You will need plenty of space to park the new Patrol. Picture: Denis Droppa
Johannesburg - The big black Nissan Patrol I drove around the city for a week looked like it could easily have been part of the blue light brigade. It has that kind of sheer size and presence, not to mention the test vehicle’s politician-spec dark paint job.

The Patrol’s sales brochure says ‘think big’ and seldom has there been a more appropriate catchphrase. The latest version of Nissan’s seven-seater SUV is a 2.7 ton mammoth powered by a muscular 5.6-litre V8 engine, but it’s also big in the scale of its ability.

This luxury barge, which has honed its reputation as one of the world’s most adept all-terrain vehicles over the past six decades, now has the latest smart technology to make it safer and more offroad-capable.

The smart stuff includes driver aids such as blind-spot and lane-departure warnings, active cruise control which automatically maintains a safe following distance in traffic, and intelligent headlights that dip themselves for oncoming traffic.

When parking, a simulated bird’s eye view of the vehicle is projected on the infotainment screen to help you to navigate tight spots. This 360 degree camera is a welcome feature in a 5.1 metre long behemoth such as this, which even with the digital assistance requires some skill and mental fortitude to slot into a parking bay.

The sixth-generation Patrol offers what’s claimed to be the largest interior space in its class and it’s truly cavernous inside. There’s stretch-out room in the front two rows, and passengers get the full business-class treatment in a cabin decked out with leather seats and shiny wooden panelling, separate climate controls for front and rear occupants, and a 13-speaker Bose sound system including a subwoofer, and a cooler box between the front seats that will take six 500ml drinking bottles.

An additional third row of seats caters to larger families, but they’re quite cramped and most suited to a pair of young children. There’s reasonable space for some compact luggage behind that third row, but it’s only when you flip down the rearmost seats that you get a proper holiday-sized boot.

The middle seats can also be folded down to create a vast loading bay for more extreme shopping expeditions. The electronic tailgate opens and closes at the press of a button, and there’s a full-sized spare wheel under the chassis.

Shiny wood veneer looks rather dated but there’s no shortage of luxury in the plush cabin. Picture: Denis Droppa

This model was launched back in 2010 (yes, it’s taken quite some time to get to South Africa) and its age is beginning to show in the dashboard being quite busy with buttons, even though there is also a modern-style touchscreen infotainment system. Once you find your way around it’s reasonably easy to operate the various audio system, navigation, and climate controls though.

The vehicle’s fully-loaded spec sheet includes doors that automatically lock when you drive off. It’s a welcome security feature, but an unnecessary irritation is that when you want to get out of the car the doors don’t unlock again by simply tugging the handle; you have to first press a separate unlock button.

Any vehicle weighing 2.7 tons needs a big-hitting engine and the normally-aspirated V8 petrol fits the bill with its burly outputs of 298kW and 560Nm, via a seven-speed automatic transmission. It does a very capable job of putting some vooma into this enormous Nissan’s performance in urban driving, and making it cruise effortlessly on the open road, with its broad spread of lag-free perfomance and silky smoothness.

The refined V8 hums along with a muted grumble but there’s little other noise intruding into the well insulated cabin. Not surprisingly it’s a thirsty beast, with our test vehicle averaging 16.1 litres per 100km, but a 140 litre fuel tank ensures a decent range.

Unlike before, there’s no diesel Patrol derivative available, and the single Patrol SUV model sold in South Africa is the V8 petrol LE Premium priced at R1 299 000, including a six-year or 150 000km warranty, and three-year or 90 000km service plan.

One of my most memorable motoring experiences was spending two days driving across Egypt’s Western Desert in a previous-generation Nissan Patrol several years ago. We overnighted in a Bedouin tented camp, and after spending the next day driving through a vast Mars-like landscape of rocks and sand dunes it was a spectacular sight that greeted us at the end of our journey: the Giza pyramids outside Cairo.

That adventure left me in no doubt about the Patrol’s prodigious offroading ability, and the latest version continues the tradition.

Generous ground clearance and sensible high-profile tyres make the all-wheel drive Patrol ready to tackle whatever trails Africa lays in its path. Picture: Denis Droppa

Though the hardcore offroad-spec solid axles have been replaced by independent front and rear suspension, the new Patrol still has plenty of trail-tackling ability with its towering 272mm ground clearance and arsenal of traction-enhancing systems that include selectable four-wheel drive in high and low range, a rear differential lock, hill-start assist, and hill-descent control. A tyre pressure monitoring System is also included.

Under normal driving conditions the big Nissan operates in two-wheel drive mode, but it can distribute torque to all four wheels when road conditions call for it. At the flick of a switch the driver can also select between four drive modes: sand, on-road, snow and rock.

Offroad enthusiasts will also appreciate the Patrol’s 34.3 degree approach, 26.2 degree departure and 24.4 degree ramp angles, giving this hulk the ability to plod ahead through picturesque trails instead of turning back.

For comparison, the Patrol’s closest competitor, Toyota’s Land Cruiser 200, has 32 degree approach, 24 degree departure and 25 degree ramp angles.

The Patrol’s sensibly high-profile 265/70 R18 tyres are well suited to the rigours of offroading, and also contribute to the vehicle’s cushy ride.

Also contributing to the bump-soaking comfort is the independent suspension, but the Patrol still rides on an old-school ladder frame chassis providing the robustness needed for harsh trails.

A vehicle this size will never have snappy handling, but preventing it from feeling excessively wallowy is Hydraulic Body Motion Control which stiffens the suspension during cornering.

VERDICT

This larger-than-life luxury SUV is made for exploring the great outdoors in maximum comfort. If you’re looking for a vehicle for a Cape to Cairo expedition, the Patrol is definitely on the shortlist.

FACTS

Nissan Patrol LE Premium AT

Engine: 5.6-litre petrol V8
Gearbox: 7-speed automatic
Power: 298kW @ 5800rpm
Torque: 560Nm @ 4000rpm
0-100km/h (claimed):7.3 seconds
Top speed (claimed):210km/h
Fuel consumption (Tested, Gauteng)16.1 litres per 100km
Price: R1 299 000
Warranty: 6-year/150 000km
Maintenance plan:3-year/90 000km

Drive360