When I conjure up images of Nissan Patrols, I imagine them alongside Toyota LandCruisers of old, expanding the boundaries of our great island nation every which way.
As I was growing up, they were almost mentioned in the same sentence and were the only options for serious off-roaders. The Patrol's appearance was boxy, functional and unashamedly agricultural. But, they could go anywhere.
Imagine my surprise then, when I stepped into the current-generation Nissan Patrol Ti, a significant departure from the shape of old, yet still very much Patrol-esque. The curves are rounded off significantly and, while I can't say for sure I love it, I can't help but appreciate the interior space it delivers.
This is the new way forward for the Patrol, which is powered by a 5.6-litre petrol V8 engine with 560Nm of torque. Considering the vehicle's portly 2800kg weight, the Patrol is surprisingly powerful and noticeably so.
While that all sounds impressive, so too is the fuel consumption. When I arrived at the CarAdvice office to collect the Nissan, I winced as I looked at the fuel display hovering somewhere up near the 26L/100km territory. I assumed that my predecessor only managed to drive it around the city, where stop/start traffic is the norm and ridiculously high fuel consumption almost a rite of passage as you inch forward a few metres at a time.
Not me though. I was heading away for the weekend. With a swell report any decent surfer would be excited by, a couple of mates in their own cars and a swag in the back, I was hitting the highway and heading to the south coast of NSW to a small (thankfully phone reception-less) town called Bawley Point to relax, camp and live the dream, if only briefly.
The Patrol is cavernous and as soon as I stepped inside, I wanted some company such is the lonely feeling you get inside its vast expanse. Even with company, forget holding hands across the centre console if that's your thing, unless you have really long arms. I don't.
Folding all the seats down takes just a few seconds and the space available inside is massive; try a ridiculous 3000 litres of boot space with all seats folded flat. There are however, no automatic rear doors in this the base model Patrol. Instead, access is via a heavy lumbering single door hinged at the top. The opening is impressive though, making it very easy easy to pack all your gear. And the top-hinged door doubles as a rain cover if you're working at the back of the car.
You'd be hard pressed not to fit everything for a week away and, considering my double deluxe swag is so stupidly large when stowed, it usually needs its own trailer (okay, maybe not, but you get the idea), that's impressive.
Once packed, it was time to hit the highway, or at least the road south out of Sydney. Being me, I managed to time that with the afternoon peak hour. 'Sweet start', I thought to myself as I hurriedly set up the mirrors in a futile attempt to beat most of the ants as they inched their way home.
The thought of sitting in traffic in such a beast was slightly horrifying but as soon as I connected the Apple CarPlay and settled into the driver's seat, any concern and feelings of loneliness were forgotten, and the smooth sounds of something I didn't even remember was on my phone started playing. It was an old Iggy Pop album and I tried to replace it with something more modern as quickly as the touchscreen would allow. That is to say, not that quickly. I couldn't work out how to change the track without unplugging the phone. I gave up, eager to hit the road.
The driving position is comfortable with the adjustable seat allowing a great range of motion to allow a clear view ahead. You are quite high anyway, so you can see and revel in the long line of traffic ahead of you. The only disappointment, the centre console armrest is way too low for me and denied me the chance to place my arm on this comfortable and handy accessory.
That aside, overall driving this car was surprisingly enjoyable. The leather-accented seats are a delight to sit in, the surround-view camera, handy if not a little odd looking when in use, is accurate enough when combined with the rear-view camera.
The climate control is also efficient and did a good job of quickly restoring the cabin to an acceptable temperature on one particularly frosty morning; although, after a cold surf session, heated seats would have been a welcome addition.
There is a host of other gadgetry on the console available to the 4WD conscious such as diff lock, driving modes and hill-decent control. The console design itself provides space for cups and coins but when I put a bunch of shrapnel in one of the voids and closed the lid, it spilt out everywhere in the centre console.
While it's delightful on road, the interior leaves a lot to be desired. It simply looks old and could do with a rethink. I'm not so sold on the timber trim, combined with grey leather, and the large, bulky buttons remind me of cars my parents drove back in the day. The dashboard itself is innocuous enough, but the digital display between the dials seems small in comparison to the car's gargantuan proportions elsewhere. The steering wheel buttons are also, well, crappy grey plastic.
The steering is accurate and light considering the size of the vehicle. The throttle is also a delight and the responsiveness from the incredibly smooth engine is excellent. Being a V8, it sounds like one, not the V8s of old, but you can certainly feel it in the car. It also makes passing other vehicles a breeze. The Patrol sits at speed on the freeway easily, too, with the use of cruise control.
The engine is almost effortless in its power delivery until you jump on the gas. I was also delighted to see the fuel consumption decrease to the point where on the open road, I was getting 13.8 L/100km, a huge improvement on the lead foot who previously drove the car. Still, some may consider this high but it is much more respectable considering the weight and size of the engine and car itself.
In general, it's not an SUV designed to be driven hard, more of an ambler that will get you there with a minimum of effort. Body roll is minimised at normal speeds by Nissan's HBMC (Hydraulic Body Motion Control) that can shift fluid from left to right shock absorbers to reduce roll.
As suburbia slowly gave way to open road and green fields, I got so lost in the music and the drive that before I knew it, I was turning off to Bawley Point and my final destination. In this area, aside from epic surf spots, there are a host of accommodation options from Bed-and-Breakfasts to large resorts with powered and unpowered camping spots. There are also serious cabins sitting along the beach front.
We chose a powered site towards the southern end of the strip. It offered expansive views of the ocean, whales and waves straight out of the swag window. While winter temps were not exactly comfortable, I was safe in the knowledge I could whack the mattress in the back of the car and leave my friends to the freezing elements, if need be.
While we didn't get to experience any serious off-roading, the bumpy track out to Bawley Point had to suffice and while it was hardly testing, it gave an idea of the Patrol's ability to handle the rough stuff. Safe to say, it was excellent. It's soft enough to cruise over rocks and obstacles and that engine – the power is unbelievable and combined with low range gearing will be more than enough for most situations.
While older Patrols can feel a little like driving a tractor down your suburban enclave, the Patrol Ti is pleasurable and effortless.
Previously, Nissan offered a functional and practical platform, but one that really had none of the modern niceties for driving. This car, however, is pleasurable to get behind the wheel, is definitely more car-like in its drivability, and still fits a stack of gear.
I certainly wouldn't buy it to use for short trips around my local suburb, but, I would consider it for any work that involved trips with the family to far flung destinations. Trips that will be so much more comfortable.