Nissan’s push to return to the top of the pick-up sector begins here with the UK arrival of the new Navara, a much-needed and much-improved new entrant into this increasingly competitive segment.

The Navar has slipped away from the top spot it held years ago, and was beaten by the Toyota Hilux, Mitsubishi L200, Ford Ranger and Isuzu D-max in taking an 11.5% share of the market last year.

But the company is rather bullish about its new model, and for good reason, with styling, engineering, efficiency and technology all key reasons why Nissan thinks it can get back to the sector top-spot.

Backed by the What Van? Award-winning five-year/100,000-mile warranty, the new pick-up has been designed to combine the durable and reliable requirement of pick-ups with the style and more SUV-orientated driving characteristics in ride and refinement terms that many pick-up buyers look for in a vehicle that needs to perform both weekday work and weekend leisure roles.

That has led to Nissan installing a multi-link rear suspension format (on the double cab at least – the more workmanlike king cab still gets leaf springs), which is designed to remove some of that pick-up judder and bounce. Though it doesn’t eradicate it completely, there is a noticeable benefit, especially unladen where there’s none of that big bounce feeling when crossing motorway expansion joints for example, where it feels like the rear is trying to overtake the front – either from the side or coming over the top. The basic need to carry a one-tonne payload means it’s not gone completely, but the ride is better than most rivals.

The steering is almost the reverse of what would be most referable in that it’s heavier at low speeds, especially when maneuvering, but lightens up at higher speeds, and lacks in the level of feel and feedback that comes with a Ford Ranger. It matches Mitsubishi’s L200 though, but doesn’t inspire confidence in spirited driving.

The engine is more promising. A new 2.3-litre diesel is available in 160hp single-turbo form on the lower trim grades (Visia and Acenta), and 190hp twin-turbo on the three higher trims. That means it’s the most powerful pick-up apart from Ford’s 3.2-litre 200hp model, and the NP300 is significantly more efficient than its six-cylinder competitor. It’s not massively refined under acceleration, but otherwise is a good improvement, and offers impressive performance. A seven-speed automatic gearbox is offered for an additional £1417 plus VAT on the 190hp diesel, but the manual shifts nicely enough and offers that greater degree of control, especially off-road or when towing.

Interior quality is much-improved, and anyone familiar with Nissan’s car range will recognize most of the switchgear. The gear lever itself has something of an old-school mounting, angled backwards slightly like the long-throw changes of old. The big leather front seats themselves are a bit solid around the lumbar, which proves uncomfortable on longer journeys, but are otherwise good. It’s worth noting though that the big seats mean it’s hard to squeeze an arm down into the small door pockets.

The rear seats have been angled at 23 degrees, whereas most pick-up second rows are more upright as they’re set against the bulkhead.

Equipment levels are impressive, with Nissan claiming sector firsts in terms of fitting the Around View Monitor camera system as standard on the top-spec Tekna trim, and fitting the collision-averting Forward Alert system on all double cab models.

Every NP300 Navara gets kit including air conditioning, Bluetooth, auto lights, seven airbags and a USB socket, while Acenta adds 16-inch alloys, keyless entry and start, chrome detailing and a five-inch TFT screen. Acenta+ bring 18-inch alloys and a colour reversing camera, as well as leather steering wheel and gear lever, privacy glass and climate control, while moving up to N-connecta includes sat nav, DAB radio and app initegration. Moving to the top of the range, the Tekna trim includes leather seats, LED headlights, heated front seats, rear parking sectors and roof rails.

The new NP300 Navara’s load bed is 67mm longer than its predecessor’s, which at 1578mm gives it class-leading status among double cabs, ahead of the Ford Ranger’s 1560mm. Payload is close to the vehicle’s main rivals at 1047kg, 3kg behind the L200, and the 3500kg towing weight outpoints its two key rivals.

Efficiency is another area where the NP300 Navara wins out, as the new engine gives the pick-up a class-leading figure of 44.1mpg on the official test cycle, beating the previous class best of Mitsubishi’s L200 at 42.8mpg. That’s an improvement of up to 24%, though the automatic is significantly less efficient at 40.3mpg. The two-wheel drive King Cab model – the entry vehicle in the line-up – is 0.8mpg slightly more efficient than the regular manual range at 44.9mpg. Given the drive to be the most efficient model in the sector, it is surprising that here’s no gearchange indicator light on the dashboard.

Nissan laid on a very challenging off-road route through north Yorkshire during its launch event, and the Navara acquitted itself as well on some rough, rocky and almost gravity defying terrain as it did on the long journey south down the A1 that followed. The likes of hill-descent control and hill start assist got a thorough work-out in the mud, and the four-wheel drive system, featuring 4HI for travelling at up to 62mph in slippery conditions, or 4LO for low-range traversing of challenging conditions, is engaged with the twist of a dial. For those requiring peak off-road performance, an automatic rear diff lock is an optional £417 plus VAT.

The range kicks off at £18,376 for the two-wheel drive Visia King Cab, with £833 increments (all prices are excluding VAT) to go to 4×4 King Cab and the same again to a double cab. After that it’s £645 to upgrade to an Acenta trim level, and £1396 to go up to Acenta+, including the more powerful twin-turbo engine. Going up to the higher specs, the jump to N-Connecta is £709, and it’s £1500 to go from that to the £24,293 range-topping Tekna.

Nissan has lofty and bullish ambitions to return to the top of the pick-up segment, which involves almost doubling the volume it achieved last year, but the new Navara has wide-ranging strengths and talents in everything from equipment, on-road manners and looks to the wide range of 125 accessories and its efficiency, warranty and running costs. Rival pick-ups, both those already in the market and those still to come, should be concerned.

Price (ex VAT) £24,293
Price range (ex VAT) £18,376-£25,710
Insurance group
Warranty 5yrs/100,000mls
Service intervals 2yrs/18,000mls
Load length 1578mm
Load width min/max 1130mm/1560mm
Gross payload 1047kg
Engine size/power 2298cc/190hp
On sale February 2016
Combined fuel economy 44.1mpg
CO2 169g/km