NISSAN's latest version of its hugely popular and award-winning Navara pickup is tougher, smarter and more fuel-efficient than before - which is a good thing as it's up against equally rugged rivals from Toyota, Mitsubishi, Isuzu and Ford.
Such robust vehicles used to be for work only, but all are now increasinly ‘lifestyle' vehicles for adventurous families and - most importantly - feel a lot more like a family car to drive.
The Navara comes in two bodystyles -King Cabwith short rear doors, occasional rear seats and a longer load bed, and Double Cab with four full-size doors, proper rear seats and a shorter load bed.
The range comes in Visia, Acenta, Acenta+, N-Connecta and Tekna trims, and a top-of-the range N-Guard edition has just become available in the UK. There's also a more rugged AT32 model, a special conversion by Arctic Trucks that adds extra body cladding, and 32-inch off-road tyres.
The Navara is powered by a smooth and refined 2.3-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel engine developed specifically for commercial vehicles, with a choice of two power outputs - 163hp and 190hp. The 190bhp version here officially returns 44.9mpg, though I achieved 29.9mpg which is probably more realistic.
The powerplant can be matched to a six-speed manual or a seven-speed automatic gearbox.
Where the Navara does stand out from most of its rivals is at the rear where the suspension is a complex multi-link arrangement that uses coil springs instead of conventional leaf springs. This gives a better ride and more agile handling, without compromising its 1,000kg load-carrying ability.
The load bay itself is lined with tough plastic and securing your cargo is easy, too, due to Nissan's C-channel tie-down system. With this, moveable cleats can be locked anywhere in special tracks and on the three sides of the pickup bed. The Navara also has a towing capacity of 3,500kg.
There's not much of a change in terms of looks between the latest Navara and its predecessor but it now has rear disc brakes - and larger, more powerful front brakes - and a smarter infotainment system with an improved user-friendly eight-inch screen and connected services.
Nissan has gone to great lengths to make the Navara feel like a passenger car inside. Build quality is strong as you'd expect for a working vehicle but there's plenty of high-quality trim materials to be found, especially on higher-spec models such as the Tekna.
Up front, there's fantastically comfortable NASA designed 'zero-gravity' seats, the aforementioned infotainment screen and automatic air conditioning with dual-zone climate control.
The Tekna comes as a Double Cab only and rear seat accommodation is surprisingly good with enough space for a six-foot adult to sit behind a six-foot driver. It's officially a five-seater but the middle passenger in the rear will be a little squeezed.
For storage, there's a deep bin between the seats, a spacious glovebox and a spot for more stuff underneath the rear passenger seats, in the side door pockets, and in the centre console too. However, the door pockets are very narrow and, because of the door handle, it's difficult to reach into the driver's side pocket while on the move. You'll also notice the doors feel extremely close to your elbows.
The best-selling Tekna version features rear parking sensors, Hill Start Assist, Hill Descent Control, Intelligent Emergency Braking and Intelligent Around View Monitor, seven airbags, ISOFIX child seat mounting points in the rear, LED daytime running lights as standard andElectronic Brake Force Distribution, which automatically sends extra force to the rear brakes when it detects there's additional weight in the back.
Vehicle Dynamic Control monitors your steering, braking and the vehicle's stability and, if needed, will reduce engine power and apply brake pressure to specific wheels in order to keep you on your intended path. There's also a new electronic Limited Slip Differential.In low-traction conditions the vehicle senses if one wheel is slipping and automatically slows that wheel using the brakes to regain traction and keep you moving.
There are three driving modes - 4WD High for light off-roading, 4WD Low for serious off-road driving in sand, snow or deep mud, or 2WD for when you're on tarmac. With the features above, this provides great traction in all conditions and plenty of off-road capability.
On the motorway, the engine settles into a gentle thrum which is mostly drowned out by the wind noise created by the big door mirrors. With 450Nm of torque on offer, there's plenty of grunt though forget trying to spring away from traffic lights.
With its suspension set-up and all those electronic gizmos, the Navara is very comfortable, with plenty of steering sharpness, grip and decent handling but, while it drives well, don't expect it to throw it around like a family hatchback or one of the better SUVs on the road. It's good, but it's not that good.