Whether for work or leisure, South Africans are drawn to it, so it is no surprise bakkies make up a large proportion of vehicle sales. In this competitive market, Nissan has the two-wheel drive version of the Navara and we spent some time with the top dog in that segment, the Pro-2X in 7-speed automatic guise.

Under the bonnet, the Nissan Navara has a 2,5-litre turbo-diesel engine that produces 140 kW and 450 Nm of torque, coupled to a seven-speed automatic transmission. There’s a slight clatter on cold startups, which is to be expected, but once all the fluids have warmed up, it quickly settles into a reassuring purr.

With a bold grille, beefy bumper, and in the one on test, the red Nissan logo and inserts certainly give it an impression of meaning business.

To apply a bit of perspective, in the price chain the Navara at R761 500 share the playground with the Mitsubishi Triton 2.4DI-D double cab 4x4 Athlete (R759 990), Isuzu D-Max 3.0TD double cab LS 4x4 manual (R764 000) and Ford Ranger 2.0 BiTurbo double cab XLT (R767 300).

The Triton is marginally cheaper and in a straight comparison of standard features also comes closest to the Navara with the other two lacking in a number of the luxury or nice-to-have areas, but certainly not in the safety department.

Check out these pristine pre-owned Navara models

On a personal level, I have always liked the Navara from the very first iteration which, I think, rather launched the big, bold and ‘out there’ look that is so much the norm for bakkies today. It has always been a comfortable bakkie to drive, especially on dirt roads and when negotiating potholes.

The current chassis that received revised revised mountings, dual-rate 5-link coil suspension (as opposed to leaf springs), and shock absorber damping make this probably the best handling bakkie across all terrains, apart from Ford’s specially designed Raptor.

The regular test route used for CHANGECARS’ reviews has a lengthy section of dirt road that features four distinct surfaces and offers some smooth and slippery ‘marbles’, some closely aligned parallel ruts and some potholes and a section of a claylike covering that is real fun in the wet.

Across all of these the Navara always felt solid and unflustered even with no load, the ladder-frame chassis handling everything the road and I could throw at with what can only be described as aplomb – with enough leeway on the traction control to allow for enough oversteer to help rotate the 5-metre vehicle neatly into the corner.

The leather seats are suitably comfortable and will serve well on much longer journeys than I managed during the test phase. The steering feels very light and direct and takes a while to get used to, but there’s enough feedback to provide confidence on bumpy roads.

Nissan has done well to keep out wind and road noise and that, too, will serve well on long trips, keeping the quite plushly appointed cabin a peaceful place.

The engine coped happily and while there’s a slight lag on pull off, it quickly gets up to speed and when you floor it to pass slower traffic, the box changes quickly to the right gear and doesn’t labour it before changing up again.

Fuel consumption averaged out at 10,4/100 km in our test combined cycle which is  somewhat above the claimed 8,1 l/100km (and the second lowest of its price competitors behind the Ford Ranger), but the vehicle was ‘used’ as opposed to being molycoddled around the tesdt route and I suspect real world use will be closer to the figure I achieved.

It comes with an 8-inch touchscreen with NissanConnect that’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible with a cable and I struggled to get Android Auto to work. It is not the most modern system in the array and this is one area in which the opposition does have the upper hand.

There are a four USB ports and a 12v power outlet for keeping various devices charged and runningAnd, wWhile the leather seats are comfortable and good quality and the leather-trimmed steering wheel and gear shifter add a nice touch, the rest of it is finished in a variety of plastic materials. It may be hard-wearing and practical but just a faux leather covered dash with stitching would have made a significant difference.

Numerous safety features such as forward-collision alert, automatic emergency braking, high beam assist, rear cross-traffic alert and a 360 degree camera system are in place and it comes standard with anti-lock brakes, traction control, stability control, hill start assist, electronic rear diff lock and seven crash bags.

It has the largest turning circle in the price group at 13,4 metres and is on par in terms of approach, rampover and departure angles.

Certainly, for me, the Navara did not disappoint and the buyer’s choice will largely come down to badge loyaltly and preference.

Colin Windell