Test venue: Sicily
Nissan Europe chose the Sicilian village of Taormina and a scenic mountaineous course through the Parco die Nebrodi and the Etna National Park for the Pan-European launch of its new Patrol 4x4 model, which goes on sale in the UK at the end of October 2004.
The company has revised its sales target for the full 4x4 range from 16,000 in 2003 to 24,500 units at the end of 2005, as a result of the introduction of the new Patrol and, potentially, because of the new Pathfinder and Murano models, which will follow in 2005.
The Nissan Patrol was first introduced in 1951, after an agreement between the Japanese Government and the American company Jeep for a model to be built under licence. It has been a stalwart of the Nissan all-terrain range ever since and has been used by the United Nations and numerous international governments in many of the most remote and dangerous areas of the world.
The new Patrol will be available in the UK and Western Europe with the single option of a 3.0-litre, six-cylinder direct diesel engine, although a 4.8-litre, six-cylinder petrol option will be offered to the potentially lucrative Russian and Turkish markets, in addition to the Middle East.
The new ZD powerplant we tested on a varied Sicilian course, which included a visit to Piano Provenzana (the site of the most recent Etna volcanic eruption in October 2002), produces 160 bhp and a massive 380 NM of torque (a 7.6% increase) at 2000 rpm. Both these figures are useful improvements on the outgoing model, although the new car did feel sluggish in lower gears in normal driving conditions and overtaking was not always straightforward on short stretches of open road.
Nissan claims that the new Patrol will reach the standard 100 km/h limit in between 14.8 and 15.2 seconds and press on to a maximum speed of around 100 mph. The latter figure is largely irrelevant and the Patrol is quite at home cruising at the legal speed limit and on dual-carriageways and major transport links.
New Patrol is available in a choice of three five-door models, with the S version ready to set you back in the region of £24,500. That figure rises to £29,000 for the seven-seater SVE option and £31,000 for the SVE auto. Nissan claims that 80% of sales will be made up of the SVE model, with the Mitsubishi Shogun and Toyota Land Cruiser seen as the main rivals.
The list of standard accessories is impressive, with the standard S model benefitting from twin air bags, ABS, air conditioning, a CD player, a new switchable stabiliser system, rear differential lock and selectable 4WD with the usual dual ratio transmission. Extras on the SVE include 17-inch alloy wheels, side airbags, climate control, a third row of seats and a DVD satellite navigation system.
All too few Patrols ever find themselves in an off-road environment, but Nissan is proud of its competition track record and the company has applied its competitive tradition into the new road-going version. Over an enjoyable off-road course in the foothills of Mount Etna, the Patrol worked effortlessly over a wide range of rocky and undulating terrain, where it was necessary to use both the 4H and 4L options on several occasions.
On several stretches of sinuous mountain roads the bulky Patrol behaved impeccably and cornered like a conventional road car, offering stable in-corner manners and a comfortable ride over all but the bumpiest of recent lava flows! There was limited cockpit noise from the new diesel engine and the ride was refined for a 4x4 vehicle of its ilk. Precise steering improved confidence in tighter situations, although the brakes on the manual test model we drove appeared spongier than those in the impressive automatic version and failed to install confidence.
The new Patrol has an excellent 3.5-tonne towing capacity with the manual transmission option, while Nissan management claim that around 80% of sales will be to the retail sector and only 20% filtering through to the fleet market. The four-speed automatic transmission is practical, functional and responsive, although the five-speed manual version should be favoured by the off-road enthusiast with its precise and slick gearchange and easy-to-use four-wheel drive facility.
In addition to the power and handling improvements, Nissan have further developed the car's interior with revised seating, the option of top grade leather trim and additional leg and luggage space available with the five-seat version. Wood and chrome trim has been used to brighten up the interior and the dashboard has been changed. The exterior benefits from a new bonnet, grille and headlight layout, revised bumpers, wings and new-style alloy wheels.
There is no doubting the revisions have made the new Patrol a far more desireable product in a cut-throat sector of the all-terrain market. With the Pathfinder due to debut at the Paris Motor Show in September 2004 and the Murano likely to follow soon afterwards in a bid to take hold of a share of the BMW X5 and RX3000 market, it is easy to see why Nissan Europe's management are confident that they can reach those ambitious 2005 sales targets for the entire 4x4 model range.
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