Ship of the desert Bill McKinnon Friday February 8 2002 With a new engine, the Patrol is a true rival for the LandCruiser – and does its best work off the beaten track. Good: 4.8-litre engine/five-speed auto drivetrain gives outstanding performance and flexibility. Heavy-duty suspension and rugged construction ideal for outback touring and towing. Unstoppable in rough country. Powerful brakes. A heap of truck for the money. Bad: Space efficiency. Part-time 4WD. Suspension on rough bitumen. Fuel bills. Marginal ANCAP test result. Tyre grip, especially in the wet. Low on-road handling limits. Stars: 4 (out of 5) in the bush; 3 overall. Verdict: No longer the poor man's LandCruiser.advertisement advertisement Today, many motorists snarl at Nissan's Patrol and its long-time rival, the Toyota LandCruiser, for being socially and environmentally irresponsible choices for urban use. Can't argue with that – but in the bush, especially the outback, and as heavy-duty tow vehicles, they are still the best in the business. Off the beaten track and in many other areas, the Patrol matches the 'Cruiser in ability, but there is a significant grandfather's axe element about the Nissan. It is a truck, albeit a pretty civilised, comfortable one. The Toyota is a truck, too, but as trucks go, it is a more refined drive, with a higher level of technology and contemporary engineering throughout. The Patrol's old 4.2-litre petrol straight six absolutely gulped fuel and, while endowed with tractor-like grunt at the bottom end, was a wheezy, primitive device in comparison with the Toyota's smooth, responsive 4.5. Nissan has given the 2002 Patrol the petrol engine it should have had years ago – a 4.8-litre 24-valve six, with variable length induction tracts and intake valve timing designed to retain low-down stomp while also delivering muscular performance in the top half of the rev range. On paper, the Patrol now has a numbers advantage over the Toyota. Its 4.8 produces 185 kW of power at 4800 rpm ('Cruiser: 156 at 4600) and 420 thumping Newton metres of torque at 3600 ('Cruiser: 387 at 4600.) The 4.8 engine is available in two wagon models, the $52,740 manual ST, and the $70,740 Ti. A five-speed automatic, with sequential shifting, is a $2800 option on the ST and standard on the Ti. Like the new engine, it raises the bar in this class of two; the 'Cruiser uses a conventional four-speed auto. The 4.8 is a beauty. It pulls like a train right across the rev range, is acceptably smooth and very quiet when cruising and has the mid-range/top-end urge to really get the 2.4-tonne ST mobile when you need strong overtaking performance. It drives the Patrol from 0-100 kmh in a rapid 11.4 seconds – almost three seconds quicker than the previous model, and about one second quicker than the 'Cruiser GXL 4.5 auto. The fifth ratio allows for effortless open-road progress, ticking over at 2000 rpm at 100 kmh. Fuel economy, though still dreadful compared with just about anything else on the road, is now comparable with the Toyota on the highway but they city figure is no real improvement. Total tank capacity of 131 litres (95 main/36 sub) is 14 fewer than the Cruiser. The five-speed auto shifts smoothly and crisply when unstressed; if the engine is working hard, this much torque is bound to cause the occasional thump and, if you put your foot down when moving off from rest, a slight drivetrain tremor. Manual mode is superfluous in normal use, but being able to select gears quickly can be very useful when towing a heavy load, and in some off-road situations as well. The Patrol runs outdated part-time four-wheel-drive with auto locking front hubs on the ST (4WD cannot be used on bitumen). Permanent 4WD, as used on the Cruiser, is a superior system on the road and for towing. It is long overdue on the Patrol. A relatively tall (in comparison with the Toyota) low-range transfer case reduction ratio presents no problems even in extreme terrain – if a Patrol or LandCruiser can't get up, across or through it, nothing can. Nissan has made other changes to the 4.8 variants, including fitting larger brake discs and caliper pistons, wider 275/70 tyres, retuned suspension (still with multi-link rigid axles at both ends) for a more comfortable ride, upgraded headlights and styling tweaks inside and out. Handling on bitumen is, like the Toyota, more semi than sporty. This much weight sits solidly on the road, though, and the Nissan has no vices beyond the usual for this genre. Corners require care and a leisurely approach, though body roll is well controlled. Tyre grip is mediocre, especially when it's wet. The steering is typically remote in feel, but well weighted and, by Kenworth standards, precise enough. Small bumps cause the Patrol to shake like a bowl of jelly as the suspension leaves much of the compliance work to the large lumps of rubber in the chassis and on the road. The ride is comfortable, if hardly luxurious. The brakes are powerful and progressive, but stopping distances by car standards are long and in wet conditions the optional anti-lock braking cuts in early as the tyres quickly give up. In the city, it's a waste of time. Large gaps become small ones. In cut-and-thrust traffic it has the manoeuvrability of the Titanic. You don't park the Nissan. You berth it. Gently. Off road, the Patrol has excellent axle articulation and approach and departure angles, and you don't have the Toyota's underslung spare to worry about. Its considerably higher rated rear springs are also much more appropriate for a load hauler. On a recent trip across the Simpson, the LandCruiser's back end bounced all over the place on the rutted French Line, stretched the dampers to fading point and was poorly controlled on corrugations. The Patrol, which was chock-a-block with five people and a mountain of camping gear, had no such problems. The plush, comfortable driver's seat has a height- and tilt-adjustable cushion and head restraint. Side bolstering is non-existent, and travel may be limited for some long-legged drivers. You sit high above the pack, facing a simple, efficient Japan Inc dash layout. The wheel is adjustable for height, but reach is fixed. Cruise-control buttons are on the right side of the airbag housing. Air-conditioning is also standard, along with a CD player, power windows and mirrors, remote central locking and a pair of third row seats. A passenger airbag should be included at the price. The middle row is narrower and less comfortable than that of the 'Cruiser. Adults sit knees-up with only a lap belt in the centre. The two rear seats are fine for kids, and adults on a short drive, again with knees up around the chin. The 60-40 vertically split tailgate has its pros and cons compared with the rival's horizontally split arrangement. It's a pity you can't easily remove the two back seats, as in the Toyota, because they severely restrict load capacity. The 50-50 split middle seat backrest double-folds for a flat 1.65-metre extended floor, without compromising front seat travel. Two child restraint anchors are located in the floor immediately behind the two outer middle seat positions. The 4.8 ST is certainly competitive with the 4.5-litre LandCruiser GXL and, depending upon where your priorities lie, is arguably the better buy. It is $4000 cheaper for a start. However the major downside of both petrol engines is fuel consumption. Which is why, when you pull into an outback campsite, the majority of the Patrol and 'Cruiser wagons are diesels. They deliver up to 50 per cent better economy, a much longer range and plenty of torque. Nissan's Patrol ST 3.0 turbo diesel, at $50,540, is great value. If you're after a Patrol, give it a try as well. You'll save squillions at the pump. Vital signs Engine: 4.8-litre 24-valve fuel-injected six-cylinder. Power: 185 kW at 4800 rpm (best in class, as is torque). Performance: 0-100 kmh in11.4 seconds (quick). Brakes: Discs with ABS (average). Economy: 15.9 litres/100 km highway (average); 22.5 city (thirsty). Prices: Recommended retail: $52,740. Street price: Toyota is wheeling and dealing hard on 'Cruiser at present, so expect a $3000 sweetener from your Nissan dealer. Main options: Five-speed automatic $2800; passenger airbag/ABS $2000. Warranty: Three years/100,000 km (average). Safety rating: 2 out of 5 (ANCAP tests 1998). Residual value: 63 per cent after three years (average; LandCruiser GXL68 per cent). Alternative: Toyota LandCruiser GXL 4.5, $56,990. Prices Guess you guys won't see many of these around your way.