When Nissan first unveiled its all-new Navara N-Trek Warrior in October this year, we had a chance to quickly poke around it then and were impressed by the exterior – but now, we’ve finally been able to drive it in proper Aussie conditions to see if the Warrior does what’s promised on the tin. Can a top-shelf Navara take the fight to big-name utes like the Toyota HiLux Rugged X, the HSV SportsCat, or the Ford Ranger Raptor?
The Australian-fettered Warrior arrives as a new halo grade in the Navara line-up, sitting above the regular N-Trek. The exclusive-to-Australia Warrior receives some serious reworking underneath from Melbourne engineering firm Premcar. Promises are heavy with the Warrior, with extensive testing carried out in tough Aussie conditions – from the thermal labs at Melbourne University to the desert region of northwestern Victoria.
The Australian thread includes far more than just testing. After arriving off the boat from Thailand, a Navara N-Trek travels to Premcar’s assembly line in Epping, Victoria, with 40 Australian specialists transforming the ute into the truck known as the Warrior. Most of the forty worked for Ford, Holden and Toyota’s now-defunct local plants.
The Warrior isn’t cheap – but while its sticker price of $62,990 driveaway would once have been considered steep in a dual-cab, Nissan isn’t worried. It’s considerably cheaper than a $75,990 Ford Ranger Raptor – in fact, it’s more affordable than a $63,290 Ranger Wildtrak. Plus, with a 40% spike in sales for utes over $60,000 in Australia this year, there is a market here. It seems more buyers than ever before are being drawn to the rugged looks and the prospect of wilder weekend adventures – but can a dirt-focussed truck really do double duty?
On the Australian launch we had a chance to test an unladen Warrior on a typical weekend away for an owner, taking in a loop across some of Victoria’s most jaw-dropping scenery. From twisting black top and goat-track climbs, the route seemingly had it all. From pulling out of the first junction in the Warrior it was clear that a sticker set this is not, with the Warrior’s significant alterations adding to on-road prowess as well as off-road capability.
Much of the impressive dynamics come down to the Aussie-honed spring and damper set-up by Premcar, boasting softer initial spring rates by six percent front and eight percent rear, while increasing the secondary rear spring rate to resist bottom out. The dampers are completely new units too, which are physically larger with increased damping rates, the front units are fitted with ingenious jounce dampers (essentially elongated bump stops) to resist harsh bottom outs.
Taking the Navara Warrior off road revealed just how well the suspension is set-up for heavier-duty stuff. At high speeds on Dargo High Plains Road, the Warrior devoured harsh corrugations and demonstrated remarkably precise steering on loose surfaces. As the day wound on we traversed more treacherous conditions – one sketchy section plagued with offset wombat holes called for a switch into low-range with a locked rear diff. After setting the Warrior up as suggested, this two-tonne ute clambered up a climb we could barely walk with ease – a real testament to the Cooper Discoverer tyres. Not a single time did we scrape the Warrior on the test loop, at times thanks to the new body-coloured bull bar – it’s more than just for looks after all – which gives a 35º approach angle and with the 40mm lift offering a generous 268mm of ground clearance. The whole loop the Warrior’s chassis remained entirely composed and unflustered.
The untouched 140kW and 450Nm 2.3-litre twin-turbo diesel does feel asthmatic at times on the road, showed it is entirely adequate off the beaten track – even this donk is never truly inspiring. It returned 14.4L/100km on this first test that included plenty of hill climbing. The Warrior retains the impressive 3.5-tonne towing capacity of its siblings, too. As for the automatic gearbox, it does the job of shifting ratios well enough, although it does refuse shifts in manual mode more often than we’d like. Overall the drivetrain package is admirable, but it’s in the heavily-fettled suspension department that the Warrior shines.
On the aesthetic front, the tweaks for the Warrior are individually subtle but the package adds up to a ruggedly attractive truck with a beefed-up stance. There’s a decal pack, naturally, but it is fairly subdued. The bigger body-coloured bull-bar makes the biggest visual impact, with the very functional 3mm stainless steel skid-plate poking out beneath and a Hella LED light bar mounted front-and-centre it looks like a serious machine.
Inside, the underlying Navara offers one of the more car-like cabins of the segment, even if it is hard to hide this vehicle’s humble work-truck beginnings. When you compare the interior of a $60,000 dual cab to an equivalent SUV or passenger car, it’s easy to see the prioritisation of important mechanicals over snazzy plastics. The eight-inch touchscreen works well, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability now included. Materials used are of the hard-wearing variety – though build quality is impressive, with no appreciable movement of any surfaces even with solid prodding.
The seats are lifted from the Navara N-Trek, with the Warrior sharing that car’s orange stitching, though the Warrior does grab embroidered headrests. The pews are comfy, too – after nine hours of rough terrain we had no signs of a sore spine. Another plus for the long hauls was the impressive cabin storage well-sized door bins in front and back, three cup-holders, three twelve-volt plugs and a USB input. Rear-seat practicality is one of the Navara’s strong points, with the ability to fit three across the back easily.
The addition of modern smartphone mirroring tech in the wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto systems is welcome and necessary, and overall the Navara’s cabin is decently equipped, though it does miss out on any USB charge sockets in the fairly spacious second row. The Navara scored five stars in the ANCAP safety test in 2015, so retains that rating and is equipped with driver, passenger and curtain airbags while finally adding an AEB system to the Navara family.
Depending on what your needs are, the Navara’s tray could be a blessing or a curse and it will probably be the decider of whether the Warrior does, or doesn’t, work for you. The ease of throwing a bike in the tray is hard to argue with, but storing camping valuables overnight is out of the question in anything other than the wilderness. It also made for difficult carrying of luggage on the trip, sure it’s fine when only front seats are occupied, but without a tonneau cover we had to fill the rear seat room with overnight bags.
Although development was carried out externally by Premcar, Nissan happily offers a five year unlimited kilometre warranty (although for commercial use that’s capped at 200,00km), which is refreshing given that performing modifications like this aftermarket has the potential to void manufacturer’s warranty. Otherwise the engine is a proven item, and the beefed up dampers and other items should make for an even more reliable machine.
In terms of rivals to consider, this is a crowded market. To its credit, the Navara N-Trek Warrior promises a uniquely strong level of Australian development and manufacturing that no other ute in this space can match, but smart buyers will also test drive the HSV Colorado SportsCat, Ford Ranger Raptor and the Hilux Rugged X.
The bespoke suspension is what makes the Navara Warrior great. Premcar and Nissan have really gone to town to create a vehicle that has a far broader set of skills than a regular Navara. If this was a suspension test alone, the Warrior would probably score even higher, but an engine that simply ‘does the job’ without reaching for the heights of an Amarok’s V6 diesel or the smoothness of Ford’s new two-litre holds the ute back.That said, the Warrior strikes an excellent balance for a vehicle that is inherently compromised. It made an off-roading newbie feel confident in every condition it faced, and that’s high praise in our book.
Key specs (as tested)
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