Fleet News

Off-road special: You want mud? You got it!

Try a spot of unscheduled off-roading in my neck of the woods, where the land is all grade 1 agricultural, and you’ll likely find yourself face to face with an angry yeoman yelling: ‘Git orf moi land’ closely followed by a couple of rounds of grape shot in the trouser area.

So when Nissan invited me to spend a day yahooing about in a Nissan Navara Rally Raid round the Langdale Forest near Scarborough, they didn’t have to ask twice.

There is something about the combination of mud, trees and tough trucks that brings out the best and worst in blokes.

I’d have to admit that if I was the proud owner of a shiny new Nissan Navara Rally Raid – the toughest and meanest of the Pickup and Navara range – the last thing I would want to do is start dragging it through swamps or banging it against trees.

But those very nice men at Nissan handed me the keys and assured me that the world – or at least this 10,000-acre slice of it – was my oyster. What could one say but way-heyyyyyy!!!!

I have tried out all the 4x4 truck offerings on the UK market today and they range from the pleasant to the downright horrible. The Navara, in my book, is certainly at the top end of the scale. The suspension is set just right so that while it can cope with most rough surfaces in Britain, it won’t shake your fillings out while driving round the M25.

And while this truck growls like a good ‘un and will make even seven stone weaklings look like Rambo, the seats are refreshingly comfortable and the cab ambience is more car than van.

UK buyers are in the middle of a major love affair with these vehicles at present. Nissan expects to sell around 9,000 Navaras this year, mainly to small business users and fleet user-choosers who pick them to avoid paying huge swathes of benefit-in-kind tax.

The BIK tax system is about to change. At present, drivers who are 22% taxpayers cough up just £110 a year for the privilege of driving one of these 4x4s as they are classed as commercial vehicles as long as they have a one-tonne payload or more.

From April 2007, the charge will rise to £660 and some doom and gloom merchants rather hastily predicted the end of the road for the sector.

But even £660 a year is a small price to pay for the kudos a vehicle like this can bring, so Nissan confidently predicts that sales will continue to be bouyant.

The pick-up range starts with a utilitarian single cab 4x2 version aptly called the Pickup with a driver’s airbag, power steering and steel wheels as standard. The single cab 4x4 adds ABS brakes, limited slip differential, bigger wheels, four wheel drive capability and black wheelarch extensions.

The king cab adds rear jump seats, carpets and a heated rear window while the double-cab also has electric windows and door mirrors and a rear bench seat. Things start getting classy with the Navara range, which adds alloy wheels, a CD player, passenger airbag and body-coloured wheelarch extensions and bumpers. A host of extras can be bought, such as Truckman tops, sat-nav systems, stainless steel styling bars and leather seats. The customising possibilities are endless.

The Rally Raid was speciallly made to commemorate Nissan’s entry into the Paris/Dakar rally and is no longer available to buy (sorry lads!) but other specials are available on the current model list.

All the models are powered by 2.5-litre turbodiesel engines offering a meaty 133bhp and a very respectable 224lb-ft of torque at 2,000rpm. Prices range from £10,797 to £18,187 ex-VAT.

So, armed with a pair of Saloman heavy weather boots, a two-way radio and a map, I set off. With a flick of the smaller gear-lever into four-wheel drive low ratio mode, the Navara simply steamed through everything this forest could throw at it as though it was the King’s Road in Chelsea.

Huge potholes, deep water-filled ditches, massive rocks and steep gradients came and went with never a hint of concern that the Navara might not get through.

The ride wasn’t exactly what you’d call smooth and I managed to crack my skull on the B pillar a couple of times but hey, there’s no gain without pain, as they say.

After three hours I had a grin on my face which said it all. I could have gone round again but others were waiting to take my place.

I was left with a huge amount of respect for the Navara and can see why vehicles like this are the choice of so many fleets with a need to get into the mud on occasions. With seating for four adults and a mighty load area in the rear for equipment, the Navara will make light of some pretty heavy off-road tasks, while at the weekend it can soon be cleaned out and used as transport for a family. What more could you ask for?

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