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Nissan's Safari bakkie tested

2010-03-10 07:48

Lance Branquinho

Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Nissan
Model Patrol Safari
Engine 4.2l TDi in-line six
Power 90kW @ 3 600r/min
Torque 282Nm @ 2 000r/min
Transmission Five-speed manual
Top Speed 141km/h
Fuel Tank 175l
Fuel Consumption 13.2l/100km
Airbags Yes
Tyres Dunlop 235/85R 16
Front Suspension Solid axle, coil springs
Rear Suspension Solid axle, leaf springs
Price R419 600
Rivals Land Cruiser 70
Why doesn’t Nissan sell significant volumes of the Patrol bakkie in South Africa?

"Down Under" the Patrol range is rampantly popular. Seeing as though Australia is probably the best benchmark for local conditions in right-hand drive configuration, one wonders – do the Australians know something we don’t?

In an attempt to solve the puzzle as to why Land Cruiser’s 70-Series bakkie outsells Patrol three to one locally, we spent a week with the Safari-trimmed 4.2TDi Patrol bakkie.

Looks good

If you are in the market for a robust 4x4 bakkie, styling is not one of the top requirements. Despite this, if you deconstruct the Patrol’s proportions and styling elements, it comes off as having a roguish appeal – more so than the boxy Cruiser 70 bakkie, with its odd wrap-around headlights.

The Patrol bakkie’s bonnet-scoop and stylised grille imbue it with an authentic expeditionary look.

Safari kit looks the business. Winch optional. Dual starboard side filler caps indicative of Patrol's 175l fuel capacity. Snorkel adds 700mm of water wading ability.

Ready to go on Safari?

Our test unit was trimmed up to Safari specification, which adds a heavy-duty (tree flattening) front bull-bar, aquatic certified snorkel, double spot lights, side steps and neat twin (lockable) toolboxes mounted behind the cab under the load-box.

A Nissan Patrol bakkie in Safari specification wants for little from the fertile imagination of intrepid off-road explorers. Simply put – if you roll up at the local agricultural show in one of these, you’ll be the envy of Cruiser 70 owners.

Inside, it is even better. Although the cabin architecture is laughably basic and utilitarian by contemporary SUV design standards, it is awfully hard wearing and practical.

Despite the Patrol bakkie’s cabin hardly being feature laden (you get air-conditioning and dual airbags, but have to pay for the radio), it is a comfortable enough place to be seated for a day’s exhausting off-road travel. The cloth seats, for instance, are more ergonomically designed than Cruiser 70’s.

Cabin textures and design laugable by modern bakkie standards, better than Cruiser 70's though. Airbags standard.

Superfluous SUV items, such as iPod connectivity and Bluetooth, are obviously not on offer. Instead there’s a generous scattering of support architecture for hard-drinking (and we mean endurance-boosting coffee) off-roaders.

Eight drinks holders ensure game stalking will never be a thirsty affair, especially as two of the drink holders can accommodate 2-litre Coke bottles, which is, if I am allowed to stereotype, the mixer of choice for many hard-core off-road adventurers.

Tolerable on-road

Thus far we’ve established the Patrol bakkie trumps Cruiser 70 in terms of exterior styling and ergonomics.

On-road it’s incrementally better than the Cruiser 70 too, offering (slightly) less harsh ride quality. Road noise is a steady companion though - those 235/85R off-road patterned tyres resonate a constant din rolling on their 16-inch wheels.

The Patrol’s intimidating dimensions (there is a 1.28m rear overhang) and 12.2m turning circle requires a maddening amount of wheel turning if you venture to the local shopping mall with it – which I foolishly did once.

Dunlop SP Road Gripper rubber makes a great additional rear fender when reversing into tight parking spots...

At highway speeds it’s predictably slow. Overtaking is only accomplished due to the yellow-line courtesy of other road users. You can’t expect more of it though. Just look at the output numbers.

Patrol’s 4.2-litre turbodiesel manages only 90kW at 3 600 r/min and 282Nm of peak rotational force at 2 000 r/min. Despite (very weak) forced induction, the Patrol’s numbers lag behind Cruiser 70’s which, from a similar capacity and cylinder layout, generates 96kW and 285Nm – without turbo complexity…

Performance is very dependent on road topography and wind speed and direction. An increase in road inclination necessitates a switch shift to fourth (the chunky five-speed transmission is a tactile delight to manoeuvre, though) to keep a constant 120km/h cruising speed.

Perhaps a bit much of a muchness, but if you happen upon a desolate stretch of Karoo highway you’ll see 140km/h at the long end of the Patrol’s engine and transmission endurance.

As a higly durable farm vehicle with foolproof mechanical bits - the Patrol bakkie is awesome. As an unstoppable off-roader, less so...

A slippery off-road proposition

Fundamentally though, the Patrol’s relative lack of on-road performance is of little consequence. These utilitarian 4x4 bakkies (the last ones to still feature solid axles front and rear) are only seen as a return on investment if they can plot straight lines over terrain showing up on relief maps as littered with concentric lines...

In principle the Patrol appears to be expertly engineered for crossing broken terrain with aplomb. It features heavy-duty coil sprung suspension up front, with leaf springs at the rear. With solid axles at both ends, there’s no fear of bottoming out vulnerable bits over broken terrain either.

When physically comparing Patrol and Cruiser 70, you’ll find the latter trailing by four-degrees in terms of approach angle and a single degree with regards to its departure clearance. The Cruiser 70’s 235mm ground clearance is 9mm better than Patrol’s.

Patrol does lack severely in one key area though – traction. Whereas the Cruiser 70 sports lockable axle differentials front and rear, Patrol can only counter with a single limited-slip differential at the rear.

What this means, of course, is that surges of momentum are needed more often than not to clear obstacles, which goes against the grain of the "as fast as necessary, as slow as possible" off-road mantra.

Without lockable axles, the Patrol needs treacherous levels of momentum to conquer obstacles - which means plenty of punishment for passengers. You'll break before it does.

Unsophisticated progress

Operationally the Patrol is nearly perfect. The transfer case is simple to use, and features a dummy-neutral between high-and low-range to guard against inadvertent engagement of low-range whilst on the move. By comparison, Cruiser 70 can be plainly obstinate to get into (and out of) low-range.

When attempting to clear severely broken terrain Patrol's toughness is tested to the extreme, though. As soon as you’ve lifted a wheel, or set one of the rear tyres onto a substrate or shale surface, wheelspin ensues and progress halts alarmingly.

Then it’s time to back up and set the Patrol onto said obstacle again, but at a higher speed to increase the traction ability of the rear limited-slip differential’s operation ability. Unfortunately, this momentum-based approach also significantly increases the vechicle's exposure to damage.

Despite the Patrol bakkie’s tough as teak construction enabling it to soak up levels of punishment which would reduce an average SUV to its constituent parts, most of the time (in sand, mud and when cross-axled) it’s simply embarrassingly bested by the Cruiser 70.

This happens far too easily with the Patrol, simply because it doesn't have the proper tyres or traction aids straight off the showroom floor.


Old school ladder chassis and solid axles are about as unfashionable as one could imagine in a world of independently sprung front axle bakkies. Incomparably tough though. Huge range courtesy of 175l tank. Turbodiesel engine requires 7500km service intervals - which is a little ridiculous...


Cloth seats will be scoffed at by farmers and exploration crews, but they are more comfy than Cruiser 70's. Air-conditioning and power-steering are all you get in terms of comfort and convenience.


Slow on roads and without ABS you need to be careful. Good on dirt. Could be great off-road if you fit an aftermarket rear differential lock and some proper tyres.


I like the Patrol. It’s got a more comfortable cabin than the Cruiser 70 and, in Safari trim, just looks the business.

I could (at a stretch) have tolerated its lacking on-road performance too, but not in light of its deficient off-road ability.

If you own a really flat farm, and require a bakkie with unbreakable mechanicals, a 1.15t loadbay capacity and 2.5t towing ability – the Patrol will last you lifetime and be a trustier companion than a purebred Boerboel. However, there are people in the market for something of the Patrol Safari’s ilk who may not fancy the new common-rail injected diesel bakkies.

Unfortunately, for around R20 000 less than a Safari-kitted Patrol, you can buy a Cruiser 70 bakkie. Truth be told, in truly forbidding terrain - long, steep, shale strewn inclines and treacherous slipways – the Toyota has the incomparable traction security afforded by front and rear differential locks and remains peerless.

Which probably goes some way to explaining why Land Cruiser's 70 bakkie outsells Patrol in this country.


Looks ready for Cape-to-Cairo in Safari trim
Hard wearing yet comfy cabin
Mechanical simplicity


Lacks traction off-road
7500km service intervals


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