With over three major model changes in the past thirty years, the Nissan Patrol is an acquired taste. Parodied locally as the Ramos administration's favorite politico entourage transport, the Patrol's international reputation is more benign as UN and international relief organizations used plenty of them in war torn or disaster stricken countries that have no roads and usually, no working governments. Tough and principally a go anywhere mule, like its nemesis, the Toyota Land Cruiser, its petrol powered version became the favorite toy for sand dune racing, a nocturnal sport of the Gulf State rich kids. The Patrol also became that alternative to the LC among the hyper rich Russian Oligarchy.
Breaking out of the niche
With such a captive market, Nissan had a choice. It could leave the Patrol alone and keep the steady and loyal fan base in countries where Nissan dealers out pace Toyotas, which is not many. After all, Nissan could rest on its laurels and keep the niche of purist off-road fans, the kind that have kept the Land Rover Defender alive and available after all these post Jurassic years. But if Nissan wanted to be smart, it could follow how Land Rover and Toyota stratified the SUV class by introducing variants from rugged Defenders and Toyota Troop Carriers to Rolls Royce refined Range Rovers and Lexus LX 570. Besides, Nissan has been selling the Missouri made Nissan Armada against Toyota's Sequoia in SUV crazy USA.
The Patrol Royale not only seeks to march shoulder to shoulder with the Lexus LX 570, but it would like to boast suspension and all terrain drive sophistication that would challenge even the most rabidly loyal Range Rover fan. This 7th generation Patrol is a leap up into real premium territory, whether luxury or engineering. The launch in Oman, where mega buck yachts bobbing in the Marinas are only a few kilometers away from rugged deserts and powder fine sand dunes, stresses the extremes of refinement and ruggedness that the Royale is assimilating to. The adverts play to the nautical theme, a theme pioneered by Range Rover. Look at the Royale's C pillar. Its angled like a streamlined yacht's roof support. This styling accent, seen on the Nissan Quest, will most likely be Nissan's signature for future models the way BMW keeps the Hofmeister kink. At 2,789kgs, 5140mm long, 1994mm wide and 76.4mm high, its profile eclipses the old Patrol Safari, the current Cruiser, and probably some of the yachts berthed in many Marinas.
Up, up the spec
The spec sheet shows that the Patrol Royale has indeed caught up in almost all aspects: fully independent suspension, six airbags, stability control, power moonroof and a power lift gate. Entertainment is multiscreen DVD with two rear-facing TVs, one 7-inch monitor embedded into each front seat headrest. There's curtain air con vents, which mimics a "veil" of cold air coming down from the ceiling, a feature found only on top of the line limousines. The 360- degree monitoring system is great for spotting small cars or tire valve thieves on the offside and skimming curbs while avoiding buses. The seats are climate controlled too.
This is not your bodyguards' Patrol
Underneath, the Patrol now has a hydraulic body control system that banishes mechanical stabilizer bars. The big advance from the Toyota Land Cruiser's KDSS system is that Nissan's proprietary HBMC dispenses with stabilizer bars altogether, rather than only temporarily disabling them. This geometric obsession smacks of S-class Mercedes, Bristol and Citroen "Holy Grail" in suspension articulation. The electronically controlled push button four wheel drive is the equal of Land Rover's Terrain Response set up. Beside Sand, Snow, On-road and Rock 4x4 modes, its got hydraulic body roll mitigation system, hill start assist, and hill descent control.
Luxury clothes the tough
Interiors have more areas covered with leather, chrome and figured wood paneling than ever before. With wider, higher and deeper front seats, the Patrol offers over 100mm more legroom for second row passengers, and a roomier third row of seats as well. Yet another impressive Patrol feature is the cool box mounted in the massively wide center console between the front seats. It sits on a double hinge design, so the lid can be opened from either the front or second row of seats to access the six 600ml drink bottles inside. The 2nd and 3rd row are sumptuous thrones, and the front is palatial with tasteful luxury appointments in wood, chrome, velour or leather in front. This 320hp version of the 5.6 liter comes with a 5-speed auto does 6.33km/liter and takes 8.2 seconds to hit 100km/h. If one wants more, one can order the 5.6 liter 400hp direct injection V-8 version, with 7-speed auto which powers from 0-100 in 7.3 seconds, but it will take a really restrained driver to do better than 7.25 kms/liter. Top speed is way in excess of 200km/h.
For such a yacht, it holds steady on high speed swerves, with the HBMC controlling body lean in an instant. It keeps the Royale steady and serene, even if your driving becomes clumsy and/or aggressive. It seems to smoothen out your rough driving edges, flattening the road, taking out the discomfort of uneven surfaces and taking the lean out swerving, a miracle for such a heavy barge. I suspect the firm feel steering, the high revving V-8 and its pitch-less comportment in high speed lane changes is tailor made for the rich kids who blast through the Gulf States' wide freeways at night, despite wall to wall speed cameras. It may not be as absolutely jolt free as a Range Rover, but it never wallows despite its weight.
Less work, more play
The Patrol Royale, with its limousine like refinement does not sacrifice off road/sand dune climbing abilities. And despite it being a minority among the luxury SUVs, which, unlike the Range Rover Sport, Cayenne and X-5, cater to drivers who aim to cut down track lap times, all the more makes the Nissan most significant this 2011. Why? Think of it as a palatial home, not an office, that has the ability to go off road in supreme silence and comfort.
Quo vadis, QX?
Proudly made in Kyushu, Japan, the Patrol Royale does leave one awkward question. With the way they've hyped everything in the Patrol to please the extreme standards of Saudi oil sheiks and Russian plutocrats, what then is left to improve/refine/add to its traditionally more aristocratic US made sibling, the Infinity QX 56?