One of the first things you’re taught when learning the skills of journalism is to avoid writing in the first-person where possible. But approaching the Y61 Nissan Patrol ST requires a break from convention.
I remember well my first time in a Y61. My dad worked for Nissan at the time, and brought home one of the very first examples — a 4.5-litre six-cylinder Ti with beige leather, finished in rather tasteful maroon metallic.
The year was 1997, and it felt like the peak of prestige to a country kid. Validating my child-like take on affairs, the Nissan Patrol spent the next few years lording it over the other tough 4x4 pretenders out there, alongside that era’s Toyota LandCruiser 100 Series.
But markets shift, rivals learn and buyers migrate. And the continued presence of the now ancient Y61 in showrooms tell us that, while a lot can change in 19 years, Nissan in this case has elected not to.
Of course, there’s a fair-sized car park of Methuselah-aged off-roaders out there. The 70 Series LandCruiser is still going, as is the Mitsubishi Pajero and Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen. The Land Rover Defender only died last month.
And given what the Patrol is — a rugged, tough-as-nails 4x4 — making changes for their own sake seems counter-intuitive. If it rarely breaks when it counts, why ‘fix’ it?
There’s another motivation for Nissan Australia to keep selling the Y61 Patrol, a car it has access to for a limited time because a few markets, some developing, are sufficiently into it to keep the factories going — for now.
This is, of course, the fact that the Y62 Patrol is available only with a thirsty petrol V8 in a diesel-dominated segment, a result of the fact that most of its demand is from the Middle East and America, where diesel is a non-entity.
There’s also the fact that, like the 200 Series LandCruiser, the Y62 is simply enormous, and plush, and while eminently capable off-road, is also anything but utilitarian. Something the Patrol, even in top-spec ST guise, certainly is.
Just look at it. The classic box silhouette that you see outside the metro lines here, there and everywhere hasn’t changed, though the grille has. There’s something charming about the simplicity of it. At this juncture it would be fair to call it iconic, albeit not to the same degree as the GQ predecessor.
Ditto for the cabin, which is austere in the extreme. Our test car, the ST automatic, costs $60,390 plus on-road costs — a figure long since amortised, and which is hardly reflected by the interior ambience.
Creature comforts extend to an old-school head unit with a six-stacker CD player (!), albeit with new-fit USB and Bluetooth capability; manual air-conditioning and cruise control. But that’s not really the point.
The way the cabin is built, as if hewn from granite, is more in the right wheelhouse. The old-school plastics feel tough-as-nails, the spring-loaded cubby atop the fascia is a work of crude art, the fit-and-finish throughout is beyond excellent and the seats are trimmed in that peculiarly 90s soft cloth.
As colleague Curt put it: “It’s old school, dated but eminently charming”. Those huge, boxy side windows also make the Patrol easier to see out of, for all three rows of passengers, than anything this side of a Land Rover Discovery.
Less charming is the oversized steering wheel that sits too low, and lacks telescopic adjustment.
As with most rivals, the Patrol is a seven-seater, and many are the times as a kid I sat in the third row on some long getaway. The middle row has ample shoulder room and headroom, though the middle lap-only belt is unforgivable today, as are the complete lack of rear airbags. This is no longer a viable family choice.
The third row seats are of the old-school variety, in that they flip upwards and hook into place against the side windows when not in use (like the modern Toyota Fortuner, unlike the Ford Everest and Isuzu MU-X). This compromises cargo space, and boy are they heavy things to move about.
Access to the rear is via barn doors, designed to allow the full-size spare alloy wheel to sit on the tailgate. Truth is, room in the third row when the seats are in use is adequate, but no better than any of the new crop of ute-based SUVs such as those mentioned in the paragraph above.
This is despite the Patrol’s dimensions. At 5050mm long, it’s 160mm longer than the Ford Everest, the heavyweight of the modern crop. It’s also 80mm wider, 18mm taller and sits on a 120mm longer wheelbase.
Under the bonnet of the beast is a 3.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine. When this engine first arrived a few years into the Y61’s life cycle as an eventual replacement for the smoggy, atmo 4.2, it was scandalous. Four cylinders in something so big? Unthinkable!
Of course, such technology is now almost de rigeur. Though the Patrol’s iteration is now showing its age. Outputs of 118kW and 354Nm are humbled by the Ford Everest/Isuzu MU-X/Mitsubishi Pajero Sport/Toyota Fortuner.
Given the Patrol’s mammoth 2438kg tare weight, progress is rarely more than stately. The engine is gruff by modern standards, and lacks in both the bottom end (tractability) and the mid-range compared to modern units.
The meagre braked towing capacity of 2500kg as tested (we had the four-speed automatic transmission version — the five-speed manual can tow 3200kg) reflects this. Once underway, the Patrol did fine on our tow test, but the lack of bottom end is always evident, notably when tackling hills.
The four-speed auto is honest, but the truth is, with a now-slim band of pulling power to work with, it’s lacking a ratio or two. You’ll find it holding gears much longer than you might be used to if you’ve driven any of the more modern crop, which hurts NVH and fuel use.
On that note, the claimed combined-cycle figure of 11.8 litres per 100km (fair, by our testing) is 50 per cent worse than its ute-based rivals. At least it has a vast capacity of 125 litres between its main and sub tanks for long hauls.
But forget all this, you say. The Patrol’s reason for being is its ability off the beaten path. All the ingredients are there — body-on-frame, part-time 4x4 with low-range, rear locking diff, 36-degree/30-degree approach/departure angles and 700mm wading capacity. All bar its fairly modest 210mm of clearance (until you stick some bigger springs on it) speak volumes.
And indeed, few cars are as proven in the rough stuff as the Patrol, even if it will weigh 3.0-tonnes with a few people and gear on board, and therefore have to battle physics to get anywhere.
Driving the Patrol off-road reminds you how it was done is the olden days, when you had to actually know your stuff. There’s no fancy front- and reverse-view camera, no hill-descent control, no torque vectoring, no adjustable suspension, no off-road ‘modes’ that change throttle calibration…
It’s just the raw basics and chunky Desert Dueler tyres, plus that wonderfully old school separate gear stick to engage 4H and 4L. No toggles, dials or buttons on this beast.
Positives are the outstanding axle articulation, the body rigidity, the approach and departure angles. The downsides are seeing over the vast bonnet, the ponderous low-speed steering prone to rack-rattle, the spongy brakes and the tempestuous rear diff lock that at time didn’t engage despite protocol.
Bottom line? The Patrol will get you anywhere, and longevity is hard to question — as is the prevalence of parts in the outback. But is it better off-road than an Everest and co? No, it isn’t really. Not when stock, anyhow.
On road, the Patrol feels more dated, though in some ways — that wonderful outward visibility, for one — this is good. But the ponderous turning circle, slow steering, spongy brakes and crash-prone initial ride (particularly over corrugated gravel) are unwelcome throwbacks. There’s also lots of engine noise through the firewall and road noise from the tyres.
That said, it’s quite a comfortable highway cruiser, where that slow steering is no issue and the general ride becomes more floaty and compliant. It’s also more agile than you might think, in spite of the hyperactive (but at least present) ESC.
Look, we don't want to kick this beast needlessly, but the issue is, the Y61 — tough though it undoubtedly is — no longer has a monopoly on off-road nous at this price point, and it cedes ground in the areas of comfort, refinement, safety (three-star ANCAP) and features to the new breed of ute-based 4x4s.
The Y61 Nissan Patrol is an icon. And if you’re a serious traveller and spend your time out the back of beyond, then buying one and kitting it out at your local ARB makes sense.
Just be aware of its shortcomings in the cold light of day. There’s a reason why cars are typically updated every seven to 10 years. After two decades in service, they can feel every minute of it.
Click the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser.