engine and constantly variable transmission, and the five-seater is hardly a rapid response unit, in part due to the deceptive, steady nature of CVT acceleration.

Nissan Navara: Looking for hard work
At a Glance

NISSAN NAVARA ST-X 450

Prices: $59,450 manual, $61,450 automatic.

Engine: 2488cc in-line four-cylinder turbodiesel, max power 140kW@4000rpm, max torque 450Nm@2500rpm.

Transmission: Six-speed manual, five-speed automatic.

Brakes and stability systems: Disc brakes, ABS, ESP, DSC.

Wheels, tyres: Alloy rims, 255/65.

Fuel and economy: 8.5/9 litres per 100km manual/automatic (on Australian combined cycle), capacity 80 litres.

Dimensions: Length 5296mm, width 1848mm, height 1795mm.