Game Changer: The new Nissan Nivara

Errachidia (Morocco). — I’ve seen the future and it’s very comfortable. Or, at least for double-cab drivers it is. With its all new Navara, Nissan has done what other leisure pickup makers have so far resisted, and replaced an antiquated leaf spring rear suspension, which has until now been the norm in this class, with a far more modern multi-link setup with coil springs — albeit still paired with a solid axle rather than independent rear suspension in the interests of superior articulation during off-road driving.While rear coil springs might not rank as highly as colour touch-screens and radar cruise control on most buyers’ cool-new-features-o-metres, you’ll have to trust me — this is a very big deal in this segment. Game changing stuff.

It’s all about ride quality, and this vehicle takes this field in particular to the next level and then some. Without getting into all the gory details of bump isolation, oscillation frequencies and axle deflection, just know that coils are better at smoothing out rough roads than old-school leaf springs, and while the latest Rangers and Hiluxes have indeed evolved in refinement, quality and tech from their rudimentary predecessors, they’re about to be left in the dust when it comes to pure comfort.

Okay, full disclosure. Korean brand SsangYong fitted a similar system to its Actyon Sports back in 2006, and Landy’s Defender Pickup has also used coils at the back for yonks; but the new Navara is the first to put it into mainstream double-cab production.

What took so long? Well, it’s a matter of cost really. Normally reserved for pricier SUVs built on bakkie platforms, solid axle multi-link suspensions are certainly more expensive to build than traditional leaf springs.

We don’t have pricing for the new Navara yet (it’ll launch in South Africa early next year), but we can assume it’ll be positioned right near the top of bakkie price charts.

At a media test drive held in Morocco last week, Nissan SA’s sales and marketing boss Xavier Gobille made it very clear that the new line-up is specced to the hilt, with zero provisions made for entry-level models. In our market the current NP300 Hardbody will fill the more budget-oriented workhorse gap, while the Navara caters to more premium buyers.

This should be the case for at least another two years, as there’s a very good chance the Navara will be produced locally. If a Navara factory is set up at Nissan’s Rosslyn plant, it would probably also build King Cab (extended cab) body styles. These versions would get cheaper leaf springs and fewer creature comforts.

Nissan SA is reluctant to go into detail as to what next year’s double-cabs will include features-wise, but it did say all models will include colour touch-screen infotainment systems with built in navigation, leather seats and 360 degree surround view (birds-eye) cameras among other things.

We’re guessing that at launch there will be one high-spec level, with options including two- or four-wheel drive, and either six-speed manual or seven-speed auto gearboxes. A new 2.3-litre twin-turbo diesel with 140kW and 450Nm will be the only engine choice.

Really good ride quality

The Moroccan test venue offered a huge range of roads and surfaces to sample the Navara on, and it aced all of them. I cannot emphasise enough how sweet this vehicle’s ride is, whether flying along smooth tarmac or trundling over broken surfaces. It’s particularly good on gravel, where it assumes a sort of hover-like quality with a disregard for ruts, corrugations and nasty washboard surfaces.

A good portion of our drive also included some pretty serious dune surfing, and here the 2.3’s low end torque made light work of deep sand and steep inclines. Four-wheel-drive is, as expected in today’s best bakkies, engaged via a simple console-mounted dial switch.

All cars at the event were equipped with the newly developed seven-speed autobox, and it too was impressive with quick changes and spot on gear selections. Unlike VW’s eight-speeder, which uses an ultra-low first gear ratio for crawling situations, the Navara gets a proper low-range transfer case.

Like the upcoming Renault Alaskan and Mercedes X-Class it shares its basic platform with, the Navara’s a leisure bakkie first and foremost, but it’s a genuine one-tonner with a claimed cargo capacity of 1 029kg, and a max tow rating of 3 500kg.

Another interesting note is that we’ll get a bespoke ride height designed specifically for South African conditions — adding an extra 10 millimetres to an already decent 224mm standard ground clearance.

When the new Navara arrives next year, probably around March, it’ll come in a very small range in comparison to myriad versions of best-selling Rangers and Hiluxes. But Nissan’s newcomer is the one to beat in ride quality and comfort.

Coil sprung bakkies are the future! — Motoring IOL.

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