Nissan Patrol test

It’s still not officially here yet but, finally, we’ve had the chance to really put the much anticipated new Patrol to the test on Aussie soil.

The sheer size is what hits you first – nearly literally – when you encounter the next generation Nissan Patrol in the metal.

For something that weighs in at a tad under 2.8 tonnes (unladen) this Patrol, designated Y62G, obviously carries a certain, presence.

Conversely, the fact the new Patrol, expected here in Oz in 2012, is longer and wider than Toyota’s bulbously contoured 200 Series Cruiser, doesn’t seem so obvious – the largest Nissan 4X4 to ever hit Australian shores does a great job of deceiving the observer, with its angular, highly-styled exterior.

Nissan Australia has had this vehicle (a Middle East-spec top-line LE model) in its possession for a little while now and, as readers would know after reading Matt Raudonikis’s initial first drive report in our January 2011 issue, we’ve had an experience of it, if all too brief.

However, when Nissan Australia’s Jeff Fisher invited 4X4 Australia down to Robbie Emmins’ Melbourne 4X4 Training and Proving Ground for a full day behind the wheel of its new rig – giving us a great chance to really get an idea of how the new behemoth performs off-road – we couldn’t say yes quickly enough.

The proving ground jaunt would provide a great opportunity to see how the Patrol fulfilled its bush tourer role.

The new vehicle has certainly piqued the interest of off-roaders throughout the country – regardless of brand allegiance – as it has (and please excuse the size-related pun) rather large boots to fill in the shape of a more-than-50-year-old legacy of excellent and reliable off-road performance in this country.

This was brought home to snapper Mark Watson and myself on arrival at the proving ground by the presence of an original, restored G60 Patrol. Yep, Nissan knows its obligations with this model and it is confident it can continue to uphold all that the words ‘Nissan Patrol’ mean in the Australian four-wheel drive scene.

When you first look at the Patrol from the side, the over-riding impression is of a long, low vehicle; something that doesn’t look like it has the necessary clearance to clamber over even small obstacles, much less some of the tracks that I was about to encounter at the proving ground.

And answering those questions – putting doubts to rest, you could say – was the main reason for the day at the proving ground. Matt Raudonikis had reported on the Patrol’s impressive on-road behaviour (and, with a brief off-road stint, its potential bush-based capabilities), but I was very keen to spend a full day off-road, in typical Australian 4X4 conditions.

The key to the Patrol’s ability to lug its bulk around the bitumen with a modicum of control can be found in the vehicle’s Hydraulic Body Motion Control system (HBMC) which, as the name suggests, is a hydraulic suspension system that utilises four oil cylinders connected to two hydraulic pipes and a pair of accumulators.

During on-road cornering, the system is designed to use high damping force to create a reactive effect on the opposite side of the vehicle that is lifting up during cornering. This system (also seen in WRC rally cars) enables Nissan to eliminate the need for stabiliser bars in the Patrol.

This also has a much-welcome flow-on effect for the Patrol’s off-road performance as it allows for maximum suspension stroke from the fully independent suspension.

For Luddite off-roaders, a vehicle possessing fully independent suspension was, in the past, greeted with some derision, allowing for the fact that independently sprung 4X4s never seemed to have enough wheel travel to ensure continued forward motion in undulating terrain. Since then the advent of effective traction control systems has overcome this perceived disadvantage.

The Patrol impressed here on more than a few fronts. Whether it was a challenging mogul section, or a short, steep and sharp climb on terrain that really twisted up the suspension, the wheel travel was excellent – you really forgot the fact it was an independent suspension-equipped vehicle.

Backing this up was the Patrol’s excellent traction control system, the LE’s standard-fitment rear diff lock (although it was only needed on one occasion) and the 5.6-litre V8’s awesome low-end torque (Nissan claims 90 percent of the torque is available at 2500rpm).

The Patrol includes an All-Mode 4X4 system (seen in other Nissan off-roaders), plus the now-obligatory settings for different terrain (dubbed Variable 4X4 Mode Select): normal, rock, snow and sand (complete with dashboard display). The dial is situated close at hand on the centre console and also incorporates the VDC and HDC selection tabs, as well as the toggle for the rear diff lock. It is a very simple system to use – and effective. For most of the day’s testing in low-range we kept the dial in rock mode, to make the most of that setting’s impressive throttle and traction control implementation. Being able to easily switch the VDC on and off, as well as HDC, made operation on-the-fly a breeze.

Halfway through the day and it was so far, so good in the bush-touring cred department and, sitting in the palatial interior as I jotted down a few notes and waited for Watto to satisfy his photographic desires, I started to wonder just how Aussie buyers would react to the Patrol when it lobs in 2012, especially with its predicted $100k-plus price tag.

The styling, interior finish and spec levels are well and truly high class: there’s no doubting the influence of Nissan’s main markets – North America and the Middle East – on this new rig. Jeff Fisher said the company is averaging more than 2000 orders a month from the Middle East alone – that’s impressive stuff in any language. And with petrol as cheap as it is over there, combined with the vehicle’s obvious overall appeal, it is easy to see why such a small market as Australia has to wait to get the Patrol here.

And don’t even ask about a diesel variant: there’s still no news on what oiler option Nissan will eventually go with. Having said that, the V8 petrol is nothing if not sublime off-road. Its delivery of grunt is smooth and progressive, with the seven-speed auto box, and C-VTC (Continuously Valve Timing Control) highly effective in maintaining progress without any undue noise or complaint. Inside the cabin, things are very quiet: even when we encountered a challenging short climb that needed a few different approaches – and the locking of the rear diff – the roar of the V8 was never intrusive.

It was inside, however, where the Patrol’s size and bulk is really noticeable and it is the width that proves its Achilles Heel. We ambled down beside a waterway to gain access to a crossing but were forced to reverse back after being confronted by a space that was not nearly wide enough for the big rig. However, this isn’t the only one of the latest-gen mid- to large-sized wagons that has grown nearly too beefy. Toyota’s 200 Series Cruiser isn’t the most nimble on tight tracks and neither for that matter is the latest Prado.

Offsetting its size disadvantage is the Patrol’s handy turning circle. It isn’t going to win a tussle for that tight carpark space but, for its size, it has as surprising amount of manoeuvrability. During a few river crossings I was able to turn the big Nissan around utilising a three-point turn that took up a lot less time and effort than what I initially feared. The steering’s direct and effortless feel definitely assists here. River crossings were a doddle, thanks to the Patrol’s 650mm wading depth, and the climbs up and out of the river itself, negotiating a slippery, rutted dirt track, once again proved the traction control’s worth – even with the heavily road-biased, fully inflated 20-inch tyres!

The day definitely provided the answers we were after in regards to how the new incarnation of a highly regarded bush wagon performs when it counts off-road. My final notes for the day? It does the job effectively and with minimal fuss, all while maintaining passenger comfort levels until now unseen in a Nissan. The legacy is safe.

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