Until the back end of the last century, these vehicles were classed as cars, meaning that fleets which bought them couldn’t claim back VAT. But the Government finally gave in and moved them to the commercial vehicle sector, where they belong, with the proviso that they have a payload of at least one tonne.
Since then, business buyers have been snapping these behemoths up in ever-increasing numbers. And who can blame them? The benefits are numerous.
For starters, all the current offerings in the sector manage to look stylish and macho at the same time and will speak volumes about the company which uses them. Then there is versatility.
You can chuck shed loads of tools, equipment or general detritus in the back during the week, and then take the wife and kids out at the weekends without having to fold them in half to get them in. And as for residual values, they are among the best of any vehicle on the roads today, car or van.
But there are big drawbacks too. All the current crop of muscle trucks may look stylish but there is nothing chic about their general ride and handling. With the exception of the Toyota Hilux, all have old-fashioned diesel engines rather than the modern common rail versions, and none have anything like the horsepower they look as though they should have.
You may look cool cruising the motorways of Britain in a muscle truck but you probably won’t feel it after a long journey, thanks to a general ride which more resembles that of a tractor than a car. The only person who’ll be rubbing his hands is your dentist. He will be relishing the prospect of replacing loose fillings and furnishing you with the bill afterwards.
But things are about to change. With the launch of the new Nissan Navara, the Japanese maker has not only moved the sector’s goalposts – it has set up a whole new playing field of its own. In short, the Navara is head and shoulders above the rest in terms of handling, power and general drivability.
Across Europe, the new vehicle will be available in two power outputs – 145bhp and 174bhp at 4,000rpm.
But British buyers will only be offered the higher-rated version, putting the new Navara in a league of its own power-wise. The present model, for example, boasts 133bhp and the Mitsubishi L200 – the market leader – is currently the most powerful vehicle in the sector at 137bhp. Meanwhile, the new Toyota Hilux – to be launched shortly – boasts only 102bhp.
Torque is up too. The old Navara was already market leader at 224lb-ft but the new model has a stonking 297lb-ft at 2,000rpm, putting it miles ahead of the nearest rival, the Isuzu Rodeo, at 206lb-ft. Finally, British double-cab buyers have a vehicle to choose from that goes as well as it looks.
The new Navara is based on the Nissan Pathfinder – in fact it will roll off the same production line in Barcelona and shares its platform and even its dashboard. Thus it dwarfs the old Navara in all dimensions.
There will be two models available – double- cab and king-cab – and prices will range from £14,695 for the standard king-cab to £21,970 for the top-of-the-range double-cab Aventura (all prices ex-VAT).
All versions have a payload above 1,045kg and a maximum towing weight of 2,700kg. As with most such vehicles, a myriad of styling accessories are available including roof load carriers, stainless steel styling extras, wheelarch mouldings and even a bed tent for the rear.
The basic spec models have, as standard, driver and passenger airbags, ABS brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, alarm and immobiliser, remote plip locking and a CD player. The basic model has steel wheels while the SE version adds 17in alloys, rail side-steps, dual zone climate control, leather steering wheel and electric heated door mirrors.
The Outlaw version adds roof bars for double-cabs, front foglamps, headlamp washers, rain sensing windscreen wipers, a six-CD player with steering wheel controls, cruise control and under-seat rear storage compartments while the Aventura has an electric sunroof, leather seats, power/heated front seats, side and curtain airbags, Nissan’s Birdview sat-nav system and Bluetooth phone integration.
The old Navara was also available in a utilitarian 4x2 farmers’ format and this will continue until at least 2006. That model will be known as the Pick-Up.
I joined a party of British journalists at the Navara’s launch in Crete and was able to sample the new vehicle over two days on a series of test routes involving high-speed motorways and rough farm tracks...
IF you see a new Nissan Navara coming towards you, it will become immediately obvious that this vehicle is something special. It features a massive chrome grille which almost shouts ‘only big men need apply’, and will transform a seven stone weakling into Charles Atlas quicker than any fitness kit.
We drove both double-cab and king-cab versions – all specced up to the hilt as you’d expect – and they looked simply stunning with those side rails, roof bars and metallic paint. It is certainly worth paying the extra for such luxuries as not only do they add style to the vehicle but they will probably pay for themselves by a boosted residual value at selling time.
The new Navara double-cab is 1,771mm high (up 61mm over the new model) and 1,850mm wide (up 25mm) while the overall length is 5,220mm (up 130mm). The double-cab has the usual four-door arrangement while the king-cab looks as though it only has two doors, but in fact the rear side panels fold out from the back to allow entry and egress.
In the front
DRIVERS familiar with the Nissan Pathfinder will immediately feel at home aboard the new Navara. It shares the Pathfinder’s platform and also its huge slab-like dash.
The doors are immensely tough and heavy and everything inside has that Tonka toy feel, which promises both quality ad durability.
The leather-clad seats in our test models were hard, flat and supportive although they were rather wide for European tastes, probably more suited for those burger-bloated American rear ends. The upshot is that they lacked side support. However, to prevent too much rolling around while in the rough, there was certainly no lack of grab handles both in the front and back of the cab.
Both double-cabs and king-cabs feature rear seats that lift up to reveal handy storage areas underneath. It means that valuable items can be stored away from prying eyes – something that can’t be done in most of today’s offerings.
The stereo is of good quality but I can’t vouch for the sat-nav as it didn’t work on the Greek Island – suffice to say I have tried Nissan’s Birdview system in other vehicles and I rate it among the best.
Mention must be made of the rear seating arrangements in the king-cab. The bad news is that space is extremely limited. Unless you happen to be transporting a troupe of circus midgets or contortionists, it would be better opting for the double-cab. The space in the king-cab model is more suited for tools and equipment than people.
In contrast, the double-cab will happily seat five adults, although while the middle rear seat has a seatbelt, it doesn’t have a headrestraint for some inexplicable reason.
In the back
ONCE again, the new Navara has increased in size over the old model. Load length for the double-cab is 1,511mm long, 1,560mm wide and there is a 1,130mm width between the wheelarches.
The king-cab boasts measurements of 1,861mm length and 1,560mm width.
Payload will be at least 1,045kg.
Our test models had the optional railing system in the rear in which cargo can be locked in place on the floor. It’s an excellent addition which is a must if bulky items are to be transported in safety (see picture above).
On the road
THE island of Crete proved an ideal testing ground for the Navara, with its mixture of fast, flat roads and twisty mountain passes. The problem with most of the present crop of double-cabs is that on smoother surfaces, the suspension is just too hard for comfort.
And after all, most of these vehicles spend the majority of their time on normal roads so getting the balance just right is important.
However, Nissan has finally found this particular holy grail with the new Navara.
Heading out of Heraklion on the island’s rather grandly named National Road in a double-cab auto-box model, we could to all the world be driving a large car.
I’m so used to paltry performance in these vehicles that it was something of a shock to find that, upon flooring the throttle, the vehicle surged ahead lustily, making a glorious roar as it did so. Nissan puts the 0-62mph time at a creditable 11.5 seconds and top speed at a tad over 106mph.
We were soon in the mountains on tracks that seemed to have been made by mountain goats, rather than road builders, and it became apparent that this vehicle is not just a pretty face.
Gone are the old floor-mounted levers to change into four wheel drive – it is done now with the twist of a switch on the dash.
As we negotiated hair-raising switchback routes that were little more than rocks, shale and dust, the Navara thundered on, never giving myself nor my co-driver the slightest hint that it might not cope.
At our overnight stop in Agios Nikolaos, some of the testers who had driven manual box models grumbled about their rubbery feel. And next day we got the chance to give our opinion as we swopped for a king-cab manual.
It was the only serious complaint I could find with the new model. Gearchanging felt imprecise and reverse seemed almost impossible to find sometimes. Mind you, we were driving left hookers and I’m not used to changing gear with my right hand so maybe British models will be easier.
In contrast, the power steering was weighted just on the heavy side, how I like it, to give the right amount of feel for what the wheels are doing on the road.
THE launch of the new Navara effectively means that the muscle truck market will change forever. This vehicle has upped the ante to such an extent that the rival manufacturers will just have to respond with more powerful models that handle better or they will simply be left to spit out the Navara’s dust.
The new Toyota Hilux certainly won’t compete with a measly 102bhp engine and the others – with the exception of Mitsubishi – don’t have new models pencilled in to the launch calendar.
The L200 – the current market leader ahead of Nissan – is due for replacement next year but as yet we haven’t seen it. Until that launch, Nissan has, in my opinion, got the 4x4 double-cab market well and truly to itself.
Payload (kg): 1,045 (min)
Max power (bhp/rpm): 174/4,000
Max torque (lb ft/rpm): 297/2,000
Prices (£ ex-VAT): 14,695-21,970