You might not have picked up the seismic tremors in North America, but jaws thunked to earth in places as far flung as Australia, Africa, Russia and the Middle East when Nissan confirmed its Patrol heavy-duty SUV was trading in its good ol' live axles for independent underpinnings.
So what's the Patrol and why should you care? Well in plenty of places, it's a 4x4 icon, conquering the tough terrain of the Middle East since the 1950s and in 1962 becoming the first vehicle to successfully cross Australia's scorching Simpson Desert.
So it's a tough, old-style truck -- go anywhere, do anything, tow anything. Mechanically, it's barely altered in the last 25 years. Philosophically, not at all through 60 years and six generations.
But it's all changed now, much to the chagrin of traditional fans, who fear such things as those newfangled double wishbones will compromise the Patrol's legendary off-road ability.
It's the requirements of North America that have a big role to play in this fundamental shift, because the Patrol is finally headed for the world's largest SUV playground, albeit as the new-generation Infiniti QX56.
Scheduled for unveiling in New York in April, the luxury SUV will have its own external and internal styling features, its own seats and instrument panel, but all the important mechanical and technical stuff and much of the equipment will be shared.
Previously the QX was twinned with Armada, both built in Nissan's Canton, Missouri, plant alongside the Titan pickup. The new QX will be built in Kyushi, Japan, on the same line as the Patrol.
So what happens to the Armada? Pretty much nothing, says Carla Bailo, program manager for the P61G Patrol.
"Right now [the future of the Armada] it is still to be determined," she explains. "The current model based on the current Titan we are going to continue building as long as physically possible, meaning as long as it meets all the emissions and safety requirements."
"We are going to have a next Titan, but whether we turn that into an SUV is still TBD."
So what about turning the Patrol into the Armada? "This is a little bit more sophisticated than the Armada, quite frankly," responds Bailo. "So we are not sure if it is right for that segment. We would have to do some tuning and decontenting."
Decontenting the Patrol? That used to mean hosing it out after a hard weekend in the boonies. But the new car's long and sophisticated list of standard features would discourage that: six airbags, stability control, lane-departure warning, intelligent cruise control, a forward-collision warning system, an individual multiscreen DVD system, new roof mounted air vents, 9.3 GB hard drive, sat-nav, a 360-degree camera monitoring system, and a power liftgate.
Nissan even claims some world firsts among all this; none of it would be out of place in the QX.
Bailo spoke to Motor Trend at the global launch of the Patrol in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. This region is the other reason the Patrol has gone upmarket. They like their luxury 4x4s here, and the old Patrol was just too utilitarian. It had gotten to the point where the archrival 200 Series LandCruiser controlled 90 percent of the market.
Emphasising just how important correcting this imbalance is, global boss Carlos Ghosn flew in for the first public viewing of the new generation, a vehicle that's taken six years and $500 million to bring to reality. It's just he and 1000 of his closest friends at a swanky function on the grounds of the beyond-luxury seven star Emirates Palace Hotel. When the Patrol rolled onto the stage, Ghosn was dwarfed. Admittedly, he's not the biggest guy in the world -- he'd just about stroll between Ed Whitacre's legs -- but this is one huge vehicle.
"The last Patrol? People said, 'It's a great car, but you are off the mark in terms of comfort and luxury, it is too frugal, too austere,'" Ghosn explained. "So we listened, we corrected it, we have presented it, and now you have seen it."
Well, you could hardly miss it. Dimensionally, at 202.4 inches long, 78.5 inches wide, and 76.4 inches high, its profile eclipses the old Patrol, the current Cruiser, and probably the sun. And at around 6150 pounds, it's in an even weightier division. The only thing that compares for sheer size and heft is the Armada.
And that's no coincidence because the Patrol employs a vastly uprated form of the Armada's F-Alpha body-on-frame architecture (variants of which also underpin the old QX, Titan, Pathfinder, and more), as well as an overhauled version of the 5.6-liter V-8 petrol engine, a seven speed automatic transmission, and a hydraulic body control system that banishes mechanical stabilizer bars to the trash bin.
Iin place of an old-style transfer lever and part-time four-wheel drive, the Patrol now employs Nissan's electronically controlled All-Mode 4x4 system. Static, it is 100 percent rear drive, but it can send up to 50 percent of torque forward. Via a dial on the dash, the driver can let the software do all the work in Auto mode or lock into 4High or 4Low. Push buttons allow for different setup preferences, be it on-road, sand, rocks, or moguls. It's a lot like the Land Rover Discovery's Terrain Response setup.
In fact, the Land Rover -- and even the Range Rover -- comparisons continue once we're rolling in the Patrol for the first drive. It crystalizes not while driving, but when I'm sitting in the front passenger seat, head down, making notes.
"That's 110 mph," remarks my co-pilot casually. I look up, surprised, I thought we'd been rolling along at 75. Tops.
Okay, it's a smooth, flat freeway somewhere south of the Omani capital, Muscat. The concrete joints of U.S. freeways are noticeably absent, but so is any sense of engine or wind noise. That's impressive considering the speed we are doing, the demands being placed on the engine and the bow wave of hot air we're pushing.
Two things are immediately obvious: This is one heck of an engine, and this thing sure is refined.
Nissan went to town with the unfortunately acronymed VK56VD engine. It now has variable valve timing (VVEL in Nissan-speak), direct injection and, Nissan claims, a complete internal redesign. The on-paper result is 400 horsepower and 413 pound-feet, figures that eclipse the Land Cruiser V-8 and -- more important for Infiniti -- the Lexus LX 570.
That was part of Nissan's plan, and it also claims the Patrol is now the fastest in class. No official figures are available on the launch, but some rough timing on a deserted stretch of freeway indicates sub-seven seconds to 60 mph. Now that's impressive.
Both Sumo and Ninja, the engine is a gargantuan performer in a stealthy package. The thought of what it could achieve bolted into a 370Z is drool-inducing.
Fuel economy? Well, where the Patrol does its biggest business, it's a moot point, but the official claim is 13 mpg. And that's with the seven-speed auto recalibrated for more economical running...Poor thing's still busier than a one-armed wallpaper hanger swapping multiple gears under acceleration.
It's not only quiet and fast; it even handles after a fashion too. Okay, there's body roll and float, remote disconnected steering and plenty of pitch under hard braking, but it does get along a winding country highway at a decent, composed rate. No doubt the shift to a far more modern independent suspension setup is key, along with the influence of the hydraulic stabilizer system. Called Hydraulic Body Motion Control, it is a development of the Land Cruiser's KDSS.
Nissan claims similar cornering ability to a BMW 5 Series or some such nonsense. The reality is it does a good job of shepherding and corraling a massive, tall, unwieldy vehicle with the same natural affinity to fast cornering as your grandma.
HBMC not only aids behavior on-road, but off-road too. It needs to because the shift away from live axles brings with it potential wheel articulation and ground clearance issues. HBMC locates hydraulic cylinders over each wheel. Connected by cross-piping and two accumulators, they generate variable roll stiffness depending on the driving conditions. The system does this by transferring oil between the upper and lower sections of each cylinder, according to road conditions. The big advance from the Toyota system is that HBMC dispenses with stabilizer bars altogether, rather than only temporarily disabling them.
Our Omani drive gives convincing evidence that the Patrol remains a true heavy-duty 4x4. Jeep tracks, goat tracks, rock-strewn creek crossings, mountain climbs so steep you can hear the All-Mode system shuttling drive on tight hairpins even though they are concrete-surfaced. Then down again, using low range and hill descent control to prevent an unfortunate expedition into inner space.
The wrap-up comes with a dash along a sandy beach track, the chassis soaking up all the hits and shocks, the absence of suspension, tire, or gravel-splash noise still quite extraordinary. All this in a plush leather, wood, and chrome interior, riding on man-size seats, stretching legs out salubriously, and viewing the world from on high.
So sorry, Australia and bad luck, Russia. Click your jaws back in and suck it up like men. Your pain is the USA's gain. The new Patrol isn't what you might have expected or wanted, but America's going to like it as the new QX56.
| 2010 Nissan Patrol |
| Base Price || N/A |
| Vehicle layout || Front-engine, 4WD, 8-pass, 4-door SUV |
| Engine || 5.6L/400-hp/413-lb-ft DOHC 32-valve V-8 |
| Transmission || 7-speed automatic |
| Curb weight || 6150 lb (mfr) |
| Wheelbase || N/A |
| Length x width x height || 202.4 x 78.5 x 76.4 in |
| EPA city/hwy fuel econ || N/A |
| On sale in the U.S. || Late 2010-Early 2011 (As 2011 Infiniti QX56) |