By Erwin Bursik
MOVING from the churned up beach sand where 217 boats were being launched and retrieved off Durban beach during the 2022 Durban Ski-Boat Club Festival, to the fine red sands of Namibia’s famed Red Desert of the Kalahari, it was my privilege to take the 2022 Nissan Navara PRO-4X double cab on a 4 500km adventure. It was a journey of pleasure, excitement, comfort and great ease, where man and machine came together to form a very strong affiliation.
But let’s go back to the beginning…
Rob Downs and his staff from CMH NISSAN Pinetown, Durban and Hillcrest were kept very busy at the Durban Ski-Boat Club Festival, using their fleet of Nissan 4×4 vehicles to help with the launching and retrieval of over 200 boats on their trailers over the wide beach of soft, severely churned up sand. I kept a close eye on proceedings, and watched with interest as the six vehicles — with tyres deflated to 1.1 bar, and using mainly the 4×4 high range setting — were able to achieve extremely tight manoeuvres. It was, to put it mildly, astonishing, and I was hugely impressed.
Rob was ecstatic with the way his vehicles performed in this arena, and after the event I told him that I was heading off into the Kalahari in a few weeks’ time. I wondered aloud how the Nissan 4×4 double cab would perform in the very fine red sands and formidable dunes of that region.
Rob, not one to shy away from a challenge, said: “Take my Nissan Navara PRO-4X and test it for yourself.”
I was happy to oblige. A few weeks later — towing a horribly non-aerodynamic box trailer loaded with hunting and camping gear — my companion, Dick Pratt, and I set off for our annual excursion into the depths of the Kalahari in south-east Namibia.
Many years ago I attended an advanced 4×4 driving course at Gerotech in Gauteng, and after a proverbial lifetime of 4×4 driving, especially on beach sand, I thought I knew it all. That course showed me clearly how limited my knowledge actually was, and highlighted the difference between beach and desert sand in two large “sand pits”. It was interesting to be shown the microscopic make-up of the smooth, round, fine, marble-shaped grains of wind-tumbled desert sand, as opposed to the angular shape of beach sand. This granular difference makes desert sand-driving far more of a challenge than beach sand-driving.
Rob and Nissan were excited to see how the Navara PRO-4X would fare in those conditions.
I do not pretend to be a motoring expert and, to be honest, know very little of the workings of any vehicle on four wheels. However, I have many, many years’ experience driving 4×4 vehicles and assess them based on their feel and performance on the open road, in the bush and, of course, especially on the beach towing boats.
When I first set eyes on the warrior-grey Nissan Navara PRO-4X I was taking to Namibia, I was blown away. This brought to mind the words of a motoring industry doyen during an industry unveiling of a specific vehicle many, many years ago: “Beach, bush and ballet — that’s what I call it,” he said. His reasoning was that the vehicle could work on the beach, take on the various outbacks and then, after a dust off, he could take his wife to the ballet in the same vehicle.
My wife, Annie, took one look at the Nissan Navara PRO-4X and said, “Now that’s the sort of 4×4 I could easily fall in love with!”
After collecting the Navara from Rob, I hitched her to my trailer, tested the lights, and packed her for the 4am start to our 2 000km journey the following morning.
Both Rob and Jonathan Bisset, CMH’s Sales Manager, explained in great detail all the workings and innovations of this vehicle’s gauges, engine and suspension, but there was too much to take in. The relevance only resurfaced once we were on the road, and had to refer often to the handbook.
There was a huge amount to assimilate as the two musketeers set off the following morning. With a degree of trepidation amind the blaze of dozens of lights, dials and gauges — none of which I had fathomed out after the keyless push button start — we headed up the N3 enroute to Upington and then Namibia.
I have to admit I found the first couple of hours behind the wheel daunting, but gradually became more settled due to the comfort of the driver’s position and the ease with which I became accustomed to the vehicle’s handling, power and towing ability. We dodged countless large trucks until we turned off at Harrismith, getting away from the heavy vehicles as daylight dawned.
My first real surprise with the Navara PRO-4X was when filling up with diesel at Bethlehem. “It’s full,” said the pump attendant, not long after starting pumping. “Check again,” I countered. He was right, and the gauge, my calculations and the dashboard litre-use indicated that we had used less than 10 litres per 100km — amazing!
Our fuel consumption remained 10 litres per 100km for the entire 2 000km journey to Namibia at relatively high speeds. On the return journey, with a fully loaded trailer with weighty contents, this consumption increased to 13.1 litres per 100km both on the vehicle’s digital gauge as well as my physical calculations. Considering that we experienced head winds all the way home, it was way less than I had expected.
Before we get to the technical aspects, I want to highlight my findings regarding both the ride over corrugated sand roads and, of even greater importance, her ability to tow a loaded trailer which has wheels that track a lot wider than those of the Nissan.
After dropping the tyre pressure on both vehicle and trailer to 1.2 bar, we tackled dune after dune, trying our best to get her bogged down. Only once did we need to go into 4×4 low range mode as Dick inched her out of very deep soft sand while I was busy taking photographs. He didn’t use excessive throttle, and it was interesting watching as the four wheels slowly turned and gradually pulled the vehicle and the heavily embedded trailer wheels out of the predicament we’d put her in. Without the trailer I was never able to get her to bog down and never found the need to resort to low range 4×4.
It must also be noted that the Nissan Navara I used was fitted with standard road tyres, not off road tyres or tyres with a much wider and larger “footprint” when deflated for beach work.
On the 4km long rutted gravel road we traversed on a daily basis, I found that the variable tensioned, progressive coil springs really came into effect and provided an extremely soft ride. I often watched in the rear view mirrors and saw how my trailer, which only has leaf springs and no shock absorbers, was hopping, skipping and jumping on the road during these trials while we glided along in comfort.
On the technical side, just remember what I said at the beginning regarding my knowledge of this aspect. Initially I was concerned that the 2.5 litre, single-turbocharged, four-cylinder, turbo-diesel engine would be a little light on power, especially if we had to overtake on an uphill while towing.
I had many such instances, especially on the way home when we were towing a heavy load, yet only on one occasion did I really want the extra power. To be fair, that was at high altitude and in a strong head wind. Maybe I should have used the manual sequential-shift function to access a lower gear than the automatic gearbox was providing. Power output is rated at 140Kw and 450Nm coupled with a 7-speed automatic transmission.
The gross vehicle mass towing capacity of this vehicle is 3 500kg which allows most ski-boats up to 21ft to be towed within the legal limits laid down by the authorities here in SA.
The coil springs used in the Nissan Navara have a gradient of varying tensions built in, and this incremental tension (progressive rate) comes into play when needed, thus ensuring no bottoming out on rubber bump stops. In practice I found this suspension innovation to be of immense value. It certainly limited the jolting of passengers when unexpected potholes or corrugations were experienced.
The PRO-4X has amazing LED headlights, an aspect that we found crucial when travelling at night on the Namibian roads where animal crossings are highly likely. The beams that cover deep into lateral road reserve are brilliant and practical.
Finally, getting back to the “ballet” aspect in terms of both appearance and internal comfort, the Nissan Navara more than delivers. The vehicle is stunning inside and outside. Once in the vehicle, whether as the driver or passenger, back and front seats are all exceptionally comfortable and cater for individual control of one’s personal environment and well being.
As I say in all the boat reviews I undertake, the views I share here are but a taster and an encouragement for you, the reader, to extend your research by organising a test ride. Go and drive a Nissan Navara PRO-4X and experience for yourself just what an amazing vehicle she is, whether you want to tackle the beach, bush or ballet.