Recently we had the opportunity to meet up with Nissan reps for a few days of driving at Nissan 360, a one-of-a-kind event that invited members of the world media to testdrive Nissan's entire automotive line. With that sort of temptation dangled in front of them, it's no surprise that nearly 400 journalists converged on San Francisco over a three-week period to pilot a variety of North American-, Japanese- and Euro-spec Nissans. For us, that meant the chance to hop into some rides we'd normally never drive (do they still make Patrols?), and get a glimpse of some new tech that's coming down the pike. Here's some of what we saw:
Yep, they still do make the Patrol (aka the Safari in Japan), and after 40 years in production, it's still a stout piece. Size-wise, it's between a Pathfinder and an Armada, a tad over 6-feet tall and slung on a 117-inch wheelbase. The 3.0L turbodiesel V-6 doesn't crank out much power to move its 5,300-pound weight (158 hp/261 lb-ft), but we found the coiled three-link front/five-link rear suspension a supple performer on dirt if a bit wallowy on pavement. Plus, it's got a genuine lever-operated T-case with 2.02 low-range, 4.38s in the pigs, pushbutton diff-locks front and rear, and 8.3 inches of ground clearance. It would be a tough brand to position between the 'Finder and the Armada, but we'd love to see one of these in our Four Wheeler of the Year test someday-it struck us as the most trail-ready four-by in the Nissan product line.
We once knew a guy who traded one of these for a six-pack, and we wish we'd been holding the brews back then. This '62 Nissan (nee Datsun) Patrol KL60 was on display at Nissan 360, sporting the stock 125hp 4.0L I-6, three-speed stick, two-speed T-case, 4.10 semi-floaters and 7.00-16 tires. No, they didn't let us drive it. First offered for U.S. sale in 1961, the Patrol never caught on with American 'wheelers. Though legendarily stout, its 'wheelability was hindered by the lack of a true crawler gear, and early models were susceptible to rust. Only some 2,600 units were ever sold Stateside, and when sales petered out in 1969, Datsun pulled the plug on the U.S. market.
If it looks familiar, it should. The Nissan Paladin, built in China for the Chinese market, shares most of its DNA with the Xterra, including a 170hp 3.3L V-6, 2.02 low-range and 4.88 axles. Our four-speed juicebox test version was slower than a mule from a standing stop, displayed unremarkable road feel, and on steep hills screamed like a banshee for either more cubes or the five-speed manual. It was also rather cramped inside, but then again, we're guessing the average buyer in the PRC isn't 6 foot 2 inches, and the Paladin earns good-guy points from us for having a bonafide lever for the T-case.
This XTrail Fuel Cell Vehicle (FCV) was on display to showcase Nissan's evolving alt-fuels technology. The FCV employs a lithium battery and liquid hydrogen to power a 95hp coaxial motor capable of speeds of up to 90 mph over a range of 217 miles. Though the 50-gallon hydrogen tank (5,000 psi max pressure) is bulkier than the cell-stack setups we've seen in other systems (e.g., GM's Hy-Wire), the battery (behind the rear seat) is very space-efficient, and emissions are basically nil-just a small puddle of water at shutdown a'la A/C condensation. Three prototypes are in daily use in Japan, but Nissan has no working timetable for delivering the system to dealer showrooms-one engineer we spoke with said it would likely be "10 to 20 years" before we'd see a version in a production vehicle. We'll say one thing: If you've never driven one of these things, you'd be amazed at how quiet they are.
The second-best selling 4x4 in Europe, the XTrail is an entry-level midsize that's actually a front-driver with a pushbutton 4WD (no low range) option. The Euro-spec version we drove came with a great little 2.2L diesel buzzbomb that generates excellent power for its displacement (165 hp/230 lb-ft from about 135 cubic inches) and a six-speed manual which, when combined with front drive and MacPherson-type IFS, delivered one of the sportiest on-road rides we've ever enjoyed from an SUV that wasn't German. Rumor has it that a version of the XTrail will hit our shores for the 2006 model year (it debuted in Canada last spring), albeit with a different engine and drivetrain. While you're retooling the thing, guys, could you please also make room for a two-speed transfer case?
Truth in labeling department: The Nissan Cube, introduced to Japan in 1998, has been a runaway hit ever since, with sales of more than 100,000 units in 2003. Powered by a 95hp 1.4L four, the Cube comes in front-drive/optional AWD and full-time 4WD drive configurations. Our bare-bones 4WD tester (no Bose stereo option here) was a flat-out blast to drive, with adequate acceleration and nimble steering and handling characteristics. It's also quite roomy, and our tester's powder-blue paint drew raves from the locals. Given the success of the Toyota Scion xB and Honda Element, we're surprised that Nissan hasn't already rushed a version to the U.S. market. We'd love to see a genuine 4x4 model.
OK, so it isn't a four-by, and it'll never be a four-by. But if a guy from Nissan let you drive one of these, wouldn't you? No transfer case or lockers, true, but a high-octane testosterone boost that's off the charts.