By Jon Thomson

Australia is in love with dual cab utes, it can’t be stated more clearly than that.

Once the province of tradies and council inspectors, one tonne dual cab utes are now morphing to fill so many different niches in the market these days, making them attractive for everyone from families with a couple of kids  to young blokes and gals looking for an alternative sports car, to grey nomads towing caravans, off road warriors exploring near impassable bush tracks, oh and even  those tradies and council inspectors.

The fact that the ute sector is the best-selling category in the market  these days, indicates that they straddle a wide and diverse church of users and has seen the development of utes like, Ford’s Ranger Raptor, Toyota’s HiLux Rugged X and Volkswagen’s Amarok TD580 V6, to name but a few.

One of the newest sports utes on the market is the Navara N-trek Warrior,  a tricked up, specced up version of  Nissan’s Workhorse Navara, which has been developed locally to give the maker a model to plug that premium end of the ute market that its parent company in Japan could not supply.

Nissan teamed up with local vehicle modification partner Premcar to come up with the N-trek Warrior based on the top of the range Navara. The Warrior’s add-ons are assembled and fitted locally  by Premcar which also did all the design and engineering work for the package with Nissan approval.

Premcar came up with a suspension package  for  the Warrior along with  underbody protection, a new integrated sports alloy bull bar, that is not like bull bars of old. It is made from alloy and is barely discernible from a normal bumper and has an protruding protection bars making it neater and a whole lot better looking. There is also a Hella sourced LED light bar, black sports bar behind the cabin, side steps, roof rails and a tub-liner to protect the tray. Along with that there is an external visual package and interior style features that proclaim it as the ‘N-trek Warrior’.

Apart from the suspension mods, under the bonnet the Warrior’s driveline remains pretty standard, with Nissan’s trusty and proven, 2.3-litre, twin-turbo four-cylinder diesel, with either a six-speed manual or seven-speed auto bolted to the back of it  There is also a standard selectable 4×4 system with high and low-range  as well as electronic locking rear diff.

Interior wise the N-trek gets leather trim, heated front seats, with the driver’s seat featuring eight-way power adjustment, an 8.0-inch touch-screen with Apple Carplay and Android Auto, sat-nav, cruise control and dual-zone climate control air con.

Climb behind the wheel and  the Warrior delivers good and bad in almost equal measures.  The 2.3 turbo diesel is not the worst  in the ute class but it is far from the best either. Unfortunately the engine is just a bit rattly and agricultural by comparison with the better utes these days, and it lacks oomph from take-off in our opinion.

The engine  whacks out 140kW of power and 450Nm of torque,  which is on a par with Toyota’s fairly ordinary 2.8 litre HiLux and is not far off the output of Ford’s new twin turbo two litre Ranger powerplant. However the smooth and cultured VW 2-litre in the four cylinder Amarok blows them all out of the water, while the Mercedes V6 fitted to the Navara based Benz X class is way ahead and the Porsche developed V6 in the Amarok is the clear standard setter. For all the dress up and add-ons in the Warrior  the engine and driveline is the disappointment.

As we say, it is not bad, but it does nothing to enthuse the driver and  the  seven-speed auto does not produce the sharp and almost imperceptible shifts of many latest gen transmissions,  which only adds up to a perception that the overall performance is a bit plodding.

During a week with the Navara we  had a trip over the Blue Mountains to the forests around Oberon,  covering a lots of gravel roads as well as give and take back country tarmac, which was generally in pretty ordinary condition, and while the driveline performance lacked excitement the suspension upgrades and overall handing package is quite good.

Premcar, which grew out of the old ProDrive/Tickford engineering consultancy, which did a lot of Ford’s FPV Falcon engineering, handled the development of the N-Trek Warrior. Given the cost and complexity of  major engine mods would have inflated the Warrior’s price and made it uncompetitive in the improved ute market, the boffins at Premcar concentrated on the suspension, fitting larger diameter Monroe shocks, with Premcar re-tuned valving, new dual-rate springs,  with front jounce bumpers along with 275/70 Cooper AT3 all-terrain tyres on 17-inch Rosta alloy wheels.

With that revised suspension package  the Navara rides higher with an added 40 mm of ground clearance, with an improved approach and ramp angle,  while the front and rear track has grown by  30mm. For all of that the Warrior’s tow bar and cross member had to be changed to cope with the larger Cooper shod  spare wheel  which has reduced the departure clearance. Our test in  the  Oberon forest did not bring up any serious issues with the departure angle and we figure  it  would be no real problem for the majority of users.

The 300km round trip up into the forests gave the Warrior’s upgraded suspension plenty of opportunity to shine and that is exactly  what it did. Like the Ford Ranger Raptor, which the Warrior is bidding to emulate,  the suspension improvements  have made a world of difference. They are not in the same realm as the Raptor’s Fox Racing Shocks, but at a much lower and more competitive price, the Warrior still does a pretty fair job.

It didn’t matter if it was on smooth motorways, two lane country roads,  ordinary country bitumen or gravel roads and forestry tracks, the Warrior took things in its stride and coped very well, in fact much better than  the standard Navara.

The big Cooper tyres  although very aggressive  were not overly noisy at cruise speed on tarmac  while providing excellent grip on both sealed road and the gravel. The longer-travel suspension ambled over the rough stuff, handling corrugations and  bumps without judder or float with the five-link coil rear-end putting power to the ground without drama.

Overall on all surfaces the Warrior had a firmer and more controlled feel with a better overall ride and less body roll than its standard issue sibling. Even unladen the ride and handling  worked well which is not always the case with utes designed to cart loads.

Inside the Warrior there are some limitations that show up with the Navara design, including the  very flat and bench like front seats, that feel like you are sitting on them not in them, a lack of height adjustment and the limited steering wheel reach, which all make it hard to get a really ideal driving position for all drivers.

Looking at the positives  the Navara boasts excellent rear seat room  and rear seat passengers also benefit from  their own air con vents which  is a plus many ute don’t offer.

The Navara’s normal 3500kg braked towing capacity remains unchanged but because the Warrior’s extra equipment has inflated the tare weight  the payload has dropped almost 200kg  down from 917kg to 724kg, which is a fair whack when all is said and done

Across a wide  range of operating conditions we recorded an average fuel consumption of 9.3L/100km, and given we didn’t spare the Nissan we were pretty pleased with that result, even though Nissan claims 7.0L/100km average for the Warrior. Let’s face it  this is a workhorse that tips the scales at just under 2.2 tonnes  so anything under 10 L/100km  is a result we reckon.

Some have derided  the lack of  new age safety tech in the Navara such as  autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise and blind-spot warning, all of which is now available on Toyota HiLux, Ford Ranger and Mitsubishi Triton but we reckon that  trend represents a dumbing down for drivers and the signal to pay less attention and have less focus on the driving task. In its favour the Navara Warrior does have  a 360-degree camera and a five-star safety ANCAP rating, as well as seven airbags, Hill descent control, hill start assist and stability/traction control.

When it comes to price the Warrior is  well positioned with driveaway pricing of $63,490 for the manual and $65,990 for the self-shifter. Compared with comparable ‘sports utes’, that measures up pretty well undercutting the Ranger Raptor by between $11,000 and $13,000, although the Raptor’s suspension is pretty special and puts it in a league of its own. It is slightly more than the HiLux Rugged X and the Ranger Wildtrak, but nothing that  would be a deal breaker for most.

Nissan’s five-year/unlimited kilometre factory warranty along with capped-price 12-month/20,000km servicing plan for the first six years of ownership, which means that the overall cost  for the servicing over that  period is maxed out at $3769, makes the ownership equation pretty economical.

There is quite a bit to like about the Navara N-Trek Warrior, despite the pedestrian powertrain and  some other small drawbacks. However for a tricked up ‘sports ute’ with a very good suspension package and strong visual highlights,  that is priced competitively and has strong warranty, fixed price servicing and equipment list the Warrior will win fans.