As a result, I’m not ideally prepared to judge the definitive merits of the Nissan Patrol because it’s a car that has a specific purpose at the blunt, mallet-headed end of the 4x4 business.
Nissan is refreshingly honest about this car in a sector that is increasingly riddled with smoke and mirrors and grand claims when it comes to the abilities, or otherwise, of off-roaders.
There are 4x4s that are claimed, with a disingenuous twinkle in the manufacturer’s eye, to cut it when the going gets tough. This is safe in the knowledge that these SUVs will never see the innards of the Australian Outback or the fetid entrails of a South American rainforest.
The Patrol is about as much fun to drive on the road as it must be navigating an oiltanker through the Panama Canal. It always has been and with the new version there has been very little done to improve matters.
But such is the strength of Nissan’s position when it comes to four-wheel drive vehicles, it doesn’t need to make concessions. The Patrol’s job is to do the ugly stuff, the slogging and the plugging, while vehicles such as the X-trail, Terrano II, and from next year, the Pathfinder and Murano prance about on the high street and the odd gymkhana field.
Unlike most monocoque SUVs, the Patrol still retains its old-fashioned ladder chassis with a body bolted on top. That means long-travel wheel articulation and plenty of ground clearance with short overhangs to avoid any unwanted scraping or grounding when climbing or descending more extreme gradients. When it is on Tarmac, the Patrol operates in two-wheel drive mode with the power being sent to the rear axle.
There is then the option of high and low four-wheel drive options which can be shifted into at speeds of up to 30mph. There’s no fancy electronic button to do this though. It’s done with the time-honoured shove of the gear lever in the transfer box.
A rear differential lock to keep those back wheels powering through whatever they encounter is also part of the Patrol’s equipment, while the rear stabiliser bar can also be disengaged to allow more off-road ability.
On the road, the stabiliser bar will try to contain body roll as much as possible but on the rough stuff you don’t want the chassis buttoned down and stiff. Pliable and flexible is the order of the day.
All of these features will not be new to Patrol drivers. But it’s as instructive to highlight what’s not changed, as what has, because the Patrol is all about dependability and proven skills over many years across the globe in all conditions. It’s innards are ‘mend-with-a-hammer’ metal, rather than ‘plug-into-a-computer’ electronics and this is what this market wants.
What has changed is the cosmetic side of the car. Every panel except the roof is new with a smoother nose and Nissan corporate grille.
It also gets new lights at the rear, wider wheel arches and side steps, as well as body-coloured door handles and rain sills. That should sell it to rough, tough off-road veterans then. Basically though, despite the odd cosmetic stroke, the Patrol is still the gruff, meaty leviathan it always has been, which is a good thing. But just because it’s a tool to do a mostly unglamorous job, doesn’t mean that drivers aren’t afforded some comfort.
A completely new interior with options such as heated seats, satellite navigation, in-dash CD changer and leather trim are now available.
Sales of the Patrol have been on the up for the past few years but they didn’t exactly have much to beat. In 2002 Nissan only sold 272 Patrols, while it registered 530 last year.
With the new model it hopes to clear 800 in 2005 with the vast majority being ‘retail’ sales rather than fleet.
But what that actually means is sales to smaller companies, or people in the agricultural business, for those who need an car to do a very specific job, either off-road or towing large objects about. The firm reckons it could sell more but the promotional budget will be allocated to the likes of the Pathfinder, Murano, and X-trail before the Patrol.
The manual can tow a very sizeable 3.5 tonnes, while the auto version has a limit of 2.5, but it makes it just the beast if that’s what your business requires. Prices start at £24,500 for the 3.0-litre manual and £31,400 for the auto.
Behind the wheel
So, there has been a complete change for the interior and from a distance the new dash with its urban mix of silvery plastic and wood looks rather smart.
Up close it’s pretty cheap and cheerful with the many buttons strewn about in a fairly random fashion.
Try switching everything to off-road settings and the transfer box is by the gear lever, the diff lock is tucked away by your knee while the stabiliser bar switch is somewhere over by the handbrake.
Then there’s the engine which has been improved in various ways through changes to the injection and exhaust systems. It results in virtually no change in power for the 3.0-litre diesel at 158bhp but a torque improvement of 19-lb-ft to 280lb-ft. There is also more usable torque lower down the rev range.
What this means for on-road driving is that the Patrol is painfully slow, dim-witted and lethargic. The engine is heaving three tonnes about and it feels it, making plenty of arcane noises in the process.
The steering is approximate at best, which is not ideal for such a big vehicle.
But it’s not exactly a surprise. The great thing about Nissan’s four-wheel drive range is that the Patrol doesn’t need to be any good on road. It’s the vehicle for extreme off-road work and here it excels.
Once we crunched and switched everything into the requisite modes, the Patrol cruised up and down everything thrown at it on the launch with ease.
It wasn’t even trying, although the first in the low range gearbox didn’t seem as low as it could have been for holding the Patrol on downslopes. We needed to use the brake as well which is fine when it’s dry but you don’t want to be using the brakes too much in the wet.
The Patrol is a great vehicle because it is built exactly for a specific purpose. It’s hopeless on road when you compare it to the more trendy end of the four-wheel drive market but if you need a vehicle to tow great weights, get you into a disaster area or out of a warzone, the Patrol is the vehicle to have.
Model: Patrol 3.0
Engine (cc): 2,953
Max power (bhp/rpm): 158/3,600
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 280/2,000
Max speed (mph): 99
0-62mph (sec): 15.2 (16.3)
Fuel consumption (mpg): 26.1
CO2 emissions (g/km): 288 (287)*
Transmission: 5sp man/4 sp auto
Fuel tank capacity (l/gal): 95/20.9
On sale: October
Prices (OTR): £24,500-£31,400
* = automatic