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First drive: Nissan’s Patrol a sophisticated beast

Be patient: Australia will not receive the new Patrol until 2012.

A short drive of Nissan’s crucial new 2012 Patrol leaves a lasting impression

2 Nov 2010

NISSAN provided a brief sample of its forthcoming new-generation Patrol SUV to Australian journalists this week at the Mount Cotton Driver Training facility in Queensland.

Although not due for release here until 2012, Nissan Australia had shipped in a left-hand drive Middle Eastern-specification version of the big new 4WD wagon for last month’s Australian International Motor Show, and the company will now keep the vehicle for local accessory development by suppliers such as ARB.

From launch, the P61G will be sold only with Nissan’s thumping new 298kW/550Nm direct-injection 5.6-litre petrol V8 when it finally reaches Australian showrooms – two years after being revealed in the Middle East in February this year.

But the opportunity to sample the new model, albeit in a brief introductory drive, provided plenty of clues on what to expect when it returns here in right-hand drive guise and final Australian trim.

Drive impressions:

12 center imageWith just under 4km of driving provided on a private road circuit used for police and ambulance driver training, our first drive in the new P61G Patrol gave us barely enough time to get comfortable in the driver’s seat.

While there are only so many things you can say about a vehicle given the circumstances – and let’s face it, it was an excellent opportunity for Nissan to provide a local perspective on its all-important new SUV – a few impressions did crystallise.

Firstly, Nissan’s intention to move the new Patrol upwards does not just refer to the nameplate’s newfound upmarket position. It is a large SUV by any measure. It makes the old GU Patrol (which will continue alongside the new P61G Patrol) look trim.

From a rear-seat perspective, for example, the centre-console compartment looked big enough to house a pet poodle. There was plenty of head, shoulder and knee room up front but in the driver’s seat it felt like you were positioned a little too close to the A-pillar. While we didn’t get a chance to sample the third row, the second row seat was just massive. There is just so much space back there.

The Patrol’s large innards are no illusion trick: it is massive on the outside, too. While the off-road course was tight and technical in the big Patrol – side mirrors needed to be folded, and a few back-and-fills were needed – the ride in the back was not as supple as might be expected of the new hydraulic damper independent suspension.

As far as first impressions go, this new Patrol is so removed from the GU that it really doesn’t bear comparison. Many top-shelf SUVs feel like little more than labourers dressed in expensive suits – under all that leather and fake woodgrain you can’t hide the more rudimentary nature of the beast.

The P61G Patrol feels upmarket in the way a Discovery 4 HSE or Range Rover does. There is no sense of vinyl ever being intended for the space where the fine cut-pile has been laid.

So this feels like a luxury SUV immediately when seated in the back and is likely to be priced accordingly. Nissan Australia CEO Dan Thompson said that while no final decision has been made, two trim levels are on the cards for P61G Patrol, with the premium model likely to exceed $100,000. No decision has been made on trim grade appellation Mr Thompson said he was still undecided on whether the new Patrol will maintain naming conventions such as Ti and Ti-L.

Behind the wheel, there is so much to take in – the ergonomics might be okay given some more wheel time, but in the short stint we had it was hard to make complete sense of all the buttons and graphic displays of this fully-loaded P61G Patrol. Yet a few items stood out for being clear and clever: the centre camera display, which gives an accurate depiction of what is occurring at the back and at each corner of the vehicle and the central transfer case control wheel and off-road aids encased within the same cluster. The 5.6-litre V8 engine was smooth and quiet, and hooked up well to the seven-speed automatic transmission. Although the transmission could take a moment to answer the call for kick-down, once it did, the glorious bellow of the silken V8 could – just – be heard deep down somewhere in the basement, and the surge forward gave the same sense of wonder as seeing your first ever Jumbo rolling down a runway at V-max. How could something so big and ponderous possibly fly? No the Patrol didn’t feel fast as such, but it is responsive and as a point-to-point tourer, it would reel in the white lines with ease.

The steering responded more quickly than you’d imagine and allowed a surprising amount of precision when making adjustments though a corner, even though steering feel was in this case an oxymoron. The way the hydraulically controlled dampers reduced lean through corners was impressive, although the tyres couldn’t keep the big truck glued to the road quite the way those on a BMW X5 could. What was apparent from this taste test on local roads – albeit synthetically created roads – is that Nissan must have only glanced briefly over its shoulder at LandCruiser 200 when developing this vehicle. Given the refined nature of this big beast, their eyes must’ve been firmly fixed on Range Rover. We’ll have to wait and see if this represents the first credible threat to the elegant and refined British SUV (in more than build quality, at least), but in the meantime the extremely competent – if rather corpulent – P61G Patrol has clearly become the sophisticate it never has been before.

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