Located 600km north of Adelaide, Arkaroola is a 610 square kilometre wilderness sanctuary in the spectacular northern Flinders Ranges.
It is a rugged landscape of mountains, towering granite peaks, ancient seabeds, magnificent gorges and scattered water holes that create little oases in an otherwise dry landscape.
It is also a tough, testing and spectacular 4WD location and where Nissan chose to farewell its iconic Y61 Patrol after being sold here for the past 20 years.
It is not exactly the death knell of the diesel-powered Patrol, but, after hanging on as long as they could, it was an acknowledgement by Nissan Australia that they have accepted the inevitable.
The Y61 will be farewelled with the release of a limited production of just 300 Patrol Legend Editions, which Nissan believes will be sold out by early next year, leaving the Navara as Nissan’s only diesel option for those wanting a big 4WD.
The pricing of the Nissan Patrol Legend Edition is $57,990 for the manual and $60,990 for the automatic and these are both drive away prices - a $600 increase on the regular pricing, but it gains an extra $10,000 in features.
Arkaroola was chosen as the destination for the farewell launch of the Legend editions for two reasons. Firstly, it is a rugged and testing landscape, making it an ideal place to show off the credentials of a vehicle that has etched a reputation for being a tough, reliable go-anywhere vehicle.
Secondly, the Sprigg family, who in 1962 became the first family to cross the Simpson Desert in a Nissan Patrol, own the park.
The Legend Edition does not differ from the ST model it is based on when it comes to its engine and running gear. It is powered by the 3.0-litre common rail diesel that has been available in the Patrol since 2007. Delivering maximum power of 118kW and a peak torque of 380Nm between 2000 and 2400 rpm when matched to a five-speed manual transmission, and 354Nm at 2000 rpm when mated to the four-speed auto, it is an absolute workhorse.
Its off-road capabilities come courtesy of a range of what we would now refer to as “old school” features. These include the transfer case with its low 2.02:1 ratio that makes climbing steep and rough terrain an easy operation. There is no button on the dash to access it, either - it is one of the few 4WD on the market that still has the dual gear levers.
It also has automatic locking free-wheeling hubs (which turn the front wheels in unison) and again makes life easier in rough off-road conditions. The rear differential lock helps deliver impressive traction in particularly tough terrain.
The suspension consists of three-link coil-springs at the front that allows greater wheel articulation, as does the five-link rear suspension, which also uses coil springs. Both also deliver a comfortable ride in on-road conditions.
Jumping in the cabin of the Y61 was like stepping into a time machine. It is in here that the fact it was first launched back in 1997 is really brought home. Car interiors have changed so much over the past 20 years.
The Legend Edition has been fitted with sat nav and a reversing camera as part of the $10,000 of additional features added to the vehicle (all the others are external features like tow bar, roof racks, bull bar, electric winch and snorkel). The way the sat-nav was fitted reminded me of my younger years when fitting aftermarket stereos in the car was all the rage. It did not matter how good they sounded, they never really looked like they belonged. The same could be said about the Patrol’s sat-nav screen.
Putting aside the sparse and dated dash, it is still a reasonably comfortable vehicle to sit in - and the view is commanding. Even in this part of the world, where everything looks and feels small compared to the landscape, the Patrol felt like a big vehicle.
The Patrol also has seating for seven with the two seats in the third row pulled up at the side to create more storage space. Legroom in the second row of seats is good, and there is plenty of room for three adults - but the middle passenger only gets a lap belt (another throwback to the 1990s but this time not in a good way).
Access to the rear is via barn doors, designed to allow the full-size spare wheel to sit on the tailgate.
Finding a comfortable driving position was relatively easy, even though the rather large steering wheel does not have reach adjustment, it can only be moved up or down.
And it did not take long to be impressed. To describe the tracks around Arkaroola as badly corrugated would be kind. But despite the roughness of the tracks, the big Patrol soaked it all up. There were several occasions when I braced, expecting a hard, sharp bump that never came.
Steep ascents were climbed and conquered with barely any noticeable effort from the engine. Coming down the other side needed some work on the brakes and locking the transmission into first gear - no downhill assist here - but again the Patrol took everything thrown at it in its stride.
The only casualty in the fleet was a flat tyre courtesy of a sharp shard of rock.
After spending two days covering a very small section of this incredible part of our outback, the appreciation for the Patrol, and what it can achieve, was reinforced. It is not only a vehicle that is capable of getting you virtually anywhere, but, even on the roughest tracks, the ride in the cabin is surprisingly smooth.
There is very little engine noise and, during our two-day adventure, no rattles, except for the rear seatbelt clasp hitting against the B-Pillar - but even that was caused by a twist in the belt and quickly rectified.
There is no doubt the Y61 is a capable vehicle, but, as Nissan Australia Managing Director and CEO, Richard Emery, said at the launch: “its time has come”.
As good and reliable as the 3.0-litre diesel has been for Nissan, it no longer meets the required standards, in terms of emissions. But it is not just the engine that has passed its use-by date, it lacks the safety features (there are only two airbags), technology and appointments that its competitors offer.
For that group of people looking for a good, reliable, old-fashioned 4WD, there are 300 Legend Editions available. For everyone else, there is the new Nissan Patrol Y62, a car that has all the latest technology and safety features missing in the Legend.
The new Patrol may be lacking a diesel engine, it has a 5.6-litre V8 petrol matched to a seven-speed automatic transmission and a sophisticated, electronically controlled, all mode 4x4 system that will take you to all the same places, just in more comfort and style.