LIGHT COMMERCIAL TEST - Nissan Navara ST-X ticks the towing boxes

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Some six years ago when NZ Fishing News editor, Grant Dixon, was in the market for a new tow vehicle, the corporate constraints of the time limited his spend, although there was a concession on safety – it had to tow three tonnes of braked trailer and boat! The selection process was an interesting one. I went down the utility route and was able to tow-test drive four of the more popular models, including a last generation Nissan Navara. Being an older model at the time it didn’t win first prize and wasn’t even on the podium.


Photo: Launching and retrieving off Waipu Cove beach was well within the capabilities of the Navara ST-X 4x4.

It got points off for the harshness of the ride, not a great turning circle and most importantly, didn’t tow that well - it was a bit gutless. Fortunately, the company accountant was not making the decision, as it was the best priced at the time. Freespool six years forward and I was presented with the opportunity to re-judge the new-look Navara and was to like what I saw. Deputy editor Miah Dixon and I took it from Auckland to Waipu and back for the weekend, towing at various times our own personal boat Tackle Tester, a FC 535 Centre Console – and the company project boat Fishing News - a Buccaneer Billfisher 735. These weighed in at just under one and three tonne respectively and represent a fair challenge to the Navara, especially the bigger Fishing News. When I first drove the Navara sans boat, I was impressed with how nimble it was. Off the mark it is quick thanks to the twin turbo 2.3-litre DOHC intercooled diesel.


Photo: The tight, steep corners of the Mangawhai-Waipu Road are a good test for any tow vehicle.

It handled nicely, sat firmly through the corners with little or no body roll, and was comfortable to drive thanks to the eight-way electrically adjusting driver’s seat. The vehicle had come a long way from the ‘agricultural’ performance of my earlier test drive. Around town and general highway driving gets the big tick. Even under heavy braking the Navara pulled up straight and quickly. The suspension is firm and the Navara holds well into the corners both with and without the boat on behind. So, to the towing. First up was Tackle Tester which we launched into the surf at Waipu Cove, a task we normally perform with a tractor. I put the Navara in four-wheel drive for the exercise, but need not have worried. Pulling the boat through both the lower hard-packed sand, as well as the softer stuff above the high-water mark was not a challenge. When retrieving a boat off the beach you need to be careful not to stay in one place for too long, giving the water time to dig the sand out from under the wheels, creating a hole and a potential issue. No such trouble this day despite at times a halfmetre swell. Launching and retrieving the 5.35-metre boat was easy - another box ticked.


Photo: With close to three tonne of boat behind, the  Navara handled the load well. Eighteen-inch alloy wheels are standard on the ST-X  models, along with roof rails, Hill Descent Control, reversing sensors, Hill Start Assist, full-sized spare wheel, dual climate control, touch screen satellite imaging/navigation, remote keyless entry and ignition and heated door mirrors to name most of them!

Now for the big boat. The Enduro tandem trailer under Fishing News is braked on both axles with an electric override system as required by law for a laden trailer weighing more than 2500kg. I had my doubts about the ability of a 2.3-litre motor being able to do the job. However, the Navara’s Twin Turbo engine and 7-speed auto – with manual option – towed the boat up the hills well. The manual option was handy to maintain control especially on the downhill bits. Anyone who knows the road between Waipu Cove and Mangawhai will appreciate it has some tight twists and turns both ways, and with plenty of traffic you need to be careful to stay well within your lane, especially around the two 25kmh signposted corners. Both these corners have become corrugated over the hot summer and the Navara maintained good traction, although only in two-wheel-drive, while dragging the boat up the steep incline and turning quite sharply.


Photo: A 360° surround camera image is an interesting and practical safety feature.

I would be quite comfortable towing the Buccaneer for the long haul. Another box ticked. The Navara we were given for the weekend was the topof- the line model and had several innovative features that impressed me. Any angler who uses a double cab utility vehicle will appreciate the shortcomings they have when it comes to transporting longer one-piece rods. Nissan have fixed this with an electrically-operated sliding back window - obviously its Japanese designers were fishermen! Carrying unusually shaped or heavy loads requires good anchor points. The Navara has four standard securing points in the tray, but particularly useful is its Utili-track system, which enables the user to slide the anchor points in rails fitted the length of the deck. On the way up Miah brought a kayak – notoriously slippery and difficult to secure – which was held in place using tie-downs and the Utili-track set to where the anchor points were most effective.


Photo: A unique feature of the Navara ST-X is an electric back window, perfect for travelling with those longer rods that don’t fit anywhere else. 


Photo: Tying a deck load down securely is made easier with the moveable Utili-track system, a feature unique to the Navara.

The other feature was the camera system. While the standard reversing camera was nothing new, what was impressive was with separate displays it showed a 360-degree, bird’s eye view around the vehicle – great when manoeuvring in tight spaces or when making sure there are no children or animals in your path. The vehicle has all the mod cons you would expect from a range’s top model. There is plenty of safety built into the ST-X 4x4. Brake assist, downhill descent control – great for off-road – hill start assist, and advanced driver assist being some of the key ones. The only feature I found a little annoying was the compass; illuminated with bright orange digital display in the left-hand corner of the rear vision mirror, it was quite distracting until I found the off-button! Apart from that small niggle, I found the Navara a solid vehicle, well-appointed and comfortable – ticking all the tow boxes.