Dual cab utes used to be simple workhorses, designed to carry a load from point A to point B. That feels like an age ago now. These days they’re family vehicles that take on a Jekyll and Hyde transformation on the weekend.
That’s especially so when they have a transfer case, and if COVID taught us anything, it’s that there’s an abundance of red sandy deserts, rocky outcrops and beautiful forests to explore.
Any 4X4 with low range capability can take you to these places, but nothing beats a dual cab for versatility and load carrying ability. The aftermarket off-road industry has had a field day as a result and so too have a few manufacturers.
Take the 2023 Nissan Navara SL Warrior for example, a vehicle created by the team at Premcar on behalf of the Japanese car maker. It joins the high end PRO-4X Warrior, but instead uses the entry level SL as its base.
The factory fresh vehicle is shipped over to the Australian engineering firm, where the fun stuff happens, and the SL Warrior is born. The list of additions that go onto this dual cab ute are well chosen, and it shows in the way it drives, on and off-road.
It starts with protection, which includes a steel winch-compatible front bar and a bash plate, complete with Navara branding. It’s a nice touch for a functional piece of equipment. Capping off the front end is a small but effective integrated light bar.
Having driven a non-Warrior Navara, it’s obvious a lot of thought has gone into the suspension too, with 40mm of lift. That increases the ground clearance by the same measure while improving approach and departure angles at each end of the vehicle.
The effort put in by the team at Premcar on spring rates and shock valving to improve the ride is obvious. It even scores a small (100kg) GVM upgrade to 3500kg and a small but welcome improvement to payload – to 1081kg for automatic variants.
You also get a towbar, a tub liner, fender flares and rubber floor mats to round out the add-ons. These are in addition to a decent spec from the factory for a base variant. This includes a 7.0-inch touchscreen which facilitates wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
There’s a six speaker sound system, and a great array of safety gear, including airbags, a reversing camera, forward collision alert, emergency braking, and intelligent driver alert. It does however miss out on blind spot monitoring and parking sensors front and rear.
That last one is a real annoyance given the outlook to the bonnet from the driver’s seat. The interior is basic but designed for hard use. It abounds with hard touch materials, cloth seats and vinyl floors.
While we have become used to a range of luxuries and gadgets in today’s modern vehicles, the simplicity of the SL Warrior is an asset for those who travel off-road regularly. We would’ve also liked to see a more supportive seat, particularly under the thigh.
The way the seat adjustment handle snagged this writer’s pants every time I jumped out of the car got old very quickly too. I thought I’d broken it at least a dozen times. Nevertheless, Premcar’s additions culminate in a vehicle that rides confidently.
No dual-cab ute is designed to corner well on-road, but everything always remained well controlled and remarkably flat despite the softer suspension tune. We’d imagine the extra 30mm track afforded by the wheel and tyre combo contributes to this.
On a highway trip to Canberra, the SL Warrior chugged along and did its thing with all three occupants riding in comfort. We did wish for some sort of tub cover though. Not a hard fix, but a simple tonneau can go a long way to improve usability.
With rain enroute, all our bags and gear needed to be crammed into the back, which wasn’t ideal. The 2.3-litre twin-turbocharged 4-cylinder is backed by a 7-speed automatic and remains untouched during the Premcar treatment.
It’s not a bad thing, with outputs pegged at 130kW and 450Nm. On the highway, it was confidence inspiring enough when it came to overtaking and relatively unobtrusive for a diesel unless pushed, but it just felt lack-lustre.
With a few more modifications and the payload that comes with that, this would quickly turn into under performance. A solid combination of highway, off-road and around town driving resulted in an average of 9.4-litres/100km – slightly off the claimed 7.9-litres.
You don’t buy this sort of vehicle just to go to the shops though, so we took it out to one of our favourite local off-road spots near Lithgow. The area has everything from simple scenic driving to some more intense rock steps and steep undulated climbs.
The suspension works admirably to cosset the cabin from undulations and corrugations when travelling on dirt at speed, with all but the biggest bumps really disrupting the chassis. It won’t be as quick or smooth as say a Raptor, but the entry cost is much lower.
Low-range is where this vehicle starts to make much more sense and the driveline comes to life. The suspension tune, longer springs and dampers, combined with the Cooper rubber, surprised us when it came to slow rocky, rutty sections.
It has more than adequate flex and in concert with a great ESC and traction control calibration, and was able to take on every track we chose without any drama.
One glaring omission that became evident when walking one of the harder tracks though is the complete lack of sill-protection. It’s not hard to do damage to these and its not an easy fix, so buyers should factor this in as the first purchase post-delivery.
Despite its ageing base platform (which has been around since 2015), at $60,500 plus on-roads (about $11,400 more than a factory Navara SL), the Warrior version is a budget conscious way to get into a off-road capable 4X4.
Our test vehicle was provided by Nissan Australia. To find out more about the 2023 Nissan Navara SL Warrior, visit your local Nissan dealer.