Big and brash, Nissan's new flagship SUV leaves quite a substantial first impression. Meet the latest Patrol...
If, in an ever-evolving automotive world, high-performance brands such as Ferrari, Porsche and Aston Martin place considerable value on incorporating their respective racing-honed pedigree into each new product, in the off-roading world a brand’s heritage plays the most significant role in appealing to adventure seekers.
That mantra certainly applies to Nissan. While the likes of Jeep and Land Rover have each been plying their trades for just a little longer (since 1945 and 1947, respectively), hugely significant models like the Toyota Land Cruiser and Nissan Patrol are both currently in their 67th year of production, and still going strong.
Eight years into its lifecycle and facelifted along the way, the Y62-generation Patrol arrives in South Africa in time to accept the baton from its endangered Infiniti QX80 cousin. Considering our market’s traditional fondness for the Nissan badge (and relative unfamiliarity with products from its luxury division), as well as the lower pricing associated with the “lesser” Nissan-built product, you’d assume the Patrol might enjoy a bit more market success than the lesser-spotted QX80.
Built on the same platform as the Infiniti we tested a few years back, the “new” Patrol shares similarly substantial dimensions. That said, while the Nissan is wider than its cousin, there’s a welcome simplicity to the Patrol’s styling, certainly when compared with the ungainly QX80. Also helping the Nissan’s cause is shorter overhangs, front and rear, as well as the standard fitment of somewhat more practical 18-inch alloy wheels (the Infiniti wears flamboyant 22-inch items). We would consider a colour other than this black, though, if only to make the chrome exterior accenting, including door handles, less noticeable.
Considering those mammoth exterior dimensions, it’s no surprise to find enough seating room for up to eight adults in the new Patrol. Finished in plush leather throughout, both the second and third rows of seats offer a 60:40-split backrest for added versatility, while there’s a lap belt to be found in the centre of each bench. By our measurements, there’s a metre’s worth of headroom available in the second row, with 870 mm on offer in the rearmost pews (enough for adults of moderate height). With the third row neatly stowed, the big Nissan offers a gargantuan 920 litres of luggage space.
It’s not often we say this, as they usually serve little purpose, but the standard runner boards fitted to this vehicle are welcome, offering a handy step for clambering into the Patrol’s commanding driving position.
While the glossy wood finish on the centre console and transmission tunnel won’t be to everyone’s taste, the plethora of buttons and functions housed in these slabs represent every modern convenience Nissan offers, including controls for heated and cooled seats, 360-degree parking cameras, multi-zone climate control and a full bouquet of infotainment functionality (including controls for the rear-facing, eight-inch DVD monitors housed in the front-seat headrests). Standard satellite navigation is incorporated within an eight-inch touchscreen display.
What’s more, the massive centre console offers a refrigeration function and there’s a handy reverse camera display in the rear-view mirror. Keyless entry and start, as well as a powered (painfully slow in its operation) tailgate, adds to the premium feel of this package.
While some aspects of the impressively solid interior highlight this Patrol’s relative age, what will raise most eyebrows is the fact that the big Nissan is offered exclusively with a naturally aspirated, 5,6-litre, V8 petrol engine. However, despite the guilt associated with 334 g/km worth of CO2 emissions, this 298 kW/560 N.m engine remains an absolute gem.
Boasting hydraulically adjustable valve timing with electrically controlled lift to compensate for potentially less dense air, it’s a characterful unit that wouldn’t feel out of place in an American muscle car, let alone an eight-seater SUV, such is its eagerness to rev. Mated with a slick seven-speed transmission, it’s a drivetrain that copes admirably with whichever of the four driving modes (from open road to rock crawling) is selected. Indeed, imagine our surprise when this 2,6-tonne Patrol leapt off the line to record a best 0-100 km/h time of just 7,77 seconds.
The downside, of course, is fuel-consumption figures that could, on their own, help put your petrol-station manager’s child through college. While we did manage a combined-cycle fuel-route figure of 15,1 L/100 km, it wasn’t uncommon during our time with the vehicle for that figure to register closer to 20. Small solace comes in the form of a 140-litre fuel tank that should offer around 800 km worth of respite between visits to the forecourt.
While the Patrol never feels anything but massive on the road, there remains a welcome level of sophistication to how it handles its mass. Certainly, those absorbent tyre walls play their part, but Nissan has also worked wonders with a suspension setup (complete with an interlinked hydraulic body-motion-control system) that manages to find a compromise between effortless open-road comfort and keeping the side-to-side momentum generated by the Patrol’s massive body in check.
While we’re not about to wax lyrical about this particular Nissan’s handling characteristics, on the open road (and away from tight, modern parking complexes), there’s a lot to be said for the unlikely sense of balance afforded the newest Patrol … as long as you maintain a relatively firm grip on a steering wheel that offers little in the way of precision, and even less in the way of feedback.
As part of Nissan’s Intelligent Mobility programme, the Patrol offers such modern safety features as blind-spot monitoring (certainly something other road users will be grateful for), adaptive cruise control and forward-collision warning with an emergency braking function.
While it wouldn’t be a Nissan Patrol without an impressive array of off-road accoutrements, much like a modern Land Cruiser, you do get the sense that, should you ever get a Patrol stuck, it’s not because the vehicle is potentially being driven in the wrong mode, but rather that you yourself have made a navigational error. And, even then, there’s a good chance the Nissan will find its way out.
Not to be glib, but we enjoyed the Nissan Patrol because, aside from being able to safely transport eight passengers, it would make an especially poor school-run SUV. Too big, too thirsty and, to some, too ungainly, there's nonetheless bucket-loads of charm that accompany traditional SUVs such as this. They make it impossible not to consider simply setting a course due north to see where it takes you, even while negotiating a simple Sunday morning milk and newspaper run.
If our recent driving impression of the updated Nissan Qashqai reads favourably, it's largely because of Nissan's experience when it comes to offering solidly built people movers that at their heart all want to grow up to be as cool as the big-daddy Patrol.
While the Infiniti QX80 tested in 2015 had us feeling similarly wistful, you have to imagine that, in this segment - much like the Toyota Land Cruiser 200/Lexus LX arrangement - it's the 'original' of the two options to which buyers are drawn. While it's a pity Nissan doesn't offer a somewhat more socially acceptable diesel-powered Patrol, we still secretly hope the 5,6-litre V8 sells well. We'll certainly be smiling each time we see one...
*From the April 2018 issue of CAR magazine