In Light Commercial Test10 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineJune 8, 2020

With the competitive ute market to get a shakeup as Holden‘s Colorado bows out, now‘s the time to reconsider an all-rounder with enduring appeal.

Photo: Navara‘s lines have stood up well to the passing of time, though black pack and orange accents do sharpen its visual appeal.

The news that Holden will cease to exist as a brand this year has put a bomb under the local ute market. Forgetting the effects of coronavirus on the industry, Holden‘s Colorado was fourth on the new light commercials sales table in 2019, holding nine percent of that market. Nine percent equated to 4747 sales last year, and once the last Colorado has sold, those sales will go to other brands. One of them is Nissan, for though its Navara has been trucking along without major changes since this generation launched internationally in 2014, it remains a steady seller. It was fifth on the new commercial tables in 2019 for seven percent of the market: clearly it‘s time to revisit this steady performer. The example we got our hands on was the 2WD double cab ST-X; the topspec 2WD in a seven-variant line-up that includes four 4WD versions. Some 14,301 two-wheel drive utes sold here last year, against 24,606 four-wheel drive versions. Clearly enough folk need a ute‘s utility – but not the extra abilities of a 4WD. Going rear-drive brings improved fuel economy, less tyre wear and lower purchase cost, but these days you make few other compromises – even the ground clearance is the same: the 2WD ST-X standing 228mm above the tar, identical to its 4WD equivalent.

Photo: Orange cloth and stitching accents to leather seats and trim give cabin a lift;

Photo: Plenty of storage, uncluttered layout and solid controls that can be operated in gloves make this an easy cabin in which to spend time;

Photo: This may be a 2WD version, but modern traction and stability control systems mean that unless you‘re really heading into the rough, she‘ll be right.

This specification now gets a few style mods for an eyecatching look – those black wheels, sidesteps and roof rails for example, and the restrained flashes of orange outside and in, where the orange stitching and seat insets impart something of an upmarket air to what is really ‘just‘ an everyday ute. Not that some of the features feel everyday. The reversing camera, which came to the ST-X as part of a suite of updates back in 2018, is particularly useful when manoeuvring in town, or on a log-strewn forestry turnaround, as it includes an ‘around view monitor‘ (also in King Cab models). Four cameras monitor all four sides of the ute, and the 7” screen not only shows you what‘s behind, as it does in the rest of the range, but also what‘s going on each side. Effectively you‘re looking down from a position a metre or so above the vehicle to spot logs, posts or anything coming near, well in time to avoid it. It‘s invaluable when you‘re in a ute this big, especially when you frequently move around in unfamiliar or constantly changing environments. The 2018 changes also updated the rear suspension. The dual-rate setup is designed both for comfort in unladen conditions or when carrying a light payload, and drive performance under load or when towing. It also got a dynamic rebound damper, which increases resistance as it compresses to cut lateral body movement, and therefore makes the ute a tad more stable.

I‘ve recently spent quite a bit of time in a Toyota Hilux, and immediately noticed the far comfier ride in this Navara. Sure, you still know you‘re in a ute, but there‘s very little of the distracting jiggling and jolting the Toyota is subject to, while the 2018 tweak to the steering tune makes that much lighter work, even in tight turning situations, and the suspension feels more controlled. The rather plain interior has been very much lifted by those orange touches and tweaks, and as always, the relatively plain setup and the generous size of buttons and dials mean it‘s all easy to access and operate, even with mighty mitts or while wearing gloves. The more we drove this Navara, the more we liked it. It‘s not fussy, but it all works. There‘s an electric rear window that opens the centre portion – for carrying long, skinny loads or letting the dog poke its head out, or in. The various cubbies include a shallow dash-top tray with 12V charger and two small change pockets, one either side of the between-seats console. There are front seat heaters for those sharp winter days and dank autumn rains, and flip-up rear seat bases to liberate more luggage space. There‘s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, satnav with 3D mapping, Bluetooth including audio streaming, cruise control and climate-control air, there‘s keyless entry and three 12V charger sockets, auto headlights with twilight detection and privacy glass – there are even a couple of air vents in the rear for passengers.

Photo: Surround cameras make manoeuvring a doddle, especially when turns of the wheel show up in the rear-view screen.

Photo: Rails and adjustable cargo loops plus tonneau with supporting frame are standard, as is lockable tailgate.

Out back this ute includes cargo rails so you can add, remove or move the tie-down points, and tonneau bars to hold the soft lid in place – sure it limits how much you can pile up, but it‘s both safer and more secure. Our drive concentrated on hilly rural roads rather than highways, with some inner city and suburban running. That‘s thirsty work for a large vehicle, so we weren‘t too startled to see it log an 8.4l/100km average thirst rather than the claimed 6.8, and even less surprised when we noted that highway cruising returned a much lower rate of thirst for those more often travelling at open road cruising speeds. Utes cost a tad less than they did even 10 years ago. The entry-level single-cab cab chassis Navara starts the line-up at $37,990, with the entry-level double cab 2WD $40,740. This ST-X is advertised at $52,740, for those seeking a vehicle which can double as a load-hauler during working hours, and a ‘lifestyle‘ vehicle for a family of four with a trailer – or big toys – to carry. Whether you‘re after a Nissan Navara, a Colorado – before going into mourning at Holden‘s demise – or any other ute, this could be a good time to strike a hot deal. At least in the short term, Holden dealers will want to be shot of their remaining Colorado stock, so prices are likely to fall, and other companies will also sharpen their pencils.