top-nav-left top-nav-right

Article Search


Nissan Navara Venturer Double Cab


Nissan calls its newly-restyled and re-engined Navara four-wheel drive ute a workhorse.

But, it adds that though the truck was designed as a workhorse, its creators also kept the driver's comfort in mind.

And to that end, the range-topping Navara Venturer Double Cab we tested has equipment levels that wouldn't be out of place in a car.

Ruggedness is a given in any of the utes marketed by the major Japanese manufacturers. The Navara is no exception, but at Venturer level - it costs a not inconsiderable $49,695 - the utilitarian edges have been softened.

The floor is carpeted, no austere vinyl flooring here. The individual front bucket seats are upholstered in velour, the four-spoked steering wheel has a soft-feel rim.

There's an in-dash Compact Disc sound system rather than a cassette player.

Some of this softening carries over to ute's mechanical and dynamic aspects.

The five-speed manual gearshift, for instance, shifts more quickly, smoothly and easily than those found in some of the Nissan's rivals. It can be shifted using just two fingertips and light pressure.

The diesel engine note is more muted than you might have expect. This 3.0-litre unit is no raucous rattler but goes about delivering its excellent punch in a relatively aurally restrained fashion - for a big Japanese diesel.

Then there's the ride. The Navara Venturer eschews the usual lumpy and firm Japanese ute ride quality in favour of a more supple, more bump-absorbent feel. The rear wheels still come down with a jarring thump after they cross speed humps, though.

The power steering is also lighter than usual in a ute, a little too light and vague for our tastes.

Other creature comforts include a tilt-adjustable steering column; central door-locking; electrically-wound windows and air-conditioning. There's a centre console between the front bucket seats.

The smoothness carries over into the exterior re-styling.

The revised styling includes a more rounded look with new front bumpers, bonnet, mudguards and grille, and a new rear-end design with new tailgate metalwork.

With the newly-rounded lines and 16-inch diameter alloy wheels wearing 255/70 R16 tyres, there's no question that Nissan's ute is a handsome devil.

Those 16-inch wheels and tyres are practical too, helping achieve a useful 215mm of ground clearance.

Standard Navara Venturer equipment includes a driver's airbag, white-faced instruments and flared wheelarches.

The instruments have a nice little trick up their sleeves. Switch the lights on at night and the white faces turn into subtle grey ones.

The big news with the 2002 Navara Venturer, though, is the new turbocharged 3.0-litre four-cylinder diesel motor.

It's similar to the one used in the 2002 Patrol, but lacks an intercooler.

In the ute it replaces a naturally-aspirated 3.2-litre.

It's a strong performer - 110kW and a potent 314Nm of peak torque. That's 44 percent more power and 42 percent more torque than the old 3.2-litre produced, so there's no question that regular Navara drivers will notice the difference.

Maximum torque is produced around 1800rpm and continues almost as a flat line to 3500rpm.

On the road the increases add up to excellent performance. The Venturer gets off the line superbly and the big diesel delivers a strong surge of power. Open road overtaking is a breeze. There's no holding your breath and hoping when you move out from behind a slower-moving vehicle. You just plant your foot and the ute surges forward.

The motor is impressively quiet at open road cruising speed.

The transmission offers a choice of high and low-range four-wheel drive as well as two-wheel drive (the mode the ute is in during normal driving). The low-range four-wheel drive has a reduction ratio of 2.02:1. There are manual freewheeling and lockable front hubs for engaging four-wheel drive.

A limited slip rear differential is standard.

Handling is standard Japanese ute, which means a deal of care is needed in the wet. Nail the throttle too soon or too abruptly on a damp road and the rear end will step out.

In the dry the Navara handles reasonably well, with a modicum of understeer.

We felt the softer-feel suspension gave rise to a little more rock and roll than we would have liked, especially on bumpy roads. And there was an initial feeling of vagueness before the ute settled itself down as it turned-in to corners.

There was some vagueness in the steering, too. You could turn the wheel a few degrees on either side of the straight-ahead before that translated into front wheel movement. The steering felt a little too light and imprecise.

We much preferred the handling feel and - albeit heavier and stiffer - steering in the Holden Rodeo 3.0-litre ute we had at the same time as the Navara.

The cabin is roomy and comfortable.

Our main reservation about ever running a double cab ute - or any ute for that matter - as day-to-day transport is the lack of lockable, secure place to stow luggage and valuables.

The Navara has ventilated front disc brakes combined with tandem boosters and a load-sensing proportioning valve to prevent rear wheel lock up. The front brakes are bigger diameter to handle the increased power of the turbo engine.

Under the body there are heavy-duty sump guards and skid plates for the gearbox and transfer case and the fuel tank.

The load tray is double-walled for strength and there are tie down hooks to secure loads carried. The rear bumper has a step integrated into it for easier access to the tray.

The 3.0-litre Navara can tow a braked trailer of up to 3000kg.

The Navara Venturer is a well-equipped vehicle that mixes typical ute ruggedness with a host of car-like features.

Four-wheel drive utes are designed initially as workhorses and no amount of added-on creature comforts will ever make them car-like to drive.

But the Navara's ease of handling, supple ride, refined engine and excellent gearbox take it closer to the family car than most of its rivals.

We'd prefer a little sharper handling feel and crisper steering, but the Venturer proved easy to live with in the week we drove it.

It was happy in city traffic and in open road and motorway running, had plenty of room for five adults and a usefully-sized load tray.

And it's a truly handsome interpretation of the classic small ute. It looked great on the home driveway or standing above the other vehicles in the office garage.

AutoPoint road test team: words and pictures by Mike Stock.

Auto Trader New Zealand