Torque of the devil
Quite why Nissan's STX-550 Navara needs seven speeds in its automatic, I don't know. True, it delivers smooth, relentless progress over anything you point the vehicle at. And it helps the car sprint to 100kmh in less than you ever thought an open-backed load carrier with the aerodynamics of a shed should be capable of. But with 550Nm of torque available from just 1750rpm, having more gears than anyone else in the work ute game would not have been on my agenda, though it's nice to have them.
It must be the showroom staff's delight. You can just imagine a punter with a nice fat dairy payout to spend. They'd clomp into the Nissan showroom clutching a sheaf of other makers' pickup truck brochures. And they'll have swotted-up on five- cylinder this, and six-speed that, and power and torque figures that in this astonishingly well-served segment of the market have soared in recent times. Sales people at Nissan could simply shrug and say: "Well, ours has a V6, and a seven-speed transmission." But they're better than that, as it would be true to say that potential work-ute buyers or fleet owners do more research and ask more difficult questions about their segments than just about anyone else out there.
With Ford, Mazda and Volkswagen coming through with their new from-the-ground-up offerings this year, and Toyota and Isuzu revamping their own established utes, Nissan's Navara - one of the older pickups out there - has trumped them all on torque with the announcement of the segment's first six-cylinder diesel.
Even before the V6's arrival, the Navara had a useful four- cylinder diesel with 450Nm on tap, but with the excellent Mazda and Ford five-pot diesels making 470Nm, something was needed to help the trusty Navara re- establish a bit of cut-through.
Using a Renault-sourced V6 3.0-litre turbodiesel, which is also employed by Nissan's luxury Infiniti brand in Europe, the Navara has rather shut the maximum torque bragging game down, with 550Nm of twisting urge on tap at 1750rpm, and a not- to-be-sneezed at 170kW of power. Running through the seven-slot transmission - which can be manually shifted - it's a deeply impressive machine, with a quiet, long-legged gait at 100kmh that sees the tachometer sit right in that peak torque area.
Thus, it's an amazingly relaxed drive. It might have electronic 4x4 selection with the usual low-range selector, but with such mid-range grunt on offer, it will be pretty tough going that will need owners to go that deep into its repertoire.
With the minor criticism of a rather deep whine from the transmission, the Navara provides a remarkably calm, collected working environment. The deck is a little short for more awkward loads, but top-notch tie- down rails and good deep wellsides are perfect for the heavy stuff, which is what all that torque is for. Standard equipment is good, with cruise control, dual zone air con, Bluetooth, a single- slot CD FM radio with auxiliary input and USB port with audio streaming, six-speakers and steering wheel controls. Alloy wheels are included as well as a raft of electronic handling gizmos (see the spec box), six airbags and a four-star Australian NCAP safety score.
For something so relaxed and refined, a leather option and a multi-CD stacker would have been nice (some lesser Navaras get a 6-CD option), but otherwise, the V6 Navara package offers six- cylinder car-like cabin space to go with the easy-going big diesel. However, the first question many potential buyers might ask, as they run through those brochures is: "Do you do the Pathfinder (Nissan's Navara-based SUV) with the same engine?'
Well they don't for New Zealand, though it's possible to dress-up the $67,990 Navara pretty well, with a canopy and a bit of fruit and still not go too far past the mere four-cylinder diesel Pathfinder's $77,600 sticker.
The Aussies do get a V6 diesel Pathfinder, and in Europe, if you're on a more luxurious budget, the Infiniti brand's loaded sport crossovers and sedans use the V6 diesel to compete with the luxury Range Rovers, X5, Q7 and ML brigade and their related four- door siblings.
Nissan-Renault obviously thinks the V6 turbo diesel engine has much talent. It is judged sufficiently refined to be the performance choice for the Renault Laguna Coupe, while the top-of-the-tree Grand Espace people-mover also gets the engine. It all goes to show how effective the Renault Nissan relationship has been, following Carlos Ghosn's bringing of the two companies together 10 years ago. Nissan returns the favour of using Renault's four and six-cylinder diesels by supplying the French concern with four and six cylinder petrol engines, along with CVT transmissions.
The big shame is that there isn't something else in New Zealand using this power unit.
NISSAN NAVARA STX-550
Drivetrain: Front-mounted quad cam turbocharged 2993cc 24v V6 turbo diesel, with AWD and seven-speed automatic and selectable high-low range all wheel drive.
Performance: Max 170kW at 3750rpm, 550Nm at 1750rpm. 0-100kmh 9.0 seconds, 9.3L/100km 243g/km CO2.
Chassis: Independent coil-sprung double-wishbones at front, rigid axle and leaf springs at rear. Racking and pinion power steering. 17 inch alloy wheels with 255/65R17 tyres.
Safety: Front, side and curtain airbags (6), four-star NCAP rating, ABS, ESP, Active braking limited slip differential.
Dimensions: L 5296mm, H 1795mm, W 1848mm, W/base 3200mm, F/R tracks 1570mm, Wt 2177kg, Fuel 80L.
Pricing: Navara STX-550 $67,990, other ST and RX Navaras available from $42,400.
Hot: Lusty, relaxed diesel and seven-speed transmission; indefatigable demeanour off road; 3000kg tow rating.
Not: Engine deserves other outlets; bigger tray would be nice, as would a higher-specification version.
Verdict: King of the hill in terms of grunt, the STX-550 comes to the Nissan manifest just in time.