Nissan Navara Aventura Double Cab

Thanks to their favourable tax status, luxury pick-ups like the Navara make more economic sense than they should. What do Sean O'Grady and our panel make of this top-spec monster?

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Price: £24,663 (inc VAT)
Engine: 2.5-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel
Performance: 0 to 62mph in 11.4 secs, 33mpg
CO2: 226 g/km
Worth considering: Toyota Hi Lux, Mitsubishi L200

The last time I was at the wheel of a Nissan Navara I was dodging goats in the mountains of Crete, scene of the car's launch. I still have the baseball cap and flip-flops given to the journalists attending the event.

The surprising thing about the Navara out there was that although it was incredibly capable, it was also just too big. The combination of the Nissan's vast width and the crimped, eroded mountain roads really did make those of us with tendencies to vertigo feel just a little queasy.

Still, if you need to transport a few goats around the Greek islands, a Japanese-badge pick-up has long been the wheels of choice. But why would they be anyone's first choice on the crowded roads of Britain? These pick-ups are no longer cheap. Long gone are the little Datsuns, Toyotas and Mazdas with willing 1,300cc engines, sweet gear-changes and keen price-tags. Today, no one (apart from Proton) bothers with what would now be called a small pick-up. Our Navara would set you back £25,000.

Yet the reason why so many people have gone for these leviathans with aggressive sounding names (the Mitsubishi Animal springs to mind, for some reason) is not so hard to find.

First, fashion. Nissan, Toyota and Mitsubishi may or may not believe in their own propaganda that their pick-ups are bought by youthful surfing types with quad bikes in the back and fun in the Cornwall sun in front of them. In reality, they're bought by people who would just like the rest of the world to think that's what they're like, just as some people have started buying fake mud to spray on their Land Rovers so that they can be mistaken for gentry.

Second, there is tax. Because these big payload (1,000kg-plus) pick-ups count as commercial vehicles, they have a low benefit-in-kind rating from the taxman, only £500 a year. Yet they have all the comforts and space of a normal car. Our "Aventura" trim Nissan boasted leather electrically adjusted seats, sat nav, dual zone climate control and even a little electronic compass in the rear-view mirror. You want for nothing. True, that tax loophole will be closing in April 2007 for those classed as employees , but for the self-employed the dodge will continue. I say dodge, but I don't want to deprive farmers, plumbers and builders of their climate control.

I just wonder why the Government can't find a rational way to tax cars. They have made the Nissan Navara into a sane choice for too many people. It gets my goat, really it does.

Séverine Konieczny 35, Margot, 3, and Ruben, 1 , market researcher from Ealing
USUAL CAR: RENAULT ESPACE

When I saw the Navara, I thought it was a big car, but once inside and behind the wheel, it didn't feel as big. It's very well equipped. I found the auto light switch, the onboard computer (which indicated 30mpg during our drive) and the dual climate control very useful. I also liked the leather heated seats. For such a long car, a reversing sensor would have been useful. This practical car with a luxury saloon feel handles surprisingly well. At motorway speed, the engine is quiet although wind noises are present. Around town, the engine was less refined. For my family, this car is not very useful, but I could have done with one when I lived in the Suffolk countryside.

Greg Newman, 30, payroll Systems Consultant from Chiswick
USUAL CAR: STREETCAR CAR CLUB MEMBER

Driving this vehicle, I became one of the people I love to hate - a city-dweller with an over-engineered four-wheel-drive. It sure is one confused motor vehicle - I think it may be the love child of a Nissan 350Z and a Nissan Patrol. It's loaded with all the kit of a luxury sports car - electric leather seats, dual climate control, six-speed gearbox - but at the end of the day, it's a big heavy agricultural vehicle. Driving in London was terrifying but also great fun; it's so big that everyone gets out of your way - but you can't fit it into a regular-size car park. I think that it's pointless for city folk; I will definitely be keeping my Streetcar membership.

Ken Young, 61, university professor from Chiswick
USUAL CAR: 1986 AUDI QUATTRO

The Navaraturned out to be a curious hybrid, part long-legged and comfortable SUV, part utilitarian pickup. The claimed power figures are impressive, but don't translate into especially lively performance until the big turbo-charged diesel gets going. Then it proves a fast motorway cruiser, quiet and stable in strong cross-winds. All the controls come to hand readily. The gearbox contains six forward speeds and the low speed torque means there are more intermediate ratios than you need and it's easy to get confused finding your way around the gearbox. The truck-style leaf spring rear suspension didn't cope well when accelerating out of roundabouts without a load in the back: that hybrid problem again.

THE VERDICT

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