Which of these big family 4WDs is king of the hill off-road? There's only one way to find out.
Toyota LandCruiser versus Nissan Patrol. It’s an old-time battle with some all-time hardware. Although the LandCruiser was facelifted in 2016, its bones date back to 2007. The Nissan Patrol was more recently refreshed in 2019, after launching as an all-new, petrol-only platform in 2010.
Since then, Toyota has dumped its 4.7-litre petrol option, and is now diesel only. So, if you’re a diesel- or petrol-only buyer, the decision has already been made.
When you look at sales figures, there is only one winner in this race. Although it’s worth noting that Nissan cites a strangled supply, Toyota sells significantly more LandCruisers each month.
While Nissan only managed to shift 3768 Patrols in 2019, Toyota found homes for 12,619 200 Series LandCruisers. That’s a trend that has continued into this year, with 759 playing 3768 up to the end of April 2020. Unlike many others in each respective range, both the LandCruiser and Patrol are still manufactured in Japan.
Although now dwarfed, the Mitsubishi Pajero used to compete in this segment, but it is now impressively old and has one foot in the grave. You also can’t forget the Land Rover Discovery, but it has failed to resonate with buyers in Australia, with only 1216 sold in 2019. Toyota almost averaged that number (1150) each month in 2019.
Specs and price
Look at pricing and specifications, however, and the boot is on the other foot. With a starting price of $91,890, the LandCruiser GXL regales you with cloth, manually adjustable seats, 18-inch alloy wheels, front and rear parking sensors, and not much else.
Our test model in question has an attached price of $96,675.11 thanks to some options. Those include the big and (subjectively) ugly snorkel ($500), optional KDSS suspension ($3250), premium paint ($500), towing kit ($227.79) and trailer harness ($207.32).
Without any options, the Nissan Patrol Ti is almost exactly $20,000 cheaper: $76,990. Making matters worse (for Toyota), the Patrol gets leather interior trim, 360-degree camera and electric seat adjustment. To get that kind of stuff on a LandCruiser, you're forced to climb a rung or two on the ladder.
Despite still offering a value equation leagues ahead of the LandCruiser, we have to say it’s a crying shame our little right-hand-drive market misses out on the new interior and updated infotainment that the much more voluminous left-hook markets receive.
⊕ COUNTERPOINT: Trent NikolicFor me, this Nissan v Toyota battle really comes down to price in 2020. Yes, the ’Cruiser is diesel and the Patrol is petrol, but the Patrol is nowhere near as thirsty as V8s of old, or as you might expect it to be – even off-road. If you prefer petrol over diesel or vice versa, then your mind is already made up.However, the pricing issue is unavoidable if you're comparing models further up the ladder. At the time of testing, the top-spec Patrol Ti-L starts from $92,790 before on-road costs. To go all-out on a top-spec LandCruiser Sahara you'll spend from $123,590 before on-road costs, which is a hell of a leap from 93 grand. Therefore, given their ability on-road and off is so closely matched, it comes down to price.
Engine and driveline
I would love to see what the big Nissan Patrol would be like with a suitably large diesel engine under the bonnet. While the 5.0-litre Cummins ISV V8 didn’t make many waves when employed under the bonnet of the platform-sharing Titan pick-up in petrol-crazy USA, I can’t help but think how unfathomably attractive the Nissan Patrol would be in Australia with that stonking 5.0-litre diesel V8 lurking under the bonnet.
Enough daydreaming, and that’s not too bad. Because despite the seemingly ideological rift between petrol and diesel 4WDers, the Patrol’s 5.6-litre V8 is a cracking motor. It’s wholesomely powerful with 298kW at 5800rpm and 560Nm at 4000rpm. It’s a smooth and lusty operator, shifting the Patrol’s 2700kg mass impressively well, revving with an enjoyable sense of abandon. The soundtrack is a classic, too: deep and ominous, with a satisfying burble that opens up to a mostly muted roar at high revs.
If the Patrol is Yin, then the LandCruiser is Yang: with the option of a petrol V8 now a memory, your only choice of power plant for a 200 Series LandCruiser is the 4.5-litre diesel V8. It’s an engine shared with the 70 Series, but smoother and more powerful with the use of two turbochargers. It’s less powerful than the Patrol (200kW at 3600rpm), but has more torque lower in the rev range (650Nm at 1600–2600rpm). While it might not rev so high and happy, this diesel V8 excels in its own way, with a fulsome surge of smooth low- and mid-range shove.
Whereas the LandCruiser gets away with only six automatic ratios, the Patrol uses a seven-speed automatic gearbox. Both use a torque converter running permanently to all four wheels. While the LandCruiser has a selectable locking centre differential, the Patrol has a magic button for the rear locker.
Both the LandCruiser and Patrol have some tricks within the chassis to help promote performance on- and off-road. The LandCruiser has KDSS, which stands for Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System. It’s standard on higher-specification LandCruisers, but effectively gives the LandCruiser active swaybars.
Powered by a hydraulic system, the swaybars can increase and reduce the roll stiffness of the LandCruiser, depending on what you’re driving. Pressure increases to stiffen body roll for on-road corners, but then slackens off to help promote softness and articulation off-road.
The Nissan Patrol has something called HBMC: Hydraulic Body Motion Control. Along with independent suspension all round, this does away with swaybars completely. Instead, shock absorbers are interlinked with an adjustable hydraulic system. There is a similar end result: body roll gets reined in around corners, while conversely freeing up suspension travel off-road.
⊕ COUNTERPOINT: Trent Nikolic
On-road, both waft along with the effortless comfort you'd expect of the upper large SUV segment. If you want a bog-stock 4WD to use for family duties around town, with the occasional touring road trip, you could do a lot worse than either of these combatants. The Patrol has more room inside the cabin than the 200, and the third row is actually useful. Likewise, the luggage space is larger and more useful.
Both have aging infotainment screens and control systems, and when you sit inside the entry-level Patrol as we've tested here, you wonder why you would spend more money on the range-topper. The Patrol feels every bit the large, luxury 4WD – on a budget. As tested here, the 200 Series is unequivocally more basic and rudimentary.
Wheels and tyres
The Nissan Patrol has more tyre diameter to play with, a 265/70R18 equating to 32.6 inches tall and 10.4 inches wide. In this specification, the LandCruiser has shorter but wider rolling stock: 285/65R17 equates to 31.6 inches of diameter and 11.2 inches of width.
Both 4WDs in this comparison have a relatively garden-variety OEM tyre employed. Toyota uses a Dunlop Grandtrek, the Patrol has a Bridgestone Dueler. While neither tyre is a standout (and both could be easily improved upon), it’s worth noting that when appropriately aired down, both sets of hoops did a good job of providing traction for the day.
Suspension and clearance
This is one area where the Patrol and LandCruiser differ with different suspension designs. While the LandCruiser uses a familiar format of live rear axle and independent front suspension, the Nissan Patrol goes all-out with independent suspension all round.
It’s curious, because the previous-generation GU/Y61 was one of the last live-axle 4WDs available in Australia. With it and the Land Rover Defender most recently gone, only the Toyota 70 Series LandCruiser, Suzuki Jimny and Jeep Wrangler survive.
Don’t assume that just because the Patrol has independent suspension it’s rubbish off-road. Because it has long control arms and the very effective HBMC system, the Patrol offers nice stability and balanced articulation through cross-axle and off-camber driving.
The LandCruiser feels similarly stable, safe and predictable off-road. KDSS gives big benefits to articulation, especially in the live rear end. The front end isn’t completely useless, and you notice how good the LandCruiser is at keeping all four paws on the ground.
Where the Patrol has a clear advantage in this regard is raw ground clearance. Taller tyres naturally yield better underbody ground clearance, but not having a diff housing in the way improves things dramatically. Whereas the LandCruiser offers ground clearance similar to most 4x4 utes, the Patrol ups the ante nicely. Where we ran out of clearance on both 4WDs was rampover angle, and on the side steps in particular. However, the Patrol is better overall in terms of clearance.
Traction aids, low-range gearing
Who’s got the lowest gearing? With a relatively low reduction ratio of 2.679:1 in the transfer case (similar to old Nissan Patrols), an overall reduction of 43.95:1 gives you enough low-speed crawl and control for tricky and technical 4WDing.
Toyota’s low-range ratio is lower again, meaning less reduction: 2.618:1. And with a taller first gear (there’s one less ratio to pick), the LandCruiser is left with a 34.11:1 reduction ratio. While it’s not as low as the Patrol, and lower gearing is always better, you can still navigate the big 200 Series through some tricky sections as the engine ticks over just above idle.
The LandCruiser has no locking rear differential, but the Torsen centre differential is lockable via a button near the gearstick. Multi-Terrain select lets you cycle through a handful of different driving modes depending on what you’re looking to tackle. These all make an impressive difference to the LandCruiser, and when combined with the supple off-road suspension, it feels very stable and easy to drive.
Crawl Control, on the other hand, isn’t so great in execution. While the idea is great and would be attractive to novice off-roaders, it’s noisy and jerky when in action. It’s especially bad on flat ground, where you would first engage it before taking on challenges.
Similar to the suspension, the Nissan Patrol has quite a different 4WD system to the LandCruiser. While it doesn’t have a traditional centre differential that most permanent 4WDs have, the Patrol uses an electronically controlled multi-plate clutch to engage and disengage the front axle. The Patrol can do this itself with the Auto mode, but 4H and 4L lock in 4x4.
The Patrol’s rear differential has its cake and eats it too, with a helical limited-slip centre that’s also lockable. Throw in some selectable off-road driving modes, plenty of underbody clearance and a decent hill-descent control function, and the Patrol is brilliant at managing traction off-road.
We spent time on some local 4WD tracks that were muddy and greasy, which also had their fair share of steps and ruts to navigate. We spent a full day on the tracks, choosing to focus on off-road performance instead of on-road driving.
Both the LandCruiser and Patrol are sumptuous and comfortable dirt-road tourers. While some might bemoan their truckiness on-road, they feel right at home on high-speed dirt. Suspension soaks up undulations beautifully, and steering has the right balance of feeling.
When slipped into low-range, my first big impression with both of these big rigs was – despite their weight and size – how stable, supple and planted both felt. Nissan and Toyota have slightly different takes on active, hydraulically powered suspension components, but both work well. Neither flops around as much as a dual-cab ute, keeping all paws planted impressively well.
With lots of displacement at the ready, both the LandCruiser and Patrol proved to be effortless low-range cruisers, with predictable torque converter tuning and ample torque for controlled crawling.
Ground clearance is generally good, and is the first thing you’ll likely run out of when off-road. Those numbers don’t lie, however. With taller tyres, less low-hanging mechanicals and better general clearances overall, the Patrol will take longer to bottom out.
In our testing, we managed to bash up the LandCruiser’s low-hanging side steps, which bent up with only a little rock provocation. We chose not to take the Patrol on the same line, because damaging cars you don’t own isn’t something you want to make a habit out of. But, I reckon the Patrol might have been able to just scrape through. The LandCruiser had no chance without wreaking some serious damage.
As much as I could, I tried to park the whole bang-for-buck argument when choosing a winner between these two big rigs. Because, you don’t need to go to the effort of taking them out into the bush to find a verdict on that metric: the Patrol cleans up by a country mile.
What I wanted to really find out was: which is the most consummate off-roader? Both are good, despite their hefty weight and size, yes. But which is best?
Although the LandCruiser appeals with its flexy rear end and very effective traction-control system, I found myself leaning towards the Patrol. Clearance goes a very long way off-road, and the Nissan’s combination of clutch-pack 4WD system, locking rear differential and surprisingly supple suspension makes it hard to beat off-road.
The LandCruiser still has its uses, however. Although it’s no fuel-miser, slightly better economy and the fact that diesel is less volatile to carry and easier to source in the bush (especially compared to premium unleaded) mean that for those who want a big desert-crushing machine, the 200 Series is a better starting point.
However, for most buyers who want something big, spacious and comfortable through the week, and then capable and enjoyable for holidays and weekends, the Patrol is the smarter buy.
COUNTERPOINT: Trent Nikolic
For mine, I'd buy the Patrol, with one caveat. If I were heading off on the lap around Australia (with or without a caravan in tow) and wanted to extensively modify the vehicle to use off-road and for that touring purpose, you really can't go past the 200 Series.
However, if your main task is daily driving, with a smattering of touring and towing thrown in, the Patrol remains incredibly strong value for money. It's big, comfortable, well equipped, effortless even with a heavy trailer behind it, and that 5.6-litre petrol V8 is a stonking engine. Maybe invest in an exhaust...
This test reminded me of something we should be conscious of, regardless of which off-road colours you wear on your sleeve. This could very well be the end of a great era. The Patrol may soldier on with a petrol V8 for a while longer, but the 200 Series looks unlikely to get bent-eight power for the next generation, which signals the end of an era in terms of like-for-like comparison anyway.
It took so long for Nissan to deliver a Patrol that could really match the 200 Series in a performance sense, and now Toyota is moving to, ahem, 'greener' pastures with smaller, hybrid engines. The sands are shifting in the off-road world as much as they are in the more city-focused segments. Get ’em while you can.
* This article was first published on 16 July, 2020.