Nissan's Patrol bakkie has been updated for 2008 with more of everything - more power, more comfort and more options - but it's still a basic, ultra-rugged 4x4 workhorse, albeit a rather expensive one.

Let's start with "more power": Nissan has finally bolted a blower on to its proven 4.2-litre, straight-six diesel engine - but it's done it properly, with common-rail fuel injection and a small but efficient intercooler, which is the reason for that little "power bulge" on the bonnet.

Strange, then, that maximum power is up only 5kW, from 85kW at 4000rpm to 90kW at 3600rpm, while torque has improved from 264Nm to 282Nm at the same 2000rpm.

But if it wasn't for the intercooler and the "TD" logos on the doors I wouldn't have thought it was turbocharged at all. There's no turbo lag whatsoever; the power builds with a mighty roar as the rev-counter needle climbs (quite slowly) towards 4000.

The torque curve is flat - it seems to start at about 1200rpm and from 1800rpm on the big six is practically unstoppable, although above 4000rpm all it makes is more noise.

All in all, it's practically ideal for what the Patrol is designed for - getting down and dirty on farms, game drives, building sites and deep in the bush - and the new Patrol is rated to tow 750kg unbraked and a whopping 2500kg (a ton more than before!) with trailer brakes.

The rest of the drive train is much the same: rugged, basic and all mechanical - no electrickery to go wrong 3000km from the nearest dealership.

A very positive five-speed manual gearbox with a rather long throw leads to a transfer case offering two or alll-wheel drive and low range by shifting a second gear lever.

There are no differential locks; the rear axle has a limited-slip differential.

All-wheel drive can be engaged "on the fly" at up to 60km/h but low range requires a stop - which is when you get out to lock the (manual) front hubs.

The rear suspension uses conventional leaf springs - it needs them to carry the Patrol's advertised 1125 kg payload - but the front rides on an unusual arrangement with a live axle on coil-over shocks and long, very rugged-looking, locating arms.

It makes the front of the vehicle a little bouncy on rugged terrain but the payoff in ride comfort on tar is impressive.

The Patrol is awe-inspiringly competent off-road and remarkably easy to handle on rough ground. The power-assisted steering is a little vague but there's no bump steer and the limited-slip differential means you always have some traction as long as at least one rear wheel is on the ground.

On the launch drive the Patrols took us up the worst the De Rust 4x4 trail could throw at us, grumbling good-naturedly up rocky gulleys and sandy washaways in the low-range crawler gear that feels like it could just as easily take you up the side of a house - all you gotta do is stomp it and steer.

With approach and departure angles of 42 and 30 degrees respectively you'd have to do something silly to get stuck.

Unpretentiously comfortable cab

Nissan has finally abandoned any pretence of seating three in the big cab - the massive transmission tunnel simply doesn't allow for it. The new Patrol has two deep, luxuriously padded bucket seats upholstered in a velour-like material it calls moquette - and there are real carpets on the floor.

The fascia may be low-rent plastic but it's very solid and the comprehensive instrument panel has dials for speed and revs (don't let anybody tell you a rev-counter is unnecessary in a low-revving diesel), a digital clock and tripmeter and the usual idiot lights - including a green Monopoly car that tells you all the wheels are driving.

The steering column can be adjusted for height but not reach, the seats fore and aft, but that's it.

There's a double-depth space in the centre stack for a sound system - two speakers and their wiring are already installed - above the three straightforward rotating knobs that orchestrate the basic (I seem to be using that word a lot in this write-up) but remarkably effective aircon.

An unexpected touch of luxury is provided by electric windows and central locking. At first glance the interior is very plain but it's all there and it all works.

Safari package

There are cupholders, big pockets in the doors, lidded storage under the new centre armrest and plenty of space behind the seat for outer clothing, tools, camera bags - all the junk that accumulates in a working vehicle.

And this is very much a working vehicle so Nissan has put together what it calls the Safari package, consisting of:

  • Replacement steel front bumper with winch box - (winch optional)

  • Double spotlights

  • Triple roll bar

  • Side steps

  • Safari snorkel

  • Double-skinned, rubberised load box.

  • Double toolbox

  • Heavy-duty rear bumper with spare wheel carrier

    The kit adds R32 000 to the R299 895 sticker price of the Patrol - or you can mix and match the components as you need them for your job.

    There's also a more specialised set of rails and seats to convert the Patrol into a game-viewing vehicle.

    The last item moves the spare wheel out of the load box and the driver's eye-line, to the rear bumper as on a Second World War Jeep. There's no space for the spare in the conventional position under the chassis; it's taken up by two huge fuel tanks - one of 95 litres, the other 80.

    Together they hold a wallet-busting 170 litres of diesel - enough, says Nissan, to take you 1300km on tar and 1100km on gravel.

    Nissan SA general manager for light commercial vehicles, Chris Schell said: "The Nissan Patrol Pickup is a heavy-duty 4x4 with no compromises; the uprated engine provides additional power, responsiveness and versatility in various conditions.

    "But comfort and convenience are very strong features of the Patrol Pickup, especially with the latest enhancements."

    The Patrol Pickup costs R299 895 and comes with a three-year or 100 000km warranty; service intervals are 7500km.