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First (right-hand) drive: Nissan Patrol raises the bar

On Patrol: There is plenty of clever engineering under the new Nissan Patrol’s more upmarket exterior styling, and it shows.

Hi-tech, refined new Nissan Patrol to take on ’Cruiser, Disco – but on its terms

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Nissan logo12 Sep 2012

By HAITHAM RAZAGUI

NISSAN will aim straight at Toyota’s 200-series LandCruiser while taking a swipe at the Land Rover Discovery with its luxurious, hi-tech, petrol V8-only sixth-generation Patrol SUV when it finally reaches Australian showrooms in January next year.

The new ‘Y62’ Patrol will make its Australian – and right-hand-drive – public debut at next month’s Sydney motor show, where official pricing will be revealed, but for now Nissan has announced that three variants will be offered from launch and provided indicative pricing.

Nissan says the Y62 will cost from less than $85,000 plus on-road costs for the ST-L base variant, with the mid-spec Ti priced lower than $95,000 and the technology packed Ti-L flagship at around $115,000.

A quick comparison with V8 petrol LandCruiser 200 prices reveals where Nissan is heading, with the the base GXL variant on $83,490, the middling VX at $94,490 and the top-level Sahara at $113,490.

Land Rover’s Discovery – albeit fitted with a more fuel-efficient V6 turbo-diesel – costs $83,400 for the SE and $95,100 for the HSE, while the V8 petrol is pricier than either Japanese offering at $129,400.

Toyota Australia might not be quaking in its boots from a sales volume perspective, but after a day putting the new Patrol through various – sometimes contrived – tests at Brisbane’s Mount Cotton driver training facility, it is clear that Nissan has raised the bar significantly at this price point.

Although it is tight-lipped on expected sales volumes in Australia, Nissan expects this country to become the third largest market for the Y62 after the Middle East and Russia, which have so far accounted for roughly 90 per cent of the 40,000 units sold since it went on sale in 2010.

The new Patrol dwarfs the current-generation ‘Y61’ vehicle and its 5140mm length, 1995mm width, and 1940mm height exceed the LandCruiser 200’s respective dimensions by 190mm, 25mm and 60mm.

It translates to a roomy cabin, including a limousine-like 721mm of kneeroom for centre row occupants and plenty of headroom and shoulder space all round.

Similar to its strategy of selling the old-shape D22 Navara ute alongside the newer D40 version, Nissan will keep offering the utilitarian Y61 Patrol – which launched in 1997 – as its diesel offering in the absence of a diesel Y62 for the forseeable future.

Nissan will drop the top-spec $70,490 Ti variant of the Y61 when the Y62 is launched, leaving the $56,990 as the top-spec model and creating a circa $28,000 gulf between the two models.

Members of the media were shown a photo of the Y62 looking decidedly at home on the driveway of a modern luxury house as a demonstration of how the Patrol has taken a leap upmarket, and Nissan says the car will be primarily bought by white-collar city slickers with a sense of adventure or a big boat to tow.

Stepping aboard the first pre-production right-hand-drive Y62s in Australia, the mid-spec Ti revealed a plush, comfortable cabin with huge armchair-like front seats, separated by a large centre armrest with clever two-way opening that accesses either a shallow storage tray or cavernous bin.

There is a luxurious, hi-tech ambience and even the swathes of woodgrain are acceptable by Japanese standards, but we were disappointed that the only interior colour scheme for Australia will be a moody predominantly black number.

It gets worse in the ST base variant, which is upholstered in 1990s-style velour fabric.

We were also surprised to find this tech-laden car had an old-school foot operated parking brake – what about a modern electric one, Nissan?The translation to right-hand-drive also leaves the gear selector on the wrong side of the broad centre console.

All variants of the new Patrol are powered by a 5.6-litre petrol V8 that produces 298kW of power and 560Nm of torque – 90 per cent of which is available from 2500rpm – driving through a seven-speed automatic transmission to provide the 2.8-tonne SUV with a hot hatch-like sub seven-second sprint to 100km/h and a LandCruiser-matching 3500kg towing capacity.

The V8 did an impressive job of hurtling the hulking Patrol around and provided a fruity soundtrack when pushed – helpful as there is little sensation of speed – with impressively serene progress at all other times.

Its smooth linear power delivery meant effortless, near-silent off-roading – until the engine got a bit hot and the noisy fan kicked in. No electric thermo fans Nissan?The transmission did not seem all that intelligent when we took the Patrol for a few laps of a twisty simulated road circuit – we were not permitted to drive these cars on public roads – as more than once it annoyingly changed up a gear at inopportune moments part way through a bend.

Official combined fuel consumption – of more expensive premium unleaded – is 14.5 litres per 100 kilometres, providing a theoretical 1000km range from the $200-a-fill 140-litre tank.

Nissan is keen to point out the V8's thirst represents a 15.6 per cent improvement over the discontinued 4.8-litre six-cylinder petrol Patrol, which consumed 17.2L/100km.

In addition to the smoother exterior styling and luxurious interior, departures from the rugged Y61 include the new Patrol’s independent suspension and electronic off-road mode selection systems, but Nissan claims the big SUV is still a gun off-roader.

A couple of laps around an off-road course gave us little reason to question this, the Patrol not breaking a bead of sweat on steep rutted climbs, wading and steep descents while being remarkably comfortable and refined – Range Rover look out! All Patrols have low-range transmissions, a rear differential lock, limited-slip differentials, hill start assist, hill descent control and a permanent four-wheel-drive system that can send up to 100 per cent of torque to the rear wheels and a maximum of 50 per cent to the front wheels depending on driving conditions.

Driving through the narrow, wooded Mount Cotton tracks we were constantly reminded of the Patrol’s sheer size but Nissan’s engineers have managed to plug in a useful 12.5-metre turning circle, which matches the Y61.

This, combined with the well-weighted steering that is not too slow at 3.5 turns lock to lock, made threading the Patrol through gaps between trees far easier than expected.

Ti and Ti-L variants have a motorsport-derived Hydraulic Body Motion Control suspension system, which replaces traditional sway bars and shock absorbers with a fluid-filled network of pistons, pipes and accumulators – similar to the McLaren 12C supercar – that reduce roll while cornering and increase wheel articulation off-road.

Mount Cotton did not provide the kind of rock-hopping terrain that would enable us to check out the extra articulation on offer over the standard suspension but we did notice a bit of extra pitching over uneven surfaces in the still-impressive ST.

Comparing the two suspension systems back-to-back during some motorkhana-style exercises on the skid pan revealed the Ti’s hydraulic setup does aid quick direction changes over the ST and yields markedly better body control.

All but the Ti-L can seat eight, with the centre-rear seatbelt removed on the flagship due to gross vehicle weight constraints as the extra on-board kit of the top-spec variant means it tips the scales at 2829kg.

Your 186cm correspondent managed to fit into the third-row bench, but knees were firmly pressed against the backrest of the middle row, so it remains a youngster-only zone.

The centre row seats tip forward with the pull of a lever, enabling easy access to the rear bench, which folds flat with one tug of a cord and boosts boot space from 560 litres to 1490L, while folding the centre row increases this to a cavernous 3107L.

Standard safety gear across the range includes six airbags – with curtain bags that extend along all three seating rows – whiplash-reducing front head restraints, electronic stability and traction control, front and rear parking sensors and a reversing camera.

Features aimed at keeping the Patrol’s interior comfortable in hot environments like Australia and the Middle East include a powerful air-conditioning system designed to reduce interior temperatures from 50 degrees to 20 degrees in just three minutes and vents above the rear side windows designed to reduce the effect of heat coming through the glass.

The ST-L has 18-inch alloy wheels, velour cloth upholstery, eight-way electric adjustment for the driver’s seat, height and tilt-adjustable leather multi-function steering wheel, woodgrain cabin trim, dual-zone climate control, a seven-inch colour screen, CD/MP3/DVD player with 2GB music memory, iPod connectivity and six speakers, Bluetooth hands-free phone, cruise control and a trip computer.

In addition to the clever suspension, upgrading to the Ti adds speed-sensitive power steering, leather upholstery, electric passenger seat adjustment, automatic headlights and wipers, and an electric glass sunroof.

The top-spec Ti-L gains a raft of extra safety equipment including adaptive cruise control, forward collision detection with impact mitigation braking, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assistance, tyre pressure monitoring and display, all-round cameras, self-levelling Xenon headlights and a theft alarm.

Interior luxury takes a step up with a 13-speaker Bose premium audio system with Bluetooth audio streaming, eight-inch front screen and two independent seven-inch rear DVD entertainment screens, satelitte navigation, a chilled storage compartment, memory function for the electric seat, steering wheel and mirror adjustment and a self-dimming interior mirror.

We did not have a great deal of time to get to know the new Patrol and fiddle with its on-board systems and our drive did not reveal how the Patrol will ride on Australia’s broken road network – although we’re willing to bet it will be a comfy cruiser.

The comfortable, well-presented interior and combination of refinement, punchy performance with seemingly effortles, supremely comfortable off-roading demonstrated the depth of engineering that has gone into it.

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