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The Nissan Navara: First among equals

Double cab pickups are a mystery to me. I don’t understand why anyone really buys one. A standard one tonne pickup is all anyone ever needs. It’s basically a tool that carries stuff around, that’s why it’s called a pickup.

A double cab on the other hand is a concession with seemingly no upsides. You get a smaller bed to carry your stuff for a tight rear seat that can only accommodate small people.

This is immediately a problem as the kind of people found at construction sites and farms are anything but petite. So what exactly is the purpose of a double cab pickup? I took one of the most popular, a 2008 Nissan Navara for a day trip into the heart of Mwingi to find out.

Aesthetics

It’s a handsome-looking brute. Simple elegant lines and an affable gait make this one of the most popular double cabs on the market. On the looks department, the Navara is imposing.

With the flattened sides and huge friendly face, it looks distinctly upper class, yet still blue-collar enough to fit in at the construction site or farm.

Double cab pickups, like the Ford Ranger and Toyota Hilux, have all evolved from bare bones workhorses to rival the refined driving dynamics of saloon cars on the road, the off road abilities of an SUV and the most important of all, a slumming it look for the well-heeled.

The Navara blends both worlds effortlessly. It looks natural on the farm and will, after a proper hosing down, fit in in the office car park on Monday. A perfect fit aesthetically then.

Interior

Compared to its rivals the Navara seems a bit more refined, like the construction worker who’s always neat and organised, standing out amidst its dishevelled scruffy peers.

Step inside and pretentions fade away as you’re greeted by varying shades of dark grey plastics and a simple dashboard layout. The dials are intuitive and easy to use and feel solid to the touch but it’s all a bit too farm like and not nearly as snazzy one would expect of such a good looking car.

Most people who buy a double cab will be managerial types who need the pickup abilities but also a nice place to sit in and it just doesn’t do that enough. The generous display is crisp and clear and the steering wheel controls are a nice touch considering it’s almost 10 years old but the overwhelming feeling is that they could’ve definitely done better.

Rear legroom is noticeably more generous than its rivals but the clinically upright seats are not any more comfortable than wooden church pews. All in all, the interior feels a bit too honest and basic for what is essentially a luxury pickup.

Driving

On the road it’s a drunken tap dancer, maybe it had to do more with the all-terrain tyres, which in my experience, are as stable as a cocaine-addicted kangaroo. But then first gear was powerless as it waited for the turbo to spool.

The road to Mwingi is deceptively rough and bumpy and I came across four accidents. It’s like driving on a water mattress; you only have complete control as long as you keep below 10kph.

Of course everyone was keeping at about 80, safely below the 100kph limit but even then every driver is starkly aware that they’re on the limit. In a leaf-sprung, high-riding Navara on all terrain tyres you can keep it in a straight line only if you put up a good fight and a brave face, holding firmly onto the steering lest it snap sideways.

The suspension feels like spaghetti on anything but the smoothest surfaces, which on the 200km stretch were few and far between. Under the bonnet a 2.5-litre turbo-diesel sends some 140 horsepower to all four wheels, hardly enough for a workhorse but compliments this with a generous serving of 403 Nm of torque at 2,000 rpm.

This makes light work of pretty much anything; a 1 tonne payload feels featherweight reminding naysayers that despite the pretty face, the Navara is still at the heart of it, a proper pick up.

Biggest drawback? The ride was a bit too hard for my liking, doubtlessly as a result of the pedestrian leaf spring set up. Thankfully Nissan ditched them in favour of springs for the next generation.

Verdict

There’s a growing market for what seems like the perfect car; proper off road abilities, pickup practicality and on-road saloon demeanour: all can be met by a modern double cab pickup.

While the 2008 Navara was in a class of one, over time other manufacturers have turned up the dial, making the rivals just as visually enticing and hard to beat when it comes to interior refinement. The VW Amarok, Renault Alaskan and upcoming Mercedes S Class are all clamouring for a piece of that market.

The 2008 Navara is still an impressive car almost a decade later and driving it you feel the innate quality that made the Navara name. Just make sure you don’t fit all terrain rubber, which ruins the ride quality irredeemably.

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