With just how popular dual-cab utes are in Australia, and how common it is for owners to modify them extensively, many manufacturers have taken to offering factory-modified examples of their 4×4 utes that are ready to tackle tough terrain right off the dealership floor, and all with the piece of mind that everything fitted to it is manufacturer approved and covered by the car’s warranty.
Although beaten to the punch by the likes of Ford, Toyota, and HSV, Nissan Australia is the latest company to enter the arena with the Navara N-Trek Warrior, which you may be surprised to learn is actually doing its little bit to help keep the scraps of Aussie car manufacturing alive.
Priced from $62,990 drive-away and sold exclusively in Australia and New Zealand for now, you might think that it’s an awful lot of money to pay for a Navara, and I’d ordinarily agree, but, you see, there’s nothing ordinary at all about this Navara. Don’t think for a second that this is all show and no trousers, as plenty of Aussie engineering has gone into making it feel perfectly adapted to our conditions.
Starting out in life as a regular Navara N-Trek when it rolls off the production line in Thailand, it then gets shipped to Premcar – the outfit that rose from the ashes of Ford Performance Vehicles (FPV) – in Melbourne to have a host of upgrades fitted to it.
At first glance, you’ll notice that a hoopless body-coloured steel bullbar replaces the typical plastic bumper and has a 470mm LED lightbar bolted to it, there’s a 3mm thick stainless steel bash plate to protect the engine sump and front diff, it sports some massively pumped-up bolt-on wheel arch flares, a smattering of decals and orange highlights have been plastered all over the thing, a towbar with a unique cross-member is fitted as stndard, and there’s a set of Rosta alloy wheels that are unique to the Warrior.
Get past the undeniably tough visuals, though, and you’ll discover that the changes underneath are quite substantial. Those alloy wheels, for instance, are an inch smaller in diameter than on the regular N-Trek model but a kilo lighter and a centimetre wider to allow for the fitment of some serious off-road rubber – American-made 275/70 Cooper Discoverer AT3s with light truck construction that measure in at 32.2 inches in diameter, to be precise. The wider rubber means the wheel track is now widened by 30mm, too.
Dig deeper though and it’s the suspension that has been given the biggest overhaul here. After cycling through multiple suspension tunes, Premcar settled on giving the Navara 20mm suspension lift with non-progressive front coil springs and progressive rear coil springs that are softer than those on the regular model, along with beefy 35mm twin-tube shock absorbers from Tenneco and larger but softer front bump stops to deliver more control when the suspension is at maximum compression.
Combined with the extra height from the tyres, the Warrior rides 42mm higher than the regular N-Trek, affording it an impressive 268mm of ground clearance and 27.5 degree breakover angle which is up by 2.8 degrees. The design of the steel bullbar also increases its approach angle by 1.8 degrees taking it to 35 degrees, although the standard towbar fitment reduces its departure angle to 19 degrees.
However, while its towing capacity remains at the same 3500kg as the regular N-Trek, the extra weight of all the Warrior’s extra bits of kit like that heavy steel bullbar mean that its payload is reduced by nearly 200kg to just 724kg due to a lack of any GVM increase.
This isn’t the end of the world as far as I’m concerned though, as while most lower-tier Navara variants feature rear leaf springs like most utes do, the higher-spec’d models including both the regular N-Trek and this N-Trek Warrior have coil springs in the rear as mentioned before. If past load-lugging experiences with the D40 Navara have taught me anything, it’s that coil springs are not ideal for it one bit as they cause the rear of the ute sag under a heavy load, reducing traction over the front wheels.
But while its departure angle and payload may be downgraded, there are plenty of nice upgrades inside. Like the normal N-Trek, it features heated leather seats with an orange cloth centre section and power adjustment for the driver, orange contrast stitching on the steering wheel and armrests, a digital speedometer, dual-zone climate control, and a brand-new 8.0-inch infotainment system that is an unbelievably massive step up over the old unit as its graphics are vastly improved and it now features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto although digital radio is an omission.
Unique to the N-Trek Warrior is the model designation embroidered onto the front seat headrests in orange, along with carpet floor mats with orange stitching and ‘Navara’ embroidery. It is curious that carpet mats, rather than rubber, are fitted, however, as it seems somewhat counterintuitive to fit it with floor mats that will be more difficult to clean and care for.
Although the cabin finishes are nice and the switchgear all feels pretty solid, it’s not an interior I found I bonded with well at 6’2″ due to some ergonomic challenges such as my knee hitting against the door card, the steering wheel not going high enough and lacking reach adjustment, and the seat feeling a tad firm on longer drives.
The interior storage spaces aren’t quite right in my eyes, either, as both the trays atop the dash and behind the shifter are too slippery and shallow, causing your phone to fly out and across the cabin at the first sign of a corner, while the door bins aren’t deep enough for storing paperwork in.
Whether its because this press demonstrator may have been rushed through production or not, I’m not sure, but there were some build quality issues on my tester worth noting as well, such as some lifting trim on and big panel gaps around the front bumper, while the heated seats didn’t seem to work at all despite me pulling the fuse – the obvious first point of call – and finding that it wasn’t blown.
The floor section of the plastic tubliner was missing, too, although while we’re on the topic of the tray I must praise the very clever adjustable tie down points Nissan fits to it which are a genius idea in my eyes as it allows you to truly ensure you’re securing items you put back there in the right place.
Under the bonnet of the N-Trek Warrior is the same 2.3-litre four-cylinder twin-turbo diesel you’ll find in most other Navara variants which produces 140kW and 450Nm – both numbers that were quite healthy a few years ago, but are starting to fall behind some of the competition.
A six-speed manual gearbox comes standard, but for $2500 extra you can upgrade to a seven-speed torque converter automatic like what was fitted to my tester, with both options channeling the power to a selectable part-time four-wheel drive system with dual-range.
With the Navara’s engine – which is relatively small by class standards – utilising a sequential turbocharging system, the power delivery in some regards reminds me of the engine in a Subaru Liberty B4, as it doesn’t feel all that potent while on the first turbo, there’s a perceptible gulf in the power band as it switches to the second, and only does it feel like it really gets on the power once the second turbo is fully spooled above 3000rpm.
As a result, the extra weight of the Warrior with all of its additions means that at lower revs, such as around town, the lack of low-end grunt does feel to be more clearly exacerbated. However, when you’re on the open road and can drive it more spiritedly, it does really feel to open up the harder you push it and certainly feels potent enough when kept higher in the rev range, which is admittedly strange for a diesel.
While I can’t speak for the manual, not that I expect that many buyers to opt for it anyway, the seven-speed auto tested here is a real treat – incredibly smooth to shift and fairly responsive, it’s geared well, too, with its shorter ratios working well to keep the engine in its sweet spot while being driven with vigour, while also offering a tall seventh that keeps the revs low and the engine feeling relaxed on the open road.
And driving on the open road, I did a lot of, as to put this toughened-up off-roading Navara to the test, I decided to head out to the Loveday 4×4 Adventure Park in the South Australian Riverland, which was a 520km round trip from my home in the Adelaide Hills.
Mercifully, then, the Warrior makes for a fantastic open-road cruiser. For one thing, the gearing of its top ratio is excellent for keeping the engine whisper quiet by class standards when sitting at 110km/h all day, which is merciful given the engine is horribly clattery under load and not actually all that gruff-sounding like you may hope for in a ute, instead reminding more of its origins as a Renault van engine.
While the rear coil springs might be rubbish for carrying a load in the tray, they are marvellous for ironing out the bumps even in the ‘normal’ Navara, but with the softer springs and beefier shocks fitted by Premcar, the Warrior feels even better, and is testament to the fact that those who’ll do the best job of tailoring a car’s ride to suit Australia’s unique conditions are Aussies.
Not only does its ride feel better-judged, but it handles more competently than the standard Navara, too, remaining far flatter through the bends and displaying barely a fraction of the body roll. Truly, it’s a noticeable improvement all-around when it comes to its on-road performance.
But as soon as I hit even the 3km long driveway the the Loveday Tavern, the check-in and payment point I’d need to visit before hitting the ‘Tour Track’ I subsequently pitted the Warrior against, it already displayed a big difference in the Navara’s handling of bumpy gravel roads, as the beefed-up suspension keeps it feeling nicely sorted, and doesn’t throw you around nearly as much as, say, the comparably-priced Toyota HiLux Rugged X.
Fee paid, sticker stuck on windscreen, and low range selected, it was time to finally hit the sandy Mallee soil, and quickly it became clear that at these fairly low speeds – the track had a 40km/h speed limit, not that there were that many opportunities to get it up to that speed – the all-terrain Cooper tyres certainly didn’t struggle for traction at all on the soft surface, even when it did occasionally get a bit sludgier after the rains came mid-way through the day. I must note, though, that on a different day out on the sand of Goolwa Beach, it didn’t feel quite as tractable and secure as many other cars I’ve put to the test out there.
The Warrior’s dramatically increased approach and breakover angles – thanks to the bulbar and lift respectively – meant that not once did I hear a scrape from anything despite the steepness of some of the inclines and subsequent declines littered throughout the track.
If there’s any weakness to be picked out anywhere, its a lack of articulation from the rear axle that saw it cocking a hind leg both here on some of the more testing parts of the track at Loveday and on some of my usual benchmarking four-wheel drive spots around the Adelaide Hills, although the standard fitment of a rear differential lock means it isn’t nearly as much of an issue as it could be.
The 360-degree camera system also came in incredibly handy for judging where you were placing the vehicle through tighter obstacles, although it must be said that the resolution of it is laughably poor and the lightbar does obstruct the view from the front-facing camera.
Despite the slight gutlessness of the low-displacement engine on the road, its low-range gearing does actually make it feel a lot torquier low down than you might think, although when trying to pull yourself out of stickier situations, it certainly does require a few more revs than many other oilers would.
Truth be told though, around the incredibly enjoyable Tour Track at Loveday, which puts both your vehicle and your driving skills to the test without ever feeling too perilous and as if it were designed solely to do its best job of trying to break your car like some courses, the Warrior failed to struggle with anything that was thrown at it, and even if things did get trickier, there was at least the peace of mind of the underside of it being protected with that thick steel sump guard.
In comparison with the normal Navara, the N-Trek Warrior feels like a better vehicle in almost every measurable way. Far more comfortable, nicer to drive, better looking, and vastly improved when it comes to its off-roading abilities, the only drawbacks it really seems to suffer are those the regular Navara suffers from also.
Some minor build quality issues aside, which is perhaps understandable with what can be viewed as both a modified vehicle and a semi-hand-made one, there’s nothing to complain about when it comes to the additions Premcar has given it, and it must be said that the work being done locally and independently does mean that the price is kept down significantly in comparison to the ute most will compare it against – the Ford Ranger Raptor.
For the money though, I truly think it presents far more pros than it does cons. The best off-road ute out there? Perhaps not, but it is an undoubtedly impressive effort from Nissan Australia that warrants a lot of attention and I doubt will leave buyers disappointed.
2020 Nissan Navara N-Trek Warrior Drive-Away Price: $62,990 | As Tested: $66,040
Pros: Incredibly quiet and comfortable on the open road, revised suspension helps it handle and ride better than the standard Navara, truly impressive off-road performance, great new infotainment system, looks the business
Cons: Challenging cabin ergonomics for taller folks, big payload reduction, underwhelming lightbar, could do with more low-down grunt to compensate for weight gain, some minor build quality issues
In a nutshell: The N-Trek Warrior not only marks a massive improvement over the regular Navara, but delivers truly impressive off-road chops and presents a fair amount of value for the money.
Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Nissan Australia for a week with a full tank of fuel. All additional fuel costs and Loveday 4×4 Adventure Park entry fees were paid for by the author.