Nissan Y61 Patrol Legend Edition road test and review
CARS come and cars go, but some feel like they are here to stay, members of a family rather than part of a passing parade.
And that is how I viewed Nissan's Y61 model, the one most of us know as the GU Patrol.
In late 1997, I was lucky enough to be in Port Douglas for the national launch of the then- groundbreaking new model.
Last week I was lucky enough to be in the hot and dusty South Australian outback town of Leigh Creek, saddling-up for the four-hour drive to the even hotter and dustier settlement of Arkaroola.
The vehicle of choice? Yep, the trusty old GU Patrol, still going strong and still relishing a challenge.
The desert drive was tinged with a degree of sadness though, because after near-as-dammit to 20 years on from its debut, we were taking the last of the line for its final drive, a sort of a "de-launch" if you like.
This time around, Old Faithful was dressed in the guise of the Legend Edition, loaded with as much kit as possible and sold with a bargain- basement price tag.
Nissan will have just 300 Legend Editions for the local market, all of them running satellite navigation, a steel bull bar, winch, side steps, cool alloy wheels, a snorkel, reversing camera, roof rack, towbar and soft wheel cover.
It's an equipment package worth more than $10,000 retail but all part of the $57,990 drive-away price ($60,990 if you want the automatic transmission). It also gets really amateur side decals and the less said about those the better.
You don't need to have passed high school maths to know such pricing is a lot cheaper than the $69,990 (plus on-roads) start-up price of the Y62 - Y61's current stablemate and soon-to-be successor.
Yes, I know Y62 is bigger and roomier, has a 298kW/560Nm, 5.6 litre V8 engine, shed-loads of four-wheel drive electronics and suspension that makes the ride quality feel just a weeny bit magic carpet (I know because Nissan brought a couple along for comparison purposes), but the Y61 is, well, special. And definitely legendary.
And before you ask, the answer is yes, I certainly would have one if the family budget could stretch to $61,000 and if Nissan promised to strip-off those daggy door decals.
By comparison, Y61's 3.0-litre, turbo-diesel develops a modest 118kW and 380Nm (354Nm with auto gearbox), and yes, it has to work a bit to keep up with the V8-engined jigger but it still gives a good account of itself. Mechanically, GU is a bit like grandpa's axe.
On debut it had a choice of two powerhouse 4.2-litre, six-cylinder engines: one a diesel, the other fuelled by petrol but in its 20-year life it also got to be powered by a pair of 3.0-litre diesels, one a naturally-aspirated six-cylinder, the other a turbocharged four-cylinder.
I still vividly remember off-road racing legend Les Siviour showing me how to drive a Patrol really quickly off-road. It wasn't pretty but damn it sure was effective.
It also had trick new suspension, replacing the leaf spring design of its GQ predecessor (the Y60) with (gasp!) coil springs. And the ride was divine.
Still is, but I have to admit it feels a bit firm, a bit old school compared to the current crop of SUVs, and the 12.6m turning circle still means backing up and having a second bite at those really tight turns.
It's been a long time since I drove a GU Patrol and while this last-of-the-line model has changed a lot, it still feels a lot like the powerhouse SUV I drove in the northern forests 20 years ago. Sure, it has a slick new dash with soft padding on top and an integrated sat-nav screen, but the seats are still firm and the seating position upright. And it still has those nice analogue gauges.
In the engine room, that beaut 3.0-litre turbo-diesel feels a lot livelier and torquier than the old 4.2 petrol six, and even though the four-speed automatic transmission feels fairly last century (because it is), the two seem to match up really well.
One concession to modernity is the four-wheel drive system. Yes, you still have to change the transfer case manually, but there is no longer a need to get out and lock-in the freewheeling front hubs, a job I always seemed to get after the driver had ploughed into a creek. Or mud. Or anything else unpleasant.
I jumped into a Y62 for a while and it was easy street by comparison, but its character factor was low and it seems Nissan has failed to transplant the soul from Y61 into Y62.
On that final drive up and down mountains, over rocky trails, through sand and even on a weeny bit of black top, I still admired the Y61 for what it can do and what it will continue to do long after the last one is sold early next year. So goodbye, old friend. We had a lot of fun through the years and no matter what sort of punishment I handed out, you came back for more. We rolled over mountains and trekked through forests, ran along beaches and covered vast distances on bitumen, went camping and scrubbed up for formal outings.
Sure, you had a drinking problem to start with, but a change to diesel mostly fixed that, and yes, you were a bit beefy... but all your friends are these days.
But even though you are still a strong, handsome and rugged type, you are just getting a bit long in the tooth and the other guys are just that bit stronger and more capable.
Maybe you and I will still be able to get out for a run every now and then but until then, enjoy your retirement.
Model: Nissan Y61 Patrol Legend Edition.
Details: Five-door, four-wheel drive, upper-large SUV.
Engine: 3.0 litre, four-cylinder turbocharged diesel generating maximum power of 118kW @ 3200rpm and peak torque of 354Nm @ 2000rpm (auto) or 380Nm @ 2000rpm (manual).
Transmission: Four-speed automatic (six-speed manual a no-cost option).
Consumption: 11.8L/100km (combined).
Performance: 0-100kmh in 9.1 seconds.
Towing capacity: 3200kg (braked).
Bottom line: $57,990 (manual), $60,990 (automatic) drive away.
What matters most
What we liked: Rock-solid feel, new car retro feel, huge equipment level.
What we'd like to see: A six-speed (at least) automatic.
Warranty and servicing: Three-year/100,000km warranty, fixed-price servicing.
Driving experience 15/20
Features and equipment 17/20
Functionality and comfort 15/20
Value for money 17/20
Style and design 15/20