Car reviews - Nissan - Patrol - Ti 5-dr wagon
Strong engine performance, new auto transmission, off-road prowess
Room for improvement
Huge thirst for fuel, standard fitment of a bullbar, centre row lap belt
8 Mar 2002
By TERRY MARTIN
THE Australian obsession with four-wheel drive wagons showed no sign of abating in 2001. But love for the faithful Patrol?
Now there's a topic worth exploring.
The grim fact for Nissan is that sales of the GU Patrol have been on a downward trend since the initial surge of interest in the behemoth wagon, launched to critical acclaim four years ago, had run its course.
It is true that 8000 annual sales is twice the number Patrol was achieving back in the mid-1990s. But there are signs now that big four-wheel drives built for the bush are becoming irrelevant to the suburbanites who once favoured them.
Put that down to city folk disillusioned with high running costs associated with the "big fellas" and the arrival of several competent large and medium-sized alternatives, most of which have enhanced on-road manners at the expense of off-road credentials.
How Nissan responds to the trend next will be fascinating to watch - and judging from the Crossbow concept shown at the 2000 Frankfurt motor show, indications are the next generation Patrol will be a technological tour de force.
It will need to be.
In the meantime, Nissan has set about stirring up support with a new 4.8-litre petrol engine mated to a five-speed automatic gearbox headlining its 2002 Patrol line-up.
Prices have risen in accordance with the improvements, but the range-topping seven-seat Patrol Ti tested here remains a value proposition with standard features running to leather trim, climate control air-conditioning, electric front seats, premium stereo, cruise control, sunroof, side steps (now new and improved), alloy wheels, four airbags, ABS brakes, sub fuel tank and a differential lock.
It also now has backlit instruments (which would have been easier to view if white rather than orange lighting was used), however there is still no trip computer and no three-point seatbelt or headrest for the centre passenger in row two.
Furthermore, Nissan Australia has seen fit to continue attaching a bullbar to the suburban-centred Ti, despite the extreme danger it presents to pedestrians and other road users.
In a sense, the thick bars of stainless steel across the massive front end of this 2.4-tonne truck illustrate the best and worst aspects of the Patrol. It can be tiresome to drive around the 'burbs, expensive to run, cumbersome to park and turn, and it poses a substantial threat of serious injury to passenger car occupants, should a collision occur.
But this is also a wonderful vehicle to drive across difficult off-road terrain - and now that the pushrod 4.5-litre engine has been put out to pasture, the big Patrol is an altogether more pleasant vehicle to spend time in out on the open road.
Featuring double overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder and variable valve timing, the new 4.8-litre straight-six produces 185kW at 4800rpm and 420Nm at 3600rpm.
Like the 4.5, it consumes an astonishing amount of fuel - do not count on achieving much less than 20L/100km - but the comparisons might as well end there. This one is smoother, quieter, quicker and more responsive and overtaking with a load on board no longer requires advance planning and/or forceful application of the right boot.
While the previous four-speed automatic did a commendable job under the circumstances, the new five-speed unit is a good match for the engine, by and large shifting with smoothness and timeliness, and offering the driver a greater degree of control with sequential manual gear selection.
As we have found in other semi-manuals, the electronic brain will prevent a driver downshifting if it deems the resultant revs too high. But that said, the gearbox will not upshift either in this mode unless the driver makes the call - an important feature when inching up a gradient, for there is no 4-3-2-L on the T-bar.
Shift points are also smooth when in low-range and although the gearing is not as low as it is in the manual ST, for example, we found the Ti will nonetheless crawl down a steep slope with good control and not too much call for the brakes.
Indeed, it is off the beaten track where the separate chassis Patrol impresses time and again with its excellent ride quality, ground clearance, wheel articulation and traction (the standard differential lock really earns its keep here).
Dust sealing is first-rate, too, while transition to the blacktop maintains a fine degree of refinement and ride comfort as road imperfections great and small are ironed out with ease.
The handling characteristics are no match for road-going RVs now littering the four-wheel drive market, with directional changes prompting a fair amount of body movement and corners encouraging the front end to push wide. Yet driven with restraint, the Patrol is a competent tourer.
Scrambling on board still takes some effort, even with improved running boards, but access to the second and third rows is a relatively simple affair with large side doors and quick-folding centre seats.
Front-seat comfort is never in doubt and the driver receives lumbar adjustment into the bargain. The view of the traffic is commanding, large wing mirrors assist the rearward outlook and the upright seating position helps with centre-row legroom and in part negates a lack of front-seat travel.
In fact, room in all critical areas up front and in the second row is generous for (four) adults, helped with the 50/50 split centre bench seat being positioned on rails. This row also tumbles forward, providing a vast amount of interior luggage space when the rear seats are folded up against the rear-side windows.
Limited space for feet and knees and pint-sized seatbacks render the third row unsuitable for most adults, although it is the position of choice ("the back of the bus") for kids.
Rear air-conditioning controls, overhead air vents and lights in the second and third rows, a plethora of storage options up front and no less than nine grabhandles throughout the cabin will all be appreciated.
On the flipside, obvious omissions include third row cupholders, twin-direction fan control, driver's vanity mirror, steering-mounted stereo controls, a lockable glovebox, power socket and small-item storage options in the luggage compartment.
The two-piece tailgate with a narrow first-stage door is also time-consuming and therefore frustrating at times to use.
Bringing more brawn to the 2002 Patrol Ti will doubtless attract votes from those swinging between the big Nissan and its obvious rival, the equally formidable Toyota LandCruiser.
But as both Japanese manufacturers are doubtless aware, "mass appeal" - in this form, at least - is disappearing. Fast.
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