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Peugeot 407 Coupe

Broadcast date : 28th May 2006

The Toyota RAV4 recently entered its third incarnation as everyoneís idea of an iconic sports utility vehicle. The RAV4 can justifiably claim to have invented the recreational semi-off-road vehicle market, where the accent is more on lifestyle than rock-climbing.

Nissanís Navara is cut from a different sheet of metal and represents a different evolutionary line on the weekend fun market. 

Based on a commercial pick-up platform, itís conceptually far removed from the RAV4, but both types of cars have a degree of off-road ability.

To put the vehicles to a test we thought would be typical of what owners would demand of these two Recreational Vehicles, or RVs, we took them to the Zwartkops Raceway complex near Pretoria, where the off-road track has recently been re-opened by the Protea Eco-Adventures group.

The Navara is one good-looking hunk of a rugged recreational vehicle. Nissan has certainly emerged from its styling doldrums in a big way, and yes, this big double cab does meet the visual expectations of the companyís new perceptual paradigm.

The interior matches the sheet-metal visuals with plenty of rear-seat space, and a classy spec level that includes remote steering-wheel controls.

The RAV4 has always dished up sophistication since its early 1990ís debut, and Toyotaís latest rendition is no different.

The new model is now only offered as a five-door, which means it has lost a little of its cuteness appeal. But itís an evolution of a highly sophisticated design, still offering classy hatchback attributes with a degree of real off-road ability.

Our Navara test model came with the potent four-litre V6 engine, while the RAV4ís bonnet revealed yet another refinement of Toyotaís two-litre transverse four.

The Nissan is a rear-wheel-drive only vehicle, while the RAV4 has four-wheel-drive and a new electromagnetic diff lock, but no low-ratio option. How would they shape up at the Zwartkops playground?

The Nissan Navara has initially been introduced as a rear-wheel-drive-only range of double cabs with two engine options, a 2,5 litre turbodiesel, and "our" four-litre V6 petrol model.

This 4x2 offering makes sense from a marketing point of view, as some seventy per cent of double cabs sold are 4x2's.

However, a strange omission in the Navara V6ís specification is that of a diff lock, a device that stops one of the rear-wheels from spinning away all its power when it loses traction.

Even the weekender configuration of the Protea Zwartkops venue made the Navara a handful at times.
The lack of low-range and relatively little torque puts the RAV4 at a disadvantage when it comes to climbing over rocks or other obstacles at very low speed.

On the other hand, its torque-sensing four-wheel-drive and good ground-clearance with a clean underbody, give it an off-road capability thatís surprising for a mere "soft-roader".

The 4x2 Navara is not configured as an off-roader despite its looks. 4x2's are more popular than 4x4ís because they are cheaper to buy and run.

Switching to the RAV4, Hendrik missed the torque of the big Nissan. The Toyota needed a different approach.

The lack of low-range means you have to approach obstacles faster than you would in a hard-core off-road situation.

But the four-wheel-drive system, with a diff lock, quickly sorts out traction problems. SUVs without low range are limited in other ways. Steep down-hill running means having to rely on the brakes rather than engine torque to maintain control.

We really have lots of respect for the Navara, but in this situation its wonderful, torquey V6 was actually a liability with only a limited-slip rear-axle, and no diff-lock.

This isnít a criticism of the engine or drive-train, but we canít understand the oversight, as diff-locks are relatively cheap to fit and so effective they can rival a 4x4ís capabilities in the right hands.

Even in less challenging situations, such as a typical farm track, this 198 kilowatt Nissan is going to spin too much of that power away.

Attempting the same slope in the little RAV4 once again underlined its impressive off-road abilities, as long as momentum can be maintained with the relatively low-on-torque, high-revving four-cylinder motor. The RAV doesnít lack for traction.

Thereís no getting away from the fact that vehicles like these will spend most of their working lives on tar. And as a weekend get-away vehicle, especially if itís to be used for towing, the Nissan Navara four-litre V6 is wonderful for carrying five people and slurping up the kilometers.

The RAV4 is going to be used as a runabout, and this latest model will once again be especially popular with well-heeled housewives. Itís perhaps not quite as striking as before, but that may be due to the fact that thereís now so much competition in the niche the RAV4 created.

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