How’s the serenity? The Nissan Patrol at the Lost City outside of Lithgow, NSW.
How’s the serenity? The Nissan Patrol at the Lost City outside of Lithgow, NSW.

Rugged updated 2018 Nissan Patrol pushes the barriers

THE Nissan Patrol in peak hour is not so much a fish out of water as a beached whale. Its hulking three-tonne frame is totally unsuited for city driving, the big V8 under the bonnet is guzzling as if it's happy hour at the pub, I've almost lost the jumbo-sized side mirrors on a narrow backstreet and I can only just glimpse the roof of the little hatchback behind me.

On top of that, the steering is woolly and the turning circle stretches three-point turns into five-pointers.

The Patrol is a living relic of a past when petrol cost less than a dollar a litre, men were men and four-wheel drives actually ventured off the beaten track.

It's about as fashionable as tucking a pack of Winnie reds into the sleeve of your T-shirt. But people still buy them, even if not in the numbers they once did. And not in the same numbers as its only rival in the "upper large" SUV segment, Toyota's LandCruiser.

That's mainly because, for reasons known only to itself, Nissan no longer has a diesel Patrol. The only choice of propulsion is a 5.6-litre petrol V8 with claimed combined fuel consumption of 14.4 litres/100km - 20.2 litres in the traffic. That's not a lot less than a Lamborghini Aventador and frankly the Nissan claim is a bit fanciful. We saw 30 litres/100km on our first commute. Thankfully it has a huge 140-litre tank.

No wonder 99 per cent of LandCruiser buyers choose a diesel and no wonder the big Toyota outsells the Patrol by more than 10 to one.

There's a good chance this generation of the Patrol will be the last we see - it appears headed the way of the V8 Commo-Dodo.

In the cabin, there are telltale signs that the Patrol is not getting the development dollars of its more popular, smaller siblings such as the Qashqai and X-Trail.

It's a self-fulfilling spiral - you sell fewer cars, you spend less on the new model and the car trails the rivals in adopting new technology, which leads to fewer sales.

The central readout in the instrument display has old-school graphics, the centre screen on the dash is smaller than similarly priced cars and features such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are absent.

It's not all doom and gloom, though. A recent update has brought a useful piece of tech absent on rivals, even those with luxury badges. The rear view mirror can switch to a camera view, giving the driver a much clearer look at the road behind.

The camera is mounted on the rear of the car, effectively removing any obstacles to the driver's vision, such as the rear pillars. It's especially handy if the Patrol is packed to the roof with camping gear and the third-row seats are occupied.

Camping gear? That's the whole purpose of this road test. To roll the whale back into its natural habitat, where it can impress us with its beauty and grace.

That means a trip to the Blue Mountains in NSW and what 4WD enthusiasts call the Lost City, a spectacular array of sandstone and ironstone pagoda-like rock formations on the western flank.

But first it's time to stretch the Patrol's legs on a freeway and hopefully get that fuel consumption back into the teens. Apart from its seemingly unquenchable thirst for premium unleaded, the Patrol is the ultimate freeway cruiser. It's easy to see why the Yanks love their Escalades and Expeditions - the Patrol is a loungeroom on wheels, complete with two DVD screens for the kids.

The third-row seats are big enough for adults for a change and get proper aircon vents.

There's even a decent amount of space behind them for cargo, although if you want to carry seven and their luggage, you'll need to tow a trailer - not a problem for the Patrol as it can haul 3500kg.

The V8 and seven-speed auto are a silky smooth combination, overtaking is a breeze and you'd imagine it would make short work of towing a trailer.

Two hours out of Sydney we arrive at the entry point to the Lost City, the Ziz Zag Railway just out of Lithgow.

The heritage-listed railway line ferried people from the mountains to Sydney in the late 1800s. It was revived in the 1970s as a tourist attraction but safety compliance issues and a bushfire in 2013 have kept it inoperable. There are plans to reopen next year.

From the Zig Zag we follow the power lines along well maintained dirt tracks until things get interesting. It's been raining in the past week and there are some decent-sized water crossings ahead.

We engage 4WD low and the Patrol waltzes through at pace, despite waves crashing over the bonnet. The only damage is a slight bend in the numberplate, courtesy of the water pressure.

The crossing brings back childhood memories of playing in the mud - that thrill you'd get when you knew you were doing something your parents would frown upon.

Next things get rocky - literally - as we descend some gnarly moguls on the way to the viewing area for the valley. You can feel the weight of the Patrol shifting and tipping as wheels lift off the ground. Finally we're on an outcrop overlooking the valley with its spectacular rock formations.

And at this moment the Patrol makes sense, not just because it was a lot of fun getting here, but because it has taken us somewhere so many others simply couldn't. A breathtaking piece of nature all to ourselves.

The Patrol climbs the steep rocky track with equal ease. In some ways it's a lot like a Lamborghini, a toy for the weekends rather than a day-to-day proposition.

After that revelation, it's time to head back to civilisation and that dreaded trip to the petrol pump, where the damage is roughly $200. Ouch, but I guess many great parties come with a hangover.

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