There's an obvious connection between those parts of the world where the Nissan Patrol is most popular, and what's under the bonnet of the new sixth- generation model now entering the New Zealand market.
Patrol is a massive seller in the Middle East and Russia - two countries where petrol is so inexpensive that nobody
NISSAN PATROL TI
POWER PLANT: 5.6-litre direct injection V8 petrol engine, 298 kW at 5800 rpm, 560 Nm at 4000 rpm.
RUNNING GEAR: All-mode four-wheel drive with electronic 4WD selection. Seven-speed automatic with manual mode and adaptive shift control. Hydraulic Body Motion Control suspension.
HOW BIG: Length 5140mm, width 1995mm, height 1940mm, wheelbase 2075mm, ground clearance 283mm.
HOW MUCH: $114,000.
WHAT'S GOOD: Good-looking big SUV. Highly specified for its competitive price. Big V8 is a smooth and powerful unit.
WHAT'S NOT: No diesel available.
OUR VERDICT: This new Nissan Patrol looks to have the goods - and the price - to take direct aim at its arch-rival the Toyota Land Cruiser 200 series.
This is the primary reason why the new Y62 series Patrol, which is moving onto New Zealand showrooms floors now, has petrol power only. While the previous model featured a 3.0-litre four- cylinder turbodiesel, this new version is powered exclusively by a 5.6-litre petrol V8.
The engine, designated VK56VD - the last two letters indicating it has variable valve timing and direct injection - is the same V8 as that under the bonnet of the Infiniti that is about to compete in this year's V8 Supercar series.
It's a powerful bent-eight unit. Offering 298 kilowatts of power, and with 90 per cent of its 560 Newton metres of torque available from just 1600 rpm, it not only gives the big SUV tremendous performance and towing potential, but it also offers lazy and very long-legged motoring out on the open road.
That makes it quite a marked change from the outgoing Y61 series Patrol, which at the end of its career could only be purchased in New Zealand with the four- cylinder turbodiesel, and which definitely wasn't the smoothest or the most powerful on the market.
And introduction of the petrol V8 contributes to a second major change in the career of Patrol - it isn't intended as a rugged workhorse style of vehicle anymore. This time around, it is being marketed as luxurious and urbane, leaving workhorse duties to the likes of the Navara ute.
Nissan NZ is placing a lot of store on the fact the new Patrol is considerably more sophisticated than before. While Nissan Australia is continuing to market the Y61 as the workhorse Patrol priced under three versions of the new Y62, in this country the Y61 has been dropped and just one Y62 is on offer.
This vehicle is badged Ti - and is the mid-spec model of the Australian range - and it enters the market for $114,000.
Nissan NZ's managing director John Manley said opting for the single model was an easy decision. Sales of the outgoing Patrol had fallen in such a way that made it obvious customers weren't interested in buying big SUVs that weren't luxurious, he said during a media briefing in South Australia last week.
"When people are spending upwards of $100,000 or more, they have certain expectations such as leather upholstery and three rows of seats. We want to present a package that meets those expectations - that's why we have opted for the higher specification Ti as the only vehicle on offer."
But would he have liked the Patrol to be available with a choice of diesel?
"I suppose in the perfect world it would have been nice to have it, but it's not going to happen," he said. "And I also think that the V8 petrol engine fits nicely with the intention behind this new model. The previous Patrols have all been regarded as workhorse sorts of vehicles - this one is shifting to the luxury segment for the first time."
There's a lot that is new with this latest Patrol. Not only is there that big V8 under the bonnet, but there's a new seven-speed automatic, the vehicle is built on a new ladder chassis, and the 4x4 system is also new.
The Ti version for New Zealand features Nissan's Hydraulic Body Motion Control (HBMC) suspension system, which replaces the traditional shock absorbers and anti-roll bars with hydraulic chambers that are integrated into each shock absorber and which automatically control suspension travel.
These chambers are cross- linked with piping, allowing hydraulic fluid to move from one side of the vehicle to the other.
There's a double benefit from all of this. It means that, out on the open road, the Patrol offers a flat and stable ride because when cornering, roll stiffness is increased, which reduces the amount of body lean over the outside wheels. And when off the road, the lack of anti-roll bars means there is better suspension articulation which improves traction.
Perhaps because of the Patrol's popularity in the Middle East where sand dune driving has become almost a national sport, last week's media event involved a drive programme through Canunda National Park in South Australia, a 9300 ha coastal area that features plenty of huge dunes.
Tyre pressures were substantially reduced, and the Patrols took on the sand, letting the V8 power and torque, a very good All-Mode 4x4 system, and the HBMC to work together to get the big SUVs through. They did it easily. And then back out on the open roads, and with tyre pressures resumed, the Patrol performed beautifully as well - driven in a relaxed manner, it has a range of more than 1000 km on one fill of its 140-litre tank.
The all-wheel-drive system is very easy to use. There's a circular electronic switch cluster behind the gear selector that allows the driver to choose between 4WD high and low, and to change gearing for sand, rock, snow or on- road driving. So it was simply a matter of sitting there and spinning the switch and punching a few buttons to choose the best mode for the conditions outside.
And talking about sitting - well, that's an easy thing to do in this big SUV, too. The Ti has full leather upholstery on all eight seats, and there's plenty of space throughout. The front seats are particularly comfortable, and standard features include eight- way power assistance of the driver's seat and six-way power adjustment for the front passenger, automatic headlights, sunroof, rain-sensing wipers, large-format front DVD player, 2GB music server with six speakers, iPod connectivity, Bluetooth hands-free phone, dual- zone climate control air conditioning, and front and rear parking sensors with rear view camera.
It all adds up to a new Nissan Patrol that appeals as something special for the $114,000 price. Last week, the Nissan Australia people described it as "rugged meets refined", and that's not a bad description at all.
What's really notable is that Nissan has moved away from diesel power with this vehicle. Naturally, Nissan New Zealand had no choice but to accept the fact it is now available only with the V8 petrol power, but it will still be interesting to establish if it will now have any effect on Patrol sales.
John Manley says it won't - but then again he has to say that. However, his opinion is underpinned by the fact that sales of the Y61 model had fallen dramatically from 40-odd a month, to just one or two.
This new model, with its petrol engine, luxury, manners and 3.5-tonne towing capability, looks to have the goods to immediately turn that trend around.
- Taranaki Daily News
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