Utes are big sellers here, accounting for almost 25 per cent of the new vehicle market.
The Hilux and Ranger are locked in a sales battle for the number one spot, not only in the ute segment but in overall new vehicle sales.
Toyota is only just holding on to the year-to-date ute sales lead by 32 units. It has been the best selling new vehicle in New Zealand for the past three years, easily besting the perennial favourite Kiwi car, the Corolla.
Nissan's Navara is the third best selling ute year to date, which is not bad going for an aging truck. It's to be replaced midway through next year by the new D23; production ends soon but Nissan NZ has enough stock to last through to the D23's launch.
Much has been reported on the new Navara's power, some commentators poking the borax at its moderate output, despite not having driven it. Having actually had reasonable wheel time in the new Navara with its smaller capacity engine, now 2.3 litres instead of 2.5 previously, I believe it is not so much the output that matters but rather how it delivers it.
The new twin-turbo set-up makes for smooth and quiet operation, the torque delivered from right off the bottom of the rev range.
The new Euro-designed engine uses a small unit to get things cranking early and minimise lag, with a larger turbo coming on around 2000rpm to keep the torque flowing and ramping up the power. There's a much broader spread of torque now, as a result, and it is happy to grunt from right down low, lugging well with just 1000rpm on the dial. The torque is fully formed by 1500rpm and remains strong right up to 4500rpm. It's reasonably hushed too. The unit works well with both the manual and the seven-stage auto which replaces the old five-speed unit. There will also be a single turbo variant of the 2.3 to power the entry level models producing 118kW and 403Nm.
Some reports indicate Nissan is working on a higher output version to satisfy those who might need a big number on the side of their truck, but most commentators appear to have overlooked the fact that the new Navara could well be the most fuel efficient in the sector. That's presuming Nissan's claimed 20 per cent improvement in consumption proves correct via independent testing (expect 6.8-7.2L/100km, roughly).
Given that Navara's tow and hauling capabilities have also been improved - now out to 3500kg braked - and it has a new-found refinement via its SUV-like interior fit out and coil sprung rear, those who drive it will realise it's not the numbers that count, but how well the package performs as a whole. And only after driving it can anyone really make that call.
So the new leaner Navara may no longer rule the power and torque roost but it's a better, more sophisticated truck that is still tough enough. Think:working smarter, not harder. The D23 is another step in the evolution of the ute to becoming a more rounded, do-it-all machine.
Finally, a few other key features about the new Navara for the curious. It is roughly the same size as the existing D40, the main dimensional differences being a 22mm drop in roof height, and a 50mm reduction in wheelbase to help improve the turning circle (tighter by 20cm, at 12.4m). It is also 70kg lighter overall, while the aero Cd figure has dropped from 0.41 to 0.37 thanks to the reduced roof height, and smoother underbody.
Inside, the cabin takes on a more refined character with plenty of SUV-like design cues and features. There are still plenty of hard plastics but it looks good with enough soft touch points in the right places. The cabin space is about the same as for the D40.
Specification in the top variant extends to a smart key, a sat nav infotainment system, a reversing camera, rear sensors and a leather interior. All models will get stability control and at least six air bags. Four by four versions feature the usual transfer case with 4-lo, but the rear mechanical LSD makes way for a lighter electronic diff lock; this uses the ESP system to brake spinning wheels. A five-star crash rating is expected.