Bush-ready GU is as old-school as they come.
It’s one of the oldest new 4x4s you can buy, yet the GU Nissan Patrol is still a hard-working toiler.
The GU – or Y61 Patrol – has been with us for 19 years, but its days are numbered. Old age has finally caught up with it, and it’s time on the Australian new car market is limited due to ever-increasing emission laws, safety standards and the fact that it’s tough selling such an old car when there are so many new 4x4 options.
Yet the Patrol remains a unique offering in today’s market and it’s one that many will miss when it’s no longer available. It retains all the old-school attributes traditional 4x4 enthusiasts appreciate. Attributes that are becoming harder to find in new 4x4s, like a sturdy ladder chassis supporting live axles front and rear on long travel coil springs, and there’s not a lot of fussy electronics or things that dilute the pure essence of what a 4x4 should be.
With these worthy characteristics going the way of the horse and cart, we thought it high time we revisited the GU Patrol wagon one last time. After all, it has been more than 10 years since we last drove a new one – and that’s something you can’t say about many four-wheel drives on today’s market!
The old-truck experience starts from the moment you’re handed the keys of a 2016 GU Patrol and you’re reminded that a key fob doesn’t require the computing power of the space shuttle. The Patrol’s key is slim and light with just unlock and lock buttons on it.
The nostalgia continues inside the cabin. It feels small for what looks like a big wagon from the outside, and the driver’s seat doesn’t go back far enough for tall drivers, which leaves legs in a knees-up position cramped in the footwell. The steering wheel is adjustable for height but not reach, and the view over that long bonnet is impressive. In fact, the view all around is good, with a large glasshouse giving great sight lines around the vehicle – a simple feature you won’t find in many new vehicles.
Something else you won’t find in new 4x4s is a stubby little transfer lever alongside the gear shift. In this case the shift is an old-school T-bar complete with overdrive button on the side for controlling the four-speed auto transmission. Transfer cases in just about all modern 4x4s are shifted using a switch or dial, which isn’t always reliable as a switch or dial can’t offer the positive, purposeful shift of a lever that’s connected directly to the case. There are no wires or computers here to muddle things up.
ON- AND OFF-ROAD PERFORMANCE
Twist the key in the ignition barrel – another trait that is fast disappearing – and the 3.0-litre diesel engine rattles to life. This ZD30 engine has had its ups and downs in terms of reliability since being introduced to the Patrol back in 2000, but it appears Nissan has fixed it in later models. The engine was updated to common-rail fuel injection in 2007 but it’s still a relatively small and underpowered engine for a big heavy 4x4, making just 118kw at 3600rpm (auto) and a modest 354Nm at 2000rpm.
Unladen, the 3.0-litre Patrol is surprisingly spritely thanks to short gearing. It’s noisy by modern standards, but it’s no slouch around town and in traffic light drag races (so we’ve heard). However, the Patrol is a big wagon built for hauling loads (be it passengers or cargo). Load up the GU with five adults, some gear and/or a trailer to its 3200kg (man) or 2500kg (auto) capacity and performance takes a dive. More modern 4x4 wagons with smaller diesel engines will whip
the tailpipe of the big Patrol, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be still doing it tens of thousands of kilometres later.
A key indicator of the age of the Patrol’s driveline is its fourspeed auto transmission. It always feels like it’s in the wrong gear around town, with huge gaps between ratios and harsh kickdowns on upshifts. Automatic transmission technology, and the adaptation of more ratios within them, has been a leading force in modern vehicle performance and economy and, sadly, the Patrol has fallen behind here. The standard five-speed manual ’box would make the Patrol a better drive in all conditions.
The things that let the GU down around town disappear as soon as you hit lower speed gravel tracks: the great all-round vision come to the fore; the modest engine performance is adequate; the deficiencies of the automatic transmission are less obvious; and the tall, supple suspension that wallows and lurches around the ’burbs gives a smooth and controlled ride on rough tracks.
The Patrol excels off-road. Pull that stubby transfer lever back to locked four-wheel drive and the modest 2.02:1 low range will take you just about anywhere. The electronic traction control feels a generation or two older than most current vehicles, but the long-travel suspension, great ground clearance and suitably sized all-terrain tyres gets the job done. There’s even a rear diff lock in later Patrols. We were able to take this GU up some steep rocky tracks that very few new 4x4 wagons would conquer; although, we did scrape a sidestep on a rock before finding its limits.
Want to go further? There’s a world of aftermarket products to give the GU untold abilities (see breakout on page 36).
CABIN AND ACCOMMODATION
The ST Patrol is a seven-seat wagon, while the base-spec DX only has seats for five. As mentioned, the cabin feels small considering the dimensions of the vehicle, but the large glasshouse gives a light, open feel to it. The first- and second-row seats are large and accommodating, while third-row seating is smaller and leaves passengers with their knees high up in their chests. The two rearmost seats fold up to the sides when not in use and can be easily removed if you’d rather utilise the space for cargo.
The ST Patrol is relatively well-appointed with cruise control; simple air conditioning plus rear air-con; power windows, mirrors and door locks; a six-stack CD audio system with USB input and Bluetooth connectivity; 12-volt power outlets in the front and rear; plus plenty of storage options. It’s a fuss-free offering that includes all the essentials and leaves out the gimmicks.
The three-star ANCAP safety rating is another indication of the GU Patrol’s age and construction. It only has airbags at the front and side of the driver and front seat passenger, leaving backseat passengers in the lurch – the centre rear passenger only gets a lap-belt and no head rest! Electronic stability and traction control and ABS are standard but feel old in their operation.
The GU is as bush-ready as anything else you’ll find on a new car showroom, matched only by Toyota’s 70 Series Land Cruiser. The ST’S tyres are practical 275/65-17s fitted to alloy wheels, there are sturdy recovery and tow hooks front and rear, and there’s ample
The GU is as bush-ready as anything else you’ll find on a new car showroom, matched only by Toyota’s 70 Series Land Cruiser
This type of vehicle is becoming harder to find in new-car showrooms and the GU is one we’ll miss when it’s gone
room in the engine bay for extra accessories such as a second battery or air compressor. The engine’s air intake sucks air through the near-side ’guard and the air cleaner is easy to service without tools.
The ST Patrol has two fuel tanks as standard, with a 95-litre main tank and a 35-litre sub-tank to give long touring range. The auto Patrol has an 11.8L/100km ARD fuel spec; however, we used 12.9L/100km during our week with it.
The GU Patrol might be old, but in many ways it’s the perfect 4x4 touring vehicle. It’s big and accommodating, well-proven and adaptable, and it has limited gimmicks – the likes of which could leave you stranded in a remote place. Sure, the powertrain is underdone by modern standards and the safety is lacking, but get over those factors and you have the basis for a top off-roader. This type of vehicle is becoming harder to find in new-car showrooms and the GU is one we’ll miss when it’s gone.
Nissan hasn’t set a date when the last of the GUS will come to Australia, but a spokesman said at last year’s NP300 launch that the GU will not be updated to meet tighter 2017 emission regulations. Australia is one of just a few countries still getting the GU alongside the more modern Y62 Patrol, but those days are drawing to a close. Both the GU wagon and ute variants will soon be gone, leaving Nissan without a 4x4 wagon or a diesel seven-seat wagon in its range, not to mention a heavyduty ute.
Simplistic interior is devoid of unnecessary gadgets. Doesn’t bother us!
Bush-ready straight from the showroom floor. A rare thing!