Nissan Patrol Safari VS 4x4

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Description: The new V8 Patrol is a big improvement over the old diesel model in many ways, but what about towing? It’s not often a car manufacturer introduces an all-new model alongside the old. But that’s

The new V8 Patrol is a big improvement over the old diesel model in many ways, but what about towing?

It’s not often a car manufacturer introduces an all-new model alongside the old. But that’s what Nissan Australia has done with its biggest off-roader, launching the much-anticipated Y62 V8 petrol Patrol in February while continuing to offer the older and much cheaper Y61 turbo-diesel variant.

With the new, upmarket Patrol only available with a petrol engine, and diesel-powered SUVs much sought-after in Australia, Nissan had little choice but to retain the ageing Patrol oiler in the line-up; as much to appease the Nissan faithful as minimise loss of sales to its main rival, the V8 turbo-diesel Toyota LandCruiser.

The upshot is those seeking a full-size, off-road wagon with a Nissan badge now have two distinctly different options. There’s the out-dated, truck-like, but tough-as-nails Y61 Patrol, priced accordingly from $53,890. Or the much fancier, high-performance, high-tech Y62 Patrol, which starts at $82,200 and, fully-loaded, costs more than twice the price of the cheapest diesel Patrol.

Not surprisingly, equipment levels are worlds apart. Although around $30,000 cheaper than the mid-spec Y62 Patrol Ti tested, the auto-equipped Y61 Patrol ST lacks basic features found in many $20K hatchbacks, like steering wheel controls and a decent trip computer.

The 2013 model-year Y62 Patrol, by comparison, feels very much the 21st century chariot. In place of the old Patrol’s utilitarian, grey cabin plastics is a plush, woodgrain-finished, techno-laden interior out of the design manual of Nissan’s premium Infiniti brand. Our only disappointment was the lack of a touchscreen for the LED colour display.

Although the Y62 Patrol is slighter bigger externally and internally than its slab-sided predecessor, both offer ample wriggle room and decent comfort levels for seven or more passengers. Although it’s no surprise the latest version does a better job of pampering its occupants.

But perhaps the biggest contrast is the way they perform on-road. Powered by an under-stressed 3.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo-diesel producing 118kW at 3600rpm and 354Nm at 2000rpm, running through an outdated four-speed auto transmission, the 2447kg Y61 wagon is sluggish off the mark and lethargic on the move.

It’s also noisy at higher revs and handles like a tradie’s ute around corners, with heaps of understeer from the reasonably supple suspension.

By comparison, the muscular 5.6-litre petrol V8 in the Y62 Patrol makes a mockery of its 2706kg bulk. With 298kW at 5800rpm and 560Nm at 4000rpm on tap, it blasts from zero to 100km/h in a silky smooth and sports sedan-like 6.6 seconds – double, or triple that, for the old Patrol!

The direct-injected petrol V8 revs willingly all the way to the 6250rpm redline, aided by a seven-speed automatic keen to kick down a gear or three when asked. The downside is a hefty thirst, with official fuel consumption of 14.5L/100km versus the diesel Patrol’s 11.8L/100km.

The petrol Patrol is much quieter on the freeway, rides better, and despite its greater mass can be hustled more confidently through corners, with decent feedback through the steering wheel.

Both of these ladder frame-based beasts are suitably equipped for serious off-road work. The new Patrol boasts greater ground clearance although arguably the tough old model might have the slight edge in the really rough stuff; its slow-revving diesel engine more suitable for crawling over tricky boulders and the like.

But for 4×4 beginners, the user-friendly electronics and off-road switchability in the petrol Patrol make ‘on-the-fly’ bush-bashing more accessible than the Y61 with its old school ‘low range’ shifter.

Which begs the question: which is a better proposition for towing a reasonably heavy caravan, trailer boat or horse float?

On paper, the Y62 Patrol shapes up superior with a towball maximum of 350kg and braked towing capacity of 3500kg, compared to the Y61’s 250kg and 2500kg (increased to 3200kg on manual versions).

With as much as 500Nm on offer from 1600rpm, compared to the diesel Patrol’s paltry 354Nm from 2000rpm, the Y62 also has a distinct advantage in all-important, low-down torque (or pulling power).

The differences were highlighted on the road, with both Patrols tested over a 100km bitumen route comprising freeway and hilly sections, while towing Jayco caravans weighing around 2500kg.

In regards to off-the-mark acceleration, the V8 Patrol powered away with scant regard for what was behind. By comparison, the diesel Patrol really struggled to get up to speed, and more revs didn’t make much difference.

Struggling with just four gears, the Y61 also revved much higher on the freeway under the extra load, sitting around 2500rpm at 90km/h. It also slowed considerably on longer inclines, stubbornly sticking to third gear despite rapidly losing speed.

The lack of manual gear selection was also limiting (apart from a ‘fixed’ second gear), especially when wanting to use engine braking down steeper declines to preserve brakes.

By comparison, the petrol Patrol had no problems maintaining or even increasing speed while going up long inclines, though it often needed to downshift and produce some decent revs to do so. Gears could also be manually selected to make good use of engine braking downhill.

It was about line ball when it came to vehicle stability under tow, with no excessive pitching or swaying; their significant weight no doubt helping keeping things under control.

However, both dipped noticeably in the rear suspension, indicating aftermarket load levellers may be required to level them out.

Fuel economy was another close race, but not in a good way. Driven solo, the Y61 recorded 13L/100km, blowing out to 25L/100km towing. The Y62 Patrol went from a fuel-guzzling 17L/100km solo to an eye-watering 28L/100km towing.

So which is a better tow tug? If towing performance is key, the latest Patrol wins, hands down. It’s up there with the best, and we’d be confident of it comfortably handling the maximum 3500kg.

Although the manual Y61 Patrol tows up to 3200kg, we’d be hesitant going much beyond two tonnes with either the manual or auto given our experience.

But if fuel economy is important, as it is with many grey nomads, we’d choose neither, also considering the V8 Patrol requires 95 RON premium unleaded. It’s also worth noting the potentially limiting touring ranges of both vehicles, despite 125 litre (Y61) and 140 litre (Y62) fuel tanks.

The downsides of both Patrols are reflected in current VFACTS figures, with Patrol (old and new) sales down 20 per cent this year as the big Nissan continues to lose market share to the LandCruiser.

Until Nissan introduces a turbo-diesel Y62 Patrol with similar or more grunt than the petrol V8, we’d opt instead for a Toyota LandCruiser or Land Rover Discovery 4 as a heavy-duty tow tug. Both compete strongly with the Y62 Patrol on towing capabilities and features for the money, without the fuel pump pain.

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