Pick-up trucks were a hit in the Philippines probably long before Elvis put on a pair of blue suede shoes. They're practical, affordable, cheap to run, and pretty much bulletproof. As a classic example, we have a 1991 Mazda B2200 pick-up. It has delivered fully loaded goods daily for all of our restaurants since 1998, and it would manage to pick me up in school after. Every single day. Today, we only have one restaurant alive from four in the past, yet it's still alive and kicking. I hated it with a passion, but now that I've realized how big a part it has played for our family, I love it.
I guess sometimes when the villain stays long enough, it eventually becomes the hero. In fact, I am quite alarmed that it might outlive me. It can break down in the middle of nowhere, and wherever you are, the smallest of shops can mend the problem. In a country that is the undisputed favorite of typhoons that turn our roads into rivers, the pick-up seems to be able to weather this problem with ease. It's high enough to wade in the water and durable enough to deliver relief goods after. It is the undisputed choice of the masses and as I've explained, it's easy to see why.
However, there's a problem. The pick-up isn't what I would call comfortable. The suspension is made of hollow blocks and has about enough play as a steamroller. The rear seats were designed for dwarfs, except even they would have trouble fitting. It can take you anywhere you want for as long as the destination is to your chiropractor.
"Once you start driving, the Navara blows the competition out of the water."
By the time you get there, you'd have bigger problems. They now need a team to extract you from the rear seats, and by the time they get to lay you down on the bed, they'd first need to pull your head out of your neck. It's tough, no doubt, but is it even worth it?
Before you answer that question, I'd like for you to throw that thought outside the window, because now, it is all irrelevant. The pick-up segment has been a politician on a campaign trail.
They promise the moon and the stars, but the truth is, they're all the same. A few differences here and there, but ultimately it's the same story packaged beautifully to disguise the closet filled with skeletons. Except this.
This is Nissan's stellar NP300 Navara VL.
Now I know that there are some pick-ups that may look better, but beauty is subjective. I happen to think that the Navara is quite handsome. A quick glance at this bruising thing, and you'll see the presence of LED running lights that function as eyelashes to the projector lenses that house a set of first-in-class, LED headlights. Gaze a little bit to the side, and you'll find a set of 18-inch wheels that complement the overall design of the pick-up. Eventually, you'll get to the door handle, which houses the operating system for the Nissan's keyless entry system. Everything inside is typically Nissan.
"The ride quality is Nissan's contribution to the entire pick-up segment."
It's familiar, and once you've gotten used to all of the controls, you'll find them quite intuitive too. You can most certainly fit four to five people inside comfortably as the cabin isn't the cramped space that I have gotten accustomed to. All of this is the superficial part, because in truth, the Ford Ranger has an even better interior. So far, I would say that the competition of the Navara only have a fighting chance before you get moving. Once you start driving, the Navara blows the competition out of the water. From the get-go, you know that you're rolling down the road in a way that no other pick-up is.
To put things in perspective, we planned out an entire day to shoot the Navara, and alongside it was a 4.3 million peso Volkswagen Touareg 3.0 TDI Sport Edition driven by Miguel Olfindo. Miguel decided that he'd leave Manila in the morning to head to Sierra Lakes to have a picnic with his wife and kids. Being that I'm not one to wake up in the morning for a picnic, 'oh hell no!', I told him that I'd follow with the Navara and most likely arrive after lunch. So I boarded the ute and entered SLEX, a road that the pick-up devoured in absolute comfort.
The ride was so smooth and compliant that you could never be faulted if you forgot that you were indeed hauling yourself in a pick-up. The road noise was minimal as well, but my goodness the ride quality is Nissan's contribution to the entire pick-up segment. The 2.5-liter turbocharged engine just breathes the Navara down the road with really smooth and buttery acceleration. The torque band seemed endless and it pulled all the way to the red line. It is a remarkable achievement.
"going over terrain undulations felt like I was driving over marshmallows and pillows."
Eventually, we got to Miguel's picnic ground. A rough and bumpy coconut tree-filled terrain, the setting of the Hollywood box office hit, Apocalypse Now. This place seemed apt to mildly test the Navara's off-road capabilities. The surface got rocky, and since it was a bit wet, I decided to try the four-wheel-drive system. I just turned the switch from 2H to 4H, and it went over mud, rocks, and small hills with the nonchalance Einstein would have if you asked him to explain dark matter to your friends. The Five-Link rear coil springs made going over terrain undulations feel like I was driving over marshmallows and pillows. The suspension and shocks filter out all the bumps before they even reach your bum, which made me wonder how much better the Touareg would be.
Eventually, the curiosity about the Touareg got the best of me, so I hopped into the SUV equipped with sophisticated air suspension, and was shocked to find that the ride was only marginally better than the Navara. This doesn't connote anything negative towards the Touareg, because it rides beautifully. It has everything stellar to say about the Navara, a vehicle that costs a third of the German luxury SUV.
"A pick-up usually results in an impatient desire to reach the destination immediately, but not this one."
The Navara is a mesmerizingly good consumer vehicle. I was able to enjoy the lush greeneries and bodies of water scattered around Lake Caliraya. It was an unusual experience in a pick-up, which usually results in an impatient desire to reach the destination immediately - not this one. I enjoyed the drive and wafted along the scenery in absolute comfort.
This triumph in the pick-up segment is parallel to the triumph of the GT-R in the supercar segment. It's the underdog, yet it's fantastic in every way. There is no beating around the bush, this is the benchmark. The undisputed champion that will lead us to the new frontier. #punintended