By YAMIN VONG
THE new Nissan Navara NP300 sets new levels of performance in the twin-cab pick-up sector.
Featuring an industry-first seven-speed automatic transmission, it takes the winds out of the sails of those with six-speed autos, not to speak of those still rolling merely with five-speed.
That’s not all; it is the first Japanese pick-up with coil springs in the rear instead of leaf springs. In Nissan marketing lingo, the coil springs are referred to as multi-link suspension.
Technically speaking, all coil or air-sprung automotive live beam axles have to be linked to the chassis by radial arms. Alternatively, the axle may be located by a Panhard rod as named after the Frenchman who invented the transverse link.
Call it what you want, a coil spring suspension is theoretically a huge leap forward in comfort and technology. However, merely installing coil springs does not achieve comfort. There must be a commensurate level of metallurgy in designing the coil spring and suspension tuning expertise.
There are two cars that prove this point; the Mitsubishi Triton uses the venerable leaf springs and its level of ride comfort almost match that of coil springs. That is the superior level of leaf spring technology that Mitsubishi Motor Corporation has achieved since the days of its Pajero SUVs.
And check out the Mahindra Scorpio; it uses coil springs for the rear axle but its ride is as bumpy and busy as leaf springs except when it is fully loaded.
Overarching all that however, a coil sprung suspension is lighter than leaf springs and that is very important when vehicle makers are challenged to increase fuel efficiency.
So, it was a happy moment when Edaran Tan Chong’s marketing communication chief, Yani Fadzil, managed to obtain a Navara NP300 V-Spec for a test drive over the long Maulud Nabi and Christmas weekend that was the curtain call for 2015.
We did about 1,500km on our long test drive route; a return trip from Kuala Lumpur to Kuala Terengganu.
The test session included 380km of urban driving. The remaining 1,120km was highway driving slowed down by traffic congestion at the toll plazas of Gombak and Bentong when we started our journey at 11pm on Wednesday (December 23rd).
Our speed also dropped for an accumulated 90 minutes of monsoonal downpours between Kuantan and Dungun.
The payload was two and a half people including the driver – one passenger hopped aboard at Dungun.
Engine and transmission
The seven-speed automatic transmission is a segment-first as pick-ups are sucked into the gear-count race that is currently engulfing the industry. It does its job well with well-matched ratios but if there was thing we had to pick at, it would be that the seventh gear is only available in full automatic mode. Flick it into manual override and the driver will only be left with the first six ratios to play with.
The new VGS turbo on the third generation YD25DDTi engine gives the Navara the extra grunt it needs to keep up with the slate of new boys that are slowly refreshing the segment.
However, the V-Spec we got packed the garden-variety 161hp and 403Nm of torque that was more than enough but the VL-Spec with its 188hp/450Nm of torque combination would have been more of a hoot.
Nonetheless, bragging rights would be about the only reason you should opt for the VL-Spec unless serious off-roading is on the cards for you.
The ride is comfortable and, finally, for those who want a car-like suspension from a Japanese pick-up, this is as close as it gets.
A couple of the current Japanese pick-ups can reach this level of comfort when they are loaded but no one I know hauls 300kg and expects a comfortable ride as well.
Unloaded is therefore the most important criteria in regards to suspension comfort.
This is a big truck and with all that power on hand, the steering response could be more precise to handle the bulk.
On the fast sections of the highway, the shock absorbers could have been firmer but will accommodate all urban requirements.
Sporty-minded drivers will prefer stiffer damping and more body control as the body-roll at highway speeds was excessive and given that the majority of pick-ups in the peninsula spend most of their time on-road, the suspension tuning should have prioritised that.
Still, it is a step forward over its predecessor although the leap to coil springs will need to be further fine-tuned to bring it closer to a car-like ride.
It looks better, drives better and rides better. So it is a better car than the outgoing model. The thorn in this rose however is the influx of new and facelifted pick-ups that are currently refreshing the segment and some of them pack some impressive equipment.
The new Triton and facelifted Ford Ranger will be some of its chief competitors while the Isuzu D-Max and its mindboggling fuel-sipping characteristics should not be overlooked.
None of that however will strike as much of a blow as the all-new Toyota Hilux, that will be making its way here soon and only then will Navara be measured against the new benchmark.
Specifications of the Nissan Navara NP300 V-Spec
Engine: 2,488cc, inline-four, DOHC 16V, variable geometry turbodiesel, ECCS
Max power: 161hp @ 3,600rpm
Max torque: 403Nm @ 2,000rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic
Safety features: Dual airbags, ABS, EBD, BA, traction control, hill start assist, hill descent control, stability control
Price: RM 109,800 OTR w/o insurance