Towcar Test: Nissan Navara 2.5dCi

Words and photography Mark Samuel

Big Boy’s Toy

Nissan Navara 2.5 dCi 4×4 AT LE Double-Cab
For six years the Navara has been a popular and capable choice of towcar, for good reason. And now an auto gearbox has been mated to the torquey 2.5-litre dCi engine – a pairing for towing that’s right on the mark.

Nissan Navara 2.5dCi
This double-cab is the only 2.5-litre diesel 4×4 with an automatic gearbox in the Navara line up. And you know what? This is the model I’d pick if I were buying a Navara, even over the big V9X 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel. I’ll bet that’s got you sitting up and taking note!
There are several factors behind my reasoning. First, for me, is the price: we’re talking about a difference of R101 000 between this model and the V9X (without satellite navigation), and that’s significant. And the driving experience is rewarding. Admittedly, there isn’t that forced-back-into-your-chair sensation you get with the V6 diesel as you thrust the throttle to the floor, but for my needs, which aren’t ever really about speed, this bakkie performs well on all fronts, especially with fuel consumption while towing.

Evaluated against some contemporary competitors, the aesthetics of the Narava are becoming slightly dated, but in my opinion it’s still got the presence to turn heads and make an impact when you swing into a caravan park. But, really, that’s not what makes or breaks a towcar.

Let’s look at the vital statistics. Nissan have rated this vehicle to tow a braked trailer with a GVM of up to 3000 kg – certainly not bad for a 2.5‑litre, and an indication of confidence in their product. And, as a further feather in Nissan’s cap, the towbar too is rated at 3000 kg, with a vertical load limit of 135 kg. I’ve seen many a towcar whose maximum towing capacity far exceeds that of its the towbar – something that is patently ridiculous, as it totally negates the vehicle’s capabilities. Well, that’s definitely not the case with this bakkie.

The LE spec is at the top of the range, boasting several interior finishes which elevate it above the rest. The upgraded door and seat trims might not be immediately noticeable, but they’re attractive, as are the chromed insets which accentuate some of the interior detailing. The improvements aren’t only about looks: the door storage bins are large enough to hold an A3-sized mapbook and a one-litre bottle. The steering wheel controls include buttons for the audio and Bluetooth phone systems, right there within thumb’s reach.

Space in the Narava is very good, as double-cabs go, and there’s little for rear passengers to complain about on long trips in terms of legroom. The LE model has improved safety measures, the most notable of which are the new side and curtain airbags. I found the tailgate lock a useful (and overdue) improvement: the bin cover and locked tailgate now offer at least a bit of a deterrent to passers-by intent on stealing items off the back.

One small gripe came up when I pulled up at the fuel pump. With most new vehicles today, either there’s a fuel cap lever or the fuel cap cover locks and unlocks via the vehicle’s central locking. That’s not how it works with this bakkie; you need to take your key out of the ignition and hand it to the attendant in order to open the cap (or climb out and do it yourself). A big plus in my book was the sunglasses storage pocket in the roof just behind the rearview mirror. It’s large enough to accommodate big sunglasses – which can’t be said for most cars I’ve tested.

We hitched up the same caravan we used for the recent Toyota Hilux double-cab tow test, all in the name of levelling the playing field: a Jurgens Safari Xplorer with a braked GVM of 1650 kg. Okay, this 2.5-litre develops a whopping 450 Nm of torque at 2000 rpm, compared to the Hilux’s 343 Nm at 1400-3200 rpm. But still, these bakkies compete in the same segment, so we decided to subject them to the same load.

I presume that, over time, the smaller capacity engine would need to work harder than the 3000 cc counterpart, but on the 0-60, 0-80 and 0-100 km/h acceleration runs the Navara outperformed the Toyota. The suspension, unladen, was also impressive: bakkies tend to have hard rides compared to SUVs and sedans, because they’re designed to take heavy loads, but this bakkie was more car-like than several others I’ve driven recently. As a result there was little pitching on the towbar, and the rear of the car stayed quite stable. Like the new Ford Ranger, the Navara is a big bakkie, but this really gives you a sense of being in control of your caravan, rather than your caravan being in control of you.

That said, the braking from 100 to 0 km/h wasn’t the best we’ve seen, but the vehicle reacted well, without lockup on any of the wheels. The stability of the rig was impeccable – partly due to the heavy noseweight of the Xplorer, I’m sure, but the Navara itself hugged the road surface as though it was running on railway tracks. Steering was responsive and light, but not too light, and visibility all round from the cabin was good.

Our hill climb yielded a time of 1:36.35 – not epic, but certainly healthy for a 2.5‑litre turbo-diesel. When the Navara arrived at our offices the towbar was mounted in the lower holes – 455 mm to the top of the ball – which proved too low for the coupling of the Xplorer. Moved to the top holes the towball height without the caravan was 530 mm. The drop in height was 40 mm with the Xplorer hitched – well within accepted norms, resulting in the perfect profile for this caravan. Ordinarily, for most on-road caravans, the lower towbar height will be just about ideal.

You engage 4×4 high- or low-range using a dial on the dash, just in front of the auto gearshift lever. A twist of the dial to the right, and 4×4-high is selected – which is recommended the moment you encounter gravel road surfaces (and the improvement in road holding is immediately evident). A further turn to the right gives you 4×4-low-range – just the set-up you need, not only for serious off-road terrain, but also for slow and careful manoeuvring of your heavy caravan or trailer up a steep driveway. This 4×4 selection method couldn’t be simpler to use.

The automatic transmission is superb for towing, and also for the everyday commute. The manual gear select option gives that extra bit of versatility when you encounter a long ascent or descent and want full control of your gear selection. I found the most relaxing option for negotiating long downhills with the Xplorer was to slap the lever over to semi-auto, choose third gear and let the engine compression and braking take over.

Without the caravan hitched I achieved around 9.5 l/100 km, which is decent. While towing, at an average of approximately 100 km/h, the figure climbed to 12.3 l/100 km – also very favourable indeed.

The tare of 2000 kg is noteworthy for a double-cab, making this a legal tow vehicle in South Africa for overrun-braked trailers and caravans with GVM ratings of up to 2000 kg. As a towcar, this Nissan model is still a front-runner in the double-cab sector. In the past I’ve found that the Navara manages adequately when towing on serious off-road terrain, but some sort of off-road suspension fitment would certainly bolster its abilities.

It’s hard to fault the levels of comfort for occupants, even when there are five . The ease with which you can secure loads on the bak using Nissan’s unique rail-and-bracket system, and the versatility of the standard roofrack, make this vehicle even better suited to the outdoor lifestyle. Combine that with the towing prowess, and you’ve got a contender that ticks most blocks.

Ultimately, I guess, it’ll come down to price, torque and power output, aesthetics, on- and off-road ability, and warranty and service plan offerings. If I had to choose, this specific model would be one of my top three double-cabs.


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