The Y62 Nissan Patrol: Smooth, elegant fuel-guzzling in style

I want to stand with the Y62 Nissan Patrol on a mountain; I want to bathe with the Y62 Nissan Patrol in the sea… but I am not sure if I want to take it home with me.

There is plenty to enamour one with the massive off-road wagon — and never has the word “wagon” been more befitting of a motor vehicle than with the Y62 — but on inspection, there is plenty to introduce more than a modicum of doubt to the patently ponderous among us.

Why would I want a torrid tryst with the Patrol but bolt like a rabbit at the first demand of commitment?

Well, first there is:

The costs: The vehicle is sold for $155,000 here; which means it will cost anything between Sh13 million and Sh16 million, depending on what time of the year it is and whatever is happening in the US at the time. Dollar pricing is pretty finicky at best and very easy to take advantage of, which is why all the dealers are doing it.

One could literally make millions overnight if a well-timed national incident — either here or there — was to make it to CNN. Sheer happenstance; not entirely dissimilar to playing the stock market.

I am not saying the Patrol is too expensive; not at all. It is priced just like its biggest rival: the Toyota Landcruiser VX. That makes them both very expensive.

However, when you fork out sixteen of your millions for the VX, you know you are getting Toyota’s renowned reliability, the Landcruiser’s relatively good looks and a car that might outlive your grandson.

MASSIVE BEAST

With the Patrol, it seems, well… different. It is more like you will pay the Sh16 million, yes, but on condition that you will pay it in small currency: Sh20 coins probably; and this money will then be weighed and you will be given a vehicle equal in mass to your pile of copper guineas and silver doubloons… and the vehicle will be the Y62 Nissan Patrol. This is one heavy automobile.

The weight brings another issue to the fore: fuel consumption. A vehicle that comes within a hair of three tonnes is not going anywhere fast unless a powerful engine acts as palliator to the sheer heft. Grand Heft Auto, it should be called.

Nissan thought to introduce their very clever — and shamelessly Amero-centric — 5.6 litre petrol V8 engine here; an engine that delivers 560Nm of torque, a figure which means nothing to those of you who don’t understand torque, and more importantly, 298kW; or what is commonly referred to as 400 horsepower. You will need all 400 of these horsepowers, just you wait…

A 400hp engine pulling an aerodynamically fiendish, three-tonne breeze-block body has demands, chief among them being its drink. You will burn through fuel faster than the Exxon Valdez if you choose to fully exploit the underbonnet drays like I did scampering up an escarpment in third gear at 5000rpm — an insane but deeply satisfying exercise, if you ask me; more so if someone else is paying for the fuel.

Remember Heracles and Dionysus? He of Greek mythology who was challenged to a drinking contest and ended up swilling half a lake — literally half a lake — because the water levels dipped noticeably? But this is Greek mythology where women have snakes as weaves, so let’s not focus too much on the plausibility of it.

But the Nissan Patrol is Heracles. Its ability beggars belief, just like the size of Heracles’ ego in challenging a god to a drinking contest; but just like Heracles, even more impressive is the amount of liquid it can put away when pressed. The fuel gauge carved a neat discernible little arc over a distance of just 15 kilometers…. uphill.

There are those who will say “if you can afford a Patrol then money is no issue”. Of course it isn’t; anybody can see that. And the absence of a diesel option clearly shows that this car is not targeted at the more frugal driver.

This car is clearly meant for dune-bashing oligarchs of oil and highway-cruisin’ patrons of McDonalds: the Middle East and the US; where petrol is cheap, cars are huge and high-speed road accidents mean you will fare better if your transport module is one step removed from a battle tank in size and constitution.

The problem here is not the fuel consumption (which is obviously terrible); it is more a matter of convenience. How many times will you have to pull in at a petrol station to refill the tank?

CHROME EVERYWHERE 

The looks: The Patrol splits opinion in terms of appearance. This is a diplomatic way of saying that there are those who think it is an underwear model in military fatigues holding an RPG, while there are those who believe it is an effluent and overgrown hippo with an engine in its mouth (the eco-mentalist’s view of a three-ton SUV). Extreme views on both ends, these, and nobody seems to hold any middle ground… until I come along.

From some angles (the front) the Patrol looks the part. From some angles (rear three-quarters) it may come off a little ungainly. The expansive metalwork on the sides also makes it look undershod; and it seems a bit saggy around the rear axle. However, wash it clean, park it in front of an upmarket hotel’s lobby and it just might dazzle.

No, really, it might dazzle, especially if the sun is out; because of the amount of brightwork that the designers plopped onto it. There is chrome everywhere, in varying amounts. Witness it, for it is shiny.

As a critic of auto design, among other things, one of the rules is beware of too much chrome. It may be hiding something.

Evidence that the designer was not all there can be summed up thus: the corporate grille seems fine, unmistakable. The overall outline is proper SUV-ish, if just a little bit Toyota. The rear fascia seems rushed: the back panel looks a bit ghost-faced due to a striking lack of detail in it.

Ah, you say; but you see, simplicity is key to classiness.

True that, and it would be if the rest of the car had not been festooned with too many and oversized “details” such as the fake chrome vents on the front fenders (what are they for, Nissan?), chrome door handles, chrome window surrounds, chrome nose and grill (witness me!), the sculpted body work around the rear fenders, the pentagonal quarter windows aft of the C pillar… only for them to go for a plain back end dotted with small tail lamps. If you are going for the Korean theme of highly convoluted design language, then stick with it. The back end could have come off a panel van, for all we know.

SENATOR’S CONVOY

So why the infatuation?: The Nissan Patrol is easy to criticise, but that is right up to the moment you get in it, in the real world. The first time I drove one was two years ago, at a place called El Toro on the West Coast of the US; in a predetermined off-road course that just made me uncomfortable because

  1. a) it was left-hand drive,
  2. b) the course was laid out in such a way that you were actually forced to use some of the car’s features, such as the 360-degree camera — it is unnerving driving while staring at the centre console instead of through the windscreen, and c) the instructor had this belief that power-assisted steering does not exist outside of The Matrix, and therefore a thin waif-like auto-journo like me had no business grappling with the massive steering wheel of the Y62 and he would therefore intervene at the most inopportune of moments by grabbing the wheel and this almost resulted in “us” damaging the front offside tyre on a well-placed and dangerously jagged log of wood on a steep incline over which we were trying to manoeuvre.

I was painfully close to calling it a day, parking the vehicle on the muddy slope and sliding downhill on my skinny posterior to the 4.0 litre Navara that seemed more user-friendly and had a more accommodating, smiling (female) instructor. I didn’t like the Y62 much at that point.

But that was two years ago. This is now: in the real world, where I live. And I was liking the Patrol very much. From the back seat it is very spacious and quite comfortable even when packed seven-up, the AC works like a charm, whatever controls lie within reach are intuitive and easy to use — though the TV screens mounted on the front headrests can only be operated by 12-year-olds who have spent their lives around electronics and have probably never seen sunlight.

This could really work in a senator’s convoy. NVH is not totally contained, but it is not intrusive either; and with the radio off, one can hear the distant thunder that is the V8 rumble under power. I prefer the engine sound to the radio, because the radio is not so good, especially if you have experienced the 29-speaker setup in the Range Rover that costs twice as much as the Nissan.

OFF-ROAD TALENT 

Behind the wheel: Driving the Y62 is the fun part of it. For starters, you sit high up, but not so high as to feel like you are helming a semi truck. The vehicle is still tractable, you think. One cannot resist the urge to compare it to the Landcruiser VX, so I will.

The instrument cluster in the Nissan Patrol is large, clearly laid out and easy to read, while the VX “cluster-pack” (geddit?) seems a little squeezed. Score one for the Patrol. The steering wheel is huge and thin-rimmed, whereas the Landcruiser’s tiller is a trifle smaller and thick-rimmed. One point to the Toyota.

The Nissan has a larger greenhouse. Coupled to the elephant-ear side mirrors and the rear view camera, visibility is damn near excellent; not just for an SUV but for any car. The Landcruiser has smaller mirrors, less glasshouse and the model I drove from Toyota Kenya not only lacked a rear view camera, it had no screen in the centre console at all. Three points to the Patrol for this.

Driving the Y62 is the fun part of it. For starters, you sit high up, but not so high as to feel like you are helming a semi truck. PHOTO | COURTESY

The interior cockpit layout favours the Landcruiser though: the placement of some buttons in the Patrol seems like an afterthought, the presence of an LCD screen in the centre console does not mean it is a good one — this one needs time to be understood and the GUI (graphic user interface) could do with quite some improvement — the off-road setup buttons are a little strange and also require training for first-time drivers, and the gear lever seems borrowed from a car with a manual transmission. In fact, it is very similar to the stick used in the Nissan 370Z coupé that I also drove in California. The Patrol loses two points here.

Driving it is another matter though. Let us first look at the off-road talent. For some reason, and unlike the Landcruiser, the Patrol is NOT full-time 4WD. That means you have three settings to go through rather than just two, and that is before you start locking the diffs. In light of that, you can only lock the rear diff: the front one stays open while the centre one is a viscous coupling.

These do not detract too much from its off-road abilities though: clearance is good, grip is present but wheel spin may nab you unawares if you don’t know what you are doing, in which case good luck keeping those three tons from slithering downslope. In the US, the hill-descent control worked excellently, almost as well as the one in the Range Rover. In Naivasha… err…. things were a little different.

This is how HDC works (in almost all cars so equipped). Once engaged, the driver is only supposed to steer: feet off all pedals. The vehicle uses gyroscopes, traction control and EBD to determine where and how hard to apply the brakes. The steeper the slope, the harder the vehicle brakes itself, but it still maintains forward motion.  If you happen to touch either the accelerator or the brakes, the HDC is overridden and… I’d rather not think about it.

CODE BROWN!!

In California, the HDC worked like a charm. The slope I went down was so steep that even the short front overhang of the Y62 still did not prevent the front valance from scraping the ground at the bottom.

Having already done it, during the recent test drive in Naivasha’s Eburu Forest, I let my fellow test drivers have their turns in it and that’s when it almost went code brown (the soiling of pants). I sat at the back to watch proceedings. HDC on, brakes off, inch forward slowly, yes… yes… OK that’s a little too fast… that is REALLY TOO FAST… Hey…HEY! Oh sweet Lord, that is WAY too fast; are we even slowing down?… small beads of sweat started forming, glutius muscles were clenched, visions of three tonnes of bent metal swam before my eyes then there was a sudden surge and my shoulder strained against the seat belt and…. we were braking.

A little hard at first but we slowed down enough to a crawl as the driver carefully threaded his way down the slope. “The HDC works well” he said. I thought otherwise. I have used HDC many times before and this was the second time it almost brought bile to my mouth. Thank goodness I wasn’t driving.

(*Note: it turns out that Nissan’s HDC is actually quite excellent. The hair-raising moment was from our approach speed being a little on the higher side, but even then the HDC still managed to come in and faultlessly see the vehicle down the hill). Look out for the next instalment where we  exercise the 5.6 litre V8 on tarmac.

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