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Car reviews - Nissan - Patrol - Ti 5-dr wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Large, rugged, well fitted-out
Room for improvement
Large, rugged, essentially primitive, thirsty for fuel

1 Apr 2005

EVOLUTIONISTS believe the Nissan Patrol is genetically linked with a little-known and quite hairy vehicle that roamed the high country of Australia three decades ago.

Direct evidence may be hard to find, and the belief that a primitive, two-door soft-top with a three-speed gearbox could have evolved into the civilized Nissan we know today may be a little hard to swallow, but there are some valid arguments supporting the theory.

The contention is that proof can be found in some seemingly fundamental similarities: the ancient Patrol, like the one we know today, used all fours to get around and, also like today’s vehicle, was capable of using just its rear wheels if it felt so inclined.

Perhaps most significantly, the heart of the long-departed Patrol had the same basic six-ventricle structure as the one we know today.

Compelling evidence, but the theory seems to go a bit awry when you consider the fact that the ancient Patrol had only those three gearbox speeds to propel it, and was restricted in its ability to leap from corner to corner by primitive leaf springs. And its soft roof would have left it quite vulnerable in the wet primordial ooze.

With the coming of swifter, more agile competitors, surely these limitations would have affected its ability to survive.

There is no question the first Patrol would not survive in modern conditions. Its lumbering gait and simple reasoning skills would make it easy meat for predators the same characteristics would limit its ability to sustain itself.

The modern Patrol, on the other hand, is actually well suited to today’s climate.

Even though it might seem a little primitive, it continues to have relevance, partly due to its very basic substance, and partly due to its successful adaptation to today’s conditions.

The Patrol may be a lumbering beast when compared to, say, a highly evolved vehicle like the BMW X5, but it would leave the lithe German floundering and roaring in frustration in conditions that, to it, would barely rate as challenging.

The problem, for the Patrol’s makers, has been to ensure its survivability in more genteel, urban situations.

That has been an ongoing challenge for Nissan, and the latest version, that made its first appearance towards the end of 2004, has gone about as far as possible using the same basic DNA from which the Patrol was originally created.

It answers the need for more urbanisation via a little pampering and softening-up. This has meant the creation of a new interior complete with a wholly re-designed dashboard that includes, at the top of the family tree, a satellite navigation system and a rearview camera that allows the Patrol to see where it’s about to stand.

It’s more comfortable too, with re-designed seats front and rear, a cosier, higher front armrest and, in more socially elevated models, fold-down tables behind the front seats.

It’s easy to recognise the 2005 model from outside because it looks, at the same time, tougher and sleeker. The broader-shouldered look contributed to by large over-fenders is enough to intimidate some competitors, as is the new face with its wide-open maw and bulging bonnet.

The cosmetics have gone so far that the people at Nissan say the latest-generation Patrol only shares its roof panel with the previous model. But the basic life-support systems are essentially unchanged.

The big 4WD, in all but its bottom-rung DX form, will still quite comfortably swallow seven people on big, plush seats, and still offers three power choices: the 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel the 4.2-litre six-cylinder turbo-diesel and the normally aspirated 4.8-litre petrol engine that is the only powerplant available in the top-of-the-line Ti tested here. Only the 3.0-litre turbo-diesel has been changed, its power lifted by 2kW and its torque by a handy 26Nm.

The 4.8-litre petrol engine continues to dish out a handy 185kW, along with 420Nm of torque, which is all very helpful but extracts a price in terms of fuel consumption.

It’s difficult at the best of times to economically shift along 2.4 tonnes of 4WD, and even more so with a largish – even if relatively sophisticated – petrol engine. Thanks must be given to the fact that the Patrol is able to carry 131 litres of fuel, 36 litres of which are held in a sub-tank.

Interestingly, the Patrol Ti’s basic trip computer system tells you a number of things, but not the average fuel consumption.

The Patrol Ti is quite punchy, and smooth, and quiet. The five-speed, sequential-shifting auto transmission helps both drivability and fuel economy by allowing high gearing at cruise speed, yet enabling the driver to select ratios at will.

The Nissan makes a pretty good fist of being an agreeable urban companion, more silent in terms of road noise than before, and still ultra roomy – except that the third-row rear seats greedily eat into luggage space.

The ride is quite firm, and basic, what with its simple live-axle suspension. The coil-sprung system might be effective off-road, but its basic design lets it down on beaten-up tarmac. The recirculating ball steering doesn’t really help in terms of accuracy either, and the ratio is a little slow, but the Patrol’s handling is okay, up to a point. After that it simply becomes a big, heavy, agricultural 4WD wagon that should be treated with respect.

The new dash looks classy, particularly when centred on a standard satellite navigation system, as is the case with the Ti. The system is a little fiddly to operate, and seems to take longer than most to think about the best way of going places. The screen is also used to display the view through the rear-vision camera.

What you tend to forget in the Patrol Ti is that this is still essentially a purpose-designed 4WD designed to tackle pretty tough terrain. The leather seats and fine carpet might suggest otherwise, as might the total luxury of an interior that has two air-conditioning systems and a roof-mounted DVD player for rear-seat passengers.

If you don’t mind grubbing-up the interior after crossing the inevitable mud-hole, then the Patrol will take you places totally unavailable to regular SUVs such as the X5 BMW, Volvo XC90 or Lexus RX330.

It is not, like any of the aforementioned, able to use four-wheel drive on the open road – unless it’s icy or greasy – but when it’s locked into four-wheel drive, it’s locked into four-wheel drive. There’s no torque-split between front and rear axles, just a solid 50-50 each way delivery.

You might not feel quite so planted when cruising the highway in two-wheel drive, dry-weather mode, but the sense of being an irresistible force when tackling the first steep, rutted track is a great compensation.

However when you consider the uses people put their 4WDs to, it seems the rugged nature of the Patrol may work against it in the future. 4WD buyers have demonstrated for long enough now that what a vehicle can actually do is less important than what it suggests it might be able to do.

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