Words and pictures by Grant Spolander
What’s the best 4×4? I’m asked this question almost daily and as most of you know, it’s something that’s nearly impossible to answer. What will the 4×4 be used for? Is good fuel economy important? How much load bay capacity do you need? Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
When I respond along these lines, people often pose another question: “Okay, then which is your favourite 4×4?” Well geez, that’s like asking someone what their favourite Spur burger is. But my answer is generally along the lines of: “Ummm… well…. okay… the thing is… you know… I just… I’d love to own a Nissan Patrol”.
The Patrol’s considered an upmarket SUV despite the fact that it’s got practically jack-all inside. Apart from an unfortunate excess of fake wood trimming, the Patrol has very little in the way of luxury or creature comforts. The radio / CD player looks cumbersome and dated in design. And it even has a tape deck for crying out loud – when was the last time you saw one of those in a car, let alone an SUV with sticker price of R700k!?
But there is some good news: Nissan SA has included several interior extras with the Adventurer 60 at no additional cost. So you get a full set of Howling Moon seat covers, a Garmin Nuvi 500 GPS and a moulded boot mat, all absolutely free.
Cabin space is very commendable. With the second and third row of seats folded flat or up to the side, the Patrol’s boot capacity is a sizeable 2 287 litres. Shoulder room is also worth a mention and on one occasion we had four adults (three females and one male) all sitting comfortably on the second row.
I’ve heard several women complain about the Patrol’s “grotesquely ugly and hideous looks”, so this is clearly a man’s car, I think it’s awesome! And better yet, the Adventurer 60 boasts a few exterior extras which make it look even more hardcore. For the price of a standard Patrol, the Adventurer 60 sports an aftermarket bull-bar, IPF spotlights, a snorkel and BFGoodrich AT tyres (265 / 65 / R17).
That’s at least R30k of functional, practical kit, stuff you’ll actually use, not like those ridiculous chrome-plated nudge bars that do nothing but diminish your 4×4’s approach angle. Good job Nissan, you guys get two thumbs up!
My Patrol love affair began a few years back when I drove a 4.8 GRX through the Limpopo Transfrontier Park, on the Mozambique side. Many of the roads were shot to hell – not just corrugated and bumpy, but oft en washed away and badly rutted. I was following a game ranger in his Defender 130 and we were driving a little faster than I would’ve liked.
But despite my trepidations the Patrol sailed over that terrain like the lead skater in Swan Lake on ice – supple, controlled and completely collected. The Patrol’s suspension is phenomenal, capable of smoothing out uneven terrain by rapidly flexing to the contours of the road while keeping the chassis surprisingly level.
The abovementioned ability stems from the Patrol’s front and rear solid-axle setup as well as terrific suspension flex. The Patrol scored an impressive 481 on our RTI ramp. By comparison, the Touareg scored 321 while the Discovery 4 scored 471. What’s more, the RTI test doesn’t highlight the primary advantage of a solid axle setup – consistent ground clearance. This is especially true on uneven terrain when one side of the track is suddenly higher than the other. Vehicles with independent suspension oft en bottom out in these environments; the wheels press upwards leaving the undercarriage low and exposed. In contrast, a 4×4 with solid axles has the ability to maintain its ground clearance measurement, pushing the chassis upwards as the axle lifts.
In South Africa, the Patrol is one of the few 4x4s to still boast solid front axle (SFA) suspension – both the Prado and the Land Cruiser 200 Series now have independent suspension upfront with a solid axle at the rear. In fact, there’s only a handful of SUVs which still sport an SFA design: the Cruiser 76 Series, the Jeep Wrangler, the Geländewagen, the Defender and the Patrol. Sadly, the new Patrol, currently available in foreign markets, has also gone the independent front suspension route.
It’s not just the Patrol’s suspension system which makes it such a formidable off -road contender, the vehicle also boasts excellent clearances: 220 mm under the rear diff and approach, break-over and departure angles of 37, 27 and 31° respectively. In addition, the Patrol sports a rear diff -lock, an incredibly robust chassis and the best axles in the business.
Throughout its history the Patrol has been famous for its axles. When Challenge drivers build a competition 4×4 they generally start looking for Patrol diff s; this has a lot to do with their large ring gear diameter and axle spline count, but it’s also related to the way the diff gears are cut, particularly in the front.
To save money, some manufacturers use the same diff in the front as they do in the rear; unfortunately, this weakens the front diff as it now rotates in the ‘wrong’ direction – running on the opposite side of the gear teeth. However, the Patrol’s front diff is reverse cut, allowing the pinion gear to turn on the correct side of the ring gear’s teeth.
If I were to criticise the Patrol’s off -road specifications, I’d probably complain about its lack of underbody protection – the engine sump and transfer case are a little exposed and there’s only one steel plate guarding the fuel tank.
Fuel consumption is the Patrol’s Achilles heel. Driving on the freeway with minimal load in the vehicle we recorded 18 l/100 km. Fortunately, the Patrol comes with dual fuel tanks (totalling 135 litres) so your range is still quite respectable – some 750 km of highway travel.
Economy aside, the 4.8-litre engine is a delight, and in many ways it’s what makes this vehicle such a pleasure to drive… well, that and its 5-speed auto box. With 190 kW @ 4 800 rpm and 425 Nm @ 3 600 rpm the Patrol has no problems with performance. We recorded acceleration times of 0 – 100 km / h in 9.12 seconds and 100 – 120 km / h in 4.4 seconds.
The transmission is beautifully mated to the 4.8-litre engine, offering gear changes slicker than a mobster’s alibi. What’s more, the Patrol’s throttle is highly sensitive – all you have to do is rest your foot on the pedal and the motor responds. I love, love, love this vehicle’s drivetrain, its toughness, durability, reliability and performance – you just can’t fault it.
You can, however, fault the Patrol’s handling and steering dynamics. Of course, as is the case with any large SUV the Patrol exhibits bodyroll through tight turns and the steering system’s a bit sloppy and vague. But you know what, you’ve gotta accept it for what it is – it’s the Bear Grylls of the off -road world. So while he may look odd in the city slurping down frogs and chewing on sewer rats, in the bush he’s the master of his trade.
To recap, the Adventurer 60 is a stock standard Patrol with a few aftermarket accessories: bull-bar, spotlights, AT tyres, snorkel, boot mat, canvas seat covers and a Garmin GPS… oh, and a full recovery kit with gloves, snatch strap, bow shackles and tow rope.
I’d guess these accessories add up to around R45k. Not a bad deal considering they’re included in the Patrol’s ‘normal’ price of R699 000. But let’s face it – that’s still a lot of money for a minimally specced SUV.
However, when you pay more or less the same money for the Geländewagen Professional, it’s clear that in comparison the Patrol is actually a ‘value’ offering. And, despite what G-Wagen fanatics might argue, I can’t believe that the Merc is any tougher than this Nissan.
This brings me to my next point and something I haven’t covered yet. Toughness. It’s not a characteristic you can see or list with a bunch of specs; rather, it’s a sense you get when you drive the Patrol, a feeling of resilience and all-out bokness like you could go anywhere in this 4×4, road or no road.
The downside is the high fuel consumption. Of course, you could opt for the 3.0 TD version which should return better economy, but after looking at this motor’s performance figures I’m guessing it’s slower than a three-legged donkey, given that it’s got 2.4 tons to haul. Maybe Nissan will one day offer the V9X engine in the Patrol’s shell – now that would be an interesting proposition.
…the folks at Honingklip 4WD for the use of their trail and facilities. Approximately an hour’s drive from Cape Town, the Honingklip Reserve boasts amazing views of the Elgin Valley and Worcester mountains. For more information call Richard on 083 287 5112 or go to www.honingklip.com