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Road test: Nissan Patrol ST 3.0

< Page 1 | Page 2 >

By Feann Torr

The humble 4WD used to be a niche vehicle; the domain of farmers, those who worked on the land or drivers who needed to tow seriously heavy loads, yet today the 4WD market is one of the fastest growing not only in Australia, but on a global scale.

While hybrid/crossover AWD vehicles such as Subaru's Outback, Ford's upcoming Territory and Holden's Adventra are steadily building up steam, luxury 4WDs from the Germans and Japanese have piqued the interest of those who would potentially opt for a long wheelbase prestige sedan.

Buyers after something that seats seven and will serve well as a family vehicle are also partly responsible for the boom in 4WD sales.

For our first 4WD road test, we punted Nissan's rather large Patrol ST 3.0 around for a week, and discovered the joys of diesel motoring - an area the Australian motoring public seems somewhat hesitant to embrace, despite all its inherent advantages.

While the price of admission for most big 4WDs, such as Toyota Landcruiser and indeed Nissan Patrol, is quite a bit more than your average AWD wagon or seven-seater people mover, they do have a number of pros (and cons), which we'll outline in this road test.

Make: Nissan
Model: Patrol ST 3.0
Price: $50,990 (as tested)
Transmission: 5 speed manual, w/low-ratio transfer gearbox
Engine: 3.0-litre [diesel], Inline four-cylinder, 16-valves, turbocharged/intercooled
Fuel Consumption: City cycle - N/A, Highway cycle - N/A
Seats: 7
Safety: Driver SRS airbag, door-side intrusion bars

Drive

Nissan Patrol 3.0 ST

2003 Nissan Patrol 3.0 ST

The diesel engine providing locomotion in Nissan's ST Patrol may sound a bit small for a vehicle that tips the scales at 2360kg, but the 3.0-litre four banger manages to motivate the almost 2.4 tonne behemoth with uncanny ease.

And, more than just providing ample thrust for the big Patrol, the smaller diesel engine in Nissan's line-up (the other is a 4.2-litre job) is also extremely fuel efficient, which gets extra brownie points in our book.

Stepping inside the tall Nissan is no great hassle, despite it's 1875mm height, and you really do get the feeling of being head and shoulders above everyone else on the road.

The lofty view offered by such 4WDs is appealing for a number of reasons, one of them closely linked to status.

But apart from ego-related issues, there are safety advantages, such as improved visibility, and the more commanding viewpoint of the road is quite reassuring.

Once inside the turbo-diesel Patrol, driver and passengers will be ensconced by what initially look like fairly low-rent beige-coloured seats. My first issue with the seats are the colour - for a seven seater, cargo-hauling, take the kids to soccer, fill it up with timber and drive through mud-style vehicle, the inevitable stains will stand out like a sore thumb.

It's only a minor issue really, and on the other side of the equation the cloth-trimmed seats of the ST model are very comfortable indeed. Sure, they may look pretty generic at first glance, but they are very form-fitting, and big too - nice for those of us with extra girth.

We took the Patrol to some beautiful country regions of Victoria and eastern South Australia, and even after doing 11 hours driving in the one day, I was surprised to find that my lower back [which often starts to complain at about the four hour mark] was as happy as Larry in the Patrol's large and supportive pews.

Turning the key in the ST Patrol awakens what sounds like a big old truck - the sound at idle is just delectable and even better as the revs rise toward peak power @ a low 3600rpm. While this car is (thankfully) by no means fast, the 3.0-litre intercooled turbo-diesel engine does a stellar job of shifting around what is a huge amount of weight.

The five-speed manual gearbox is a really nice piece of kit, never snagging and coming across with only average amounts of notchiness, but these things are built for durability not panache, so all things considered it does a very impressive job.

With peak torque @ 2000rpm, you can be a lazy shifter too: Second to fourth or third to fifth gear poses no problems for the well-endowed engine, and though the clutch is far from sportscar-quick, it's well-weighted, and not excessively heavy as I had predicted.

Driving through the Melbourne CBD, commuter traffic and particularly parallel parking the Patrol can be an absolute nightmare (more on that on page 2), but that's to be expected with a jacked-up seven seater measuring almost 1.85 metres in width.

Due to it's immense size you do get a lot of respect (or is it fear?) from other road users, and it took just a couple of days time to become comfortable with the big diesel's dimensions.

The level of suspension tune necessitates a relaxed style of driving, as the live axles front and rear don't take kindly to quick changes in direction or high levels of inertia. The long travel suspension is perfectly suited to traversing rough terrain, and this particular Patrol dealt with everything we threw it at with composure.

Nissan Patrol 3.0 ST

The Patrol is very capable off the beaten track

So while you have to slow down for corners and be more aware of the Patrol's limits, the Nissan 4x4 offers a very smooth and jolt-free ride on even the worst blacktop you can imagine.

And when you venture off road, the Patrol really gets going, eating up the worst terrain with an insatiable appetite. The large fuel tank is also a very practical feature, and almost big enough to swim in: 125 litres, (95 litre main tank/30 litre ancillary tank).

I was quite surprised with the how securely and confidently the brakes hauled in the Patrol's 2.4 tonne mass, in spite of the fact that ABS doesn't make the cut on the ST model (it's a cost option).

However, deceleration is improved by way of engine braking as you work your way back through the gears.

When compared to a conventional petrol engine, the way a diesel mill helps rub off speed is staggerin.

This is due to the sky-high compression ratio most diesel engines operate at due to their lack of spark plugs: In this instance a 17.9:1 compression ratio.

Exterior

The Nissan Patrol has a reputation as being one of the most rugged 4x4s on sale, and we'd have to concur. But winning over 4WD buyers with ability alone would be quite a challenge, and many of our outback-inclined colleagues said they wouldn't buy a big 4WD if it didn't look 'right', yet all considered the Patrol to be one of the better-looking large 4x4 wagons on the market.

The styling is evocative of a military troop carrier, and most enthusiasts prefer this type of visual style to more curvaceous softroaders, such as the Toyota Rav 4 or the BMW X5 for example. The wheel arch mouldings look good, and apart from helping break up the angular lines of the Patrol, they also give it a robust, even tough appearance.

From the front, the Patrol has a lovely bonnet scoop, under which resides a fairly small intercooler, and the headlight cluster [along with most other styling cues] is very utilitarian in design. In saying that, it doesn't mean the car's ugly, just that function comes before form, if you will.

There's a full sized spare wheel on the barn-style split-tailgate [which makes loading and unloading cargo a doddle] and the Patrol we tested was shod with the big 18-inch six-spoke alloy wheels, which contrasted well with the car's metallic burgundy paint job.

Interior

Spending almost 12 hours in the driver's seat of the Patrol inside one days driving proved that the seats are more than up to the job of keeping your lower back in good nick.

Truly, when most cars tend to give your bum and lower back a numb or even painful sensation, the 3.0-litre diesel Patrol just shrugs its shoulders and gets on with the job. It's safe to say that the seats aren't the most sophisticated in the world of 4WDs, and they're really not all that ergo-friendly either - but somehow their no-frills design works exceedingly well when spending long hours behind the wheel.

There's heaps of room for all involved - whether sitting in the front, middle or back row of seats - and with the seats folded flat there's enough room to take a little kip, though it's not recommended while the engine's running...

Nissan Patrol 3.0 ST

The Nissan 4x4 has more room than most

The middle row of seats, with room for three, offer good levels of comfort also, and the outside two passengers can flip down a pair of very functional arm rests, complete with variable-diameter cup holders, so 375ml cans as well as larger bottles of Gatorade and its ilk fit snugly.

In the cargo area at the rear of the vehicle there are another two fold-out seats, making room for seven, and even when folded up and navigating rough terrain, the rearmost seats didn't rattle or shake or unfold and, in general, build quality is well above average in the big Nissan.

With the rearmost seats folded up, there's still good amounts of space for luggage and other items and, with enough room for five, it would make for a practical family transporter.

The instrument cluster is a no-nonsense affair, with rather boring - but very readable - speedo and tacho dials and the steering column is only tilt adjustable, but well designed and has a pleasing level of tactility. There's a CD player, electric windows and an additional power outlet in the dashboard, which is finished in obligatory grey plastic.

>> Page 2: Comfort & Handling, Engine, Extras, Overall

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