In a highly competitive sector full of big beasts battling for dominance, the new Nissan Navara has come out on top in the pick-up category.

In the past 18 months new or revised products have come to market from Mitsubishi with the L200, Ford with the Ranger, Volkswagen with the Amarok, Toyota with the Hilux, and more recently a sector debut from Fiat Professional with its L200-based Fullback.

More recently still, Ssangyong has stiffened its challenge with the introduction of its new pick-up, the Musso.

Waiting in the wings are a pair of new models based on the Navara itself: Nissan’s Alliance partner Renault will come to market early in 2017 with its Alaskan, and Mercedes will follow suit less than a year later with its X-class.

Unusually, our winning truck has already undergone a name change despite only being on sale for a year.
It started life as the NP300 Navara, with the NP standing for ‘Nissan Pick-up’, but after pressure from dealers and customers, who insisted the Navara brand name was too strong to dilute, the prefix was dropped in September with the arrival of Euro6 models.

Jose Gabarro Rossell, section manager for LCV test management at Nissan, said dealers had objected to changing the name of the best-selling model in the brand’s LCV line-up for fear of confusing customers who had built up trust in the Navara name.

But no matter what its moniker, the launch of the 12th-generation Navara in January was timely – the previous vintage was getting long in the tooth and losing ground to its rivals.

Nissan has upped its game with the new model in terms of styling, engineering, fuel efficiency and technology.

One of the big changes is under the bonnet, where the company has jettisoned the old 2.5-litre diesel engine and replaced it with the 2.3 dCi diesel that is also found in the NV400 large van having originated in the Renault Master.

In the Navara, it puts out either 160hp or 190hp, and the more powerful option is the first twin-turbo engine Nissan has used in a light commercial vehicle.

The truck is up for grabs in both 4×2 and 4×4 variants and with six-speed manual or seven-speed automatic transmissions (in 190hp versions only for an extra £1,417 – all prices exclude VAT). Both systems enhance the Navara’s impressive performance and handling in all driving conditions.

Customers can also take their pick of a two-door king cab or four-door double cab, but those looking for a workhorse may regret the lack of a single-cab derivative.

Nissan has dipped into its expertise in the SUV market with models such as the X-trail and Qashqai to improve the Navara’s refinement and ride quality. Consequently, double-cab models get a sophisticated new multi-link (five-link) with coil spring rear suspension in a highly successful bid to eradicate the bump and bounce usually associated with travelling in a pick-up – particularly when unladen. Only VW, with its upmarket Amarok, and now Ssangyong in its new Musso, employ a similar set-up.

The king-cab version of the Nissan truck, however, retains leaf springs. So, on road the double-cab Navara is composed and sophisticated, and What Van? recently had the opportunity to experience its formidable off-road ability too when driving the truck in the Sahara desert.

With 4WD engaged in Low mode, the big truck was able to overcome the considerable challenge of conquering the shape-shifting mountains that are sand dunes.

When it comes to fuel economy, Nissan has dramatically improved the Navara’s performance, making Mitsubishi’s claim to be the greenest pick-up of the bunch short-lived. Whereas the previous-generation truck achieved just 33.6mpg on the combined cycle, the new one boasts an official 44.1mpg compared with the L200 Barbarian’s 42.8mpg.

Highly Commended: Mitsubishi L200

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Taking the runner-up spot is last year’s Light Commercial Vehicle of the Year the Mitsubishi L200. In some ways, the L200 has suffered through being the first of the new wave of high-class trucks to break cover, allowing its rivals more time to raise their games.

Nevertheless, the sophisticated new L200 features economical new engines, versatile loading capacities, a spacious, comfortable cabin, and combines accomplished on-road performance with extreme capability off-road.

The L200 has done more than any other model to define the lifestyle pick-up sector as we know it today in the 34 years since its introduction in the UK.