Nissan Navara 3.0dCi V6 Outlaw ♦ Towing Test ♦

Originally Published: March 2011
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Double-cabs have defined the off-road part of 4x4 market over the last decade. And as we all know, for most people 4x4s, whether or not they’re used off-road, are defined by what they can tow.

So it stands to reason that double-cabs are going to be defined by what they can tow, at least as much as by what they can carry. And it’s true that for the kind of heartland owner who buys a truck because they need one, not just because you can fit more chrome on them, hauling loads around is a key part of what they do.

The arrival of what could be called Britain’s first super-truck should, then, be enough to cause a real stir in the pick-up market. Nissan’s Navara has been among the more powerful double-cabs ever since its launch in 2005, but the arrival of a 3.0-litre V6 engine, whose 228bhp and 405lbf.ft, the latter from as low down as 1700rpm, are game-changing stats in a corner of the market where conformity is the norm.

Mated as standard to a seven-speed auto box with manual over-ride, the V6 diesel is an engine that also stars in Infiniti’s range of posh cars and SUVs. Infiniti is Nissan’s equivalent of Lexus, too, so as well as delivering plenty of power you can expect this unit to do so without kicking up a fuss.

Needless to say, the V6 is limited only to the very top of the Navara range. This means that as well as an auto box, other stuff you get whether you want it or not includes leather, cruise, sat-nav, bluetooth, electric seats, dual-zone climate and wipers that know how hard it’s raining. You get 18-inch alloys, too, which is an inch more than the biggest available on the 2.5-litre working man’s Navara.

Ah yes, the working man. Well, if you’re in the market for a V6 model you probably run your own business and want a truck for all occasions. The Navara is unquestionably that, but at £34,143 on the road, and that’s before you’ve paid for options like a towbar, it takes the double-cab market into new territory in more ways than one.

Let’s assume, though, that you can actually afford to buy one. How much better does it tow than the 2.5-litre version?

For starters, the V6 Navara is legally allowed to pull 3000kg. And that puts it straight into pole position in the range, as other double-cab models are limited to a distinctly less usable 2600kg. Your Nissan dealer might not want you to ask how much the previous generation D22 was capable of hauling, but at least the V6 gets it back to where it used to be.

Starting from the beginning, the Navara’s handbook contains one of the least useful towing sections we’ve ever seen. All of two pages long, it’s basically a list of general towing advice: avoid sharp turns, check your trailer lights, expect less miles to the gallon, that kind of thing. At the very least, we’d have liked some instruction on how best to use the manual over-ride in the gearbox when towing up hill and to assist the brakes.

Left to our own devices, we found that with around 2500kg on the back, manual third was the best gear in which to scale big hills. Not much use on the motorway, of course, but it kicks down smartly out of its top two overdrive ratios to  let you keep up with the traffic.

The V6 does have a tremendous amount of pull when the Navara is unladen, but when you’re dragging a trailer it’s the auto box that’s the limiting factor in terms of pace. In practice, more power just means more slip, so refinement tends to go out the window to be replaced by a lot of engine noise.

It’s a stable enough cruiser with a trailer on, however. We found that the 60-profile tyres on its 18-inch rims tend to tramline in the ruts in the left lane of your typical British motorway, which can in turn get the trailer snaking a little, but it stays on the right side of getting alarming and you never feel as if there’s a risk of the vehicle being pushed around. It doesn’t ride particularly smoothly, with the road surface sending plenty of white noise up through the suspension, but half a ton of sand in the back would help damp that out.

The Navara is a big vehicle, even by double-cab standards, and when you’re manoeuvring at low speeds it can feel rather unwieldy. Limited visibility over your shoulders doesn’t help here, and though there’s a rear-view camera it doesn’t have a wide enough angle to be particularly helpful. 

If you’re working at really low speeds, the gearbox needs a bit of encouragement before you get moving, and dropping into low box isn’t necessarily an option as the part-time transfer case means there’s no centre diff to let you crawl around on hard surfaces without winding it up. The standard limited-slip rear diff, meanwhile, can further impede ultra-slow progress with the steering on full lock.

If you want to impede progress for the right reasons, however, the Navara’s brakes are always wholly dependable, even with the back set being drums. It’s less of a handful than you’d expect to steer, too, and while those low-profile tyres might not help ride quality they certainly help it handle. Ours felt a little light in the nose at times with a trailer on, though.

One thing that wasn’t all that light was the amount of fuel we used in our test, which dipped far enough below 20mpg to make us wince a bit at the pump. To be fair, however, we were towing close to the vehicle’s limit and we were doing so with a heavy right foot, so the V6 engine was getting worked pretty hard.

Thing is, though, if you’re not going to work it hard, why would you bother with this engine? It’s a lovely unit, that’s for sure, smooth as anything and overflowing with grunt. But the 2.5dCi is hardly a slouch, and you can get it with a manual box – more economical, and better suited for heavy towing in many ways.

Still, the V6 is the only Navara rated to 3000kg, and that alone matters. As does the fact that for all our misgivings about its price and running cost, it’s still one hell of a truck. It might only be for the wealthy working man – but deep down, it’s still one of us.


 

Verdict 

The 3.0 V6 engine takes the Navara to a new level on the road, but its auto box blunts its impact in front of a trailer. It’s very capable, but not refined enough when worked this hard. 

+ Enormous low-down torque, sure-footed handling 

- Engine gets loud under load, low-profile tyres don’t help ride

NAVARA, TOWING TEST

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