Eight decades of Pickups

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Pickups have long been part of the motoring scene, but it’s still pretty surprising to realise how far back they go. Nissan has just launched its new NP300 Navara (the NP is for Nissan Pickup), arriving in UK showrooms this month, and a quick look back at the history of its predecessors unearths the surprising fact that the company’s first pickup was 80 years ago, at a time when the brand name was Datsun.

With ancestors going back to 1930s, pickups have traditionally been known as brawny utility vehicles that called for the muscular strength of a cartoon Desperate Dan to drive them. They’ve come a long way since then. You no longer need stand-out sinews and steroidal muscles to heave one around a corner. They’re much more manageable to drive these days.

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Even so, today’s pickups still tend to be designed around tall blokes, and for anyone a bit more vertically challenged it’s something of a heave getting into the new Navara. It’s still quite butch in structure and a big chunk of vehicle – weighing in at almost two tons and five and a half metres in length. So climbing aboard involves a steep upward haul into the cabin.

No brawn needed

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Image Credit: Sue Baker

Once installed, though, everything feels much more normally car-like.  There’s no demand for brawn when you’re in the driving seat, because the controls are comfortably weighted and the dash design is more urban crossover than rugged utility vehicle. Your surroundings wouldn’t disgrace an executive saloon, albeit a rather elevated one. You can certainly see over hedges in this.

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Nissan’s engineers have transformed the Navara mechanically. Gone is the old and relatively crude leaf-spring suspension of the previous model. In its place is a new suspension design with coil springs, a more sophisticated arrangement that has noticeably improved the ride quality.

The engine has undergone an upgrade too. It used to be a 2.5 litre diesel unit in the old Navara, but now it’s powered by a more efficient 2.3 litre turbodiesel with a choice of two power outputs, 158 bhp or 187 bhp. Fuel consumption is 40-ish per gallon on the combined figure.

More poise, less lean

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Image Credit: Sue Baker

 

For anyone who has driven older pickups and endured the punishing ride, lurchy cornering and gruff noise that were inevitably associated with this kind of vehicle, the newly overhauled Navara is a bit of a revelation. The ride is now much more cushioned, it handles the bends with civilised panache and it is quite surprisingly refined.

Yes, you can provoke the big Navara into mildly bad boy behaviour, but you’d have to be driving in a pretty daft manner to do it. It’s brisk, well-behaved and really quite good fun to drive. The standard gearbox is six-speed but there’s also a seven-speed auto.

Double or King

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Image Credit: Sue Baker

 

You can choose between  two body styles. The budget one is the King Cab, with short, backwards-opening rear doors and a rather basic bench-style back seat. The more up-scale version, which tends to be more popular here in the UK, is the Double Cab. It has conventional rear doors, and also rear seats that are more defined and much better upholstered.

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So where’s the Navara made? It comes from a factory in Thailand, well placed for Asian markets, which might make you wonder about how basic the kit list will be. It isn’t though, and higher-spec versions come with all the niceties you’d expect in an executive model, such as colour screen satellite navigation and a rear-view camera for stress-free reversing.

The new Navara’s price list starts from a whisker below £22,000 (or £18,376 if it’s a business buy without the VAT). At the top of the range it costs the thick end of £31,000, but a likely top seller is the Navara N-Connecta Double Cab 4×4 Auto at £28,995. A new one bought today has a warranty lasting until 2021, or good for 100,000 miles. That’s some workhorse.

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Sue Baker is a seasoned motoring journalist with a love of all things automotive.