Let’s say you’re looking for a 4X4 to take you all over the country, possibly pulling a camper or a van along behind you. You’re going to want heaps of torque for towing, enough off-road capability to handle the rougher sections of track and plenty of comfort for those long hauls in the saddle. If this sounds like you, chances are you’re looking at one of these three vehicles to fit the bill.
The LandCruiser Sahara needs no introduction. It’s the equivalent of driving a recliner lounge and the twin-turbo V8 turbo diesel is arguably one of the nicest engines ever to be slotted between a pair of chassis rails. The Land Rover Discovery IV is slightly smaller than the 200 Series, but there’s a bunch of very good reasons why you see so many of these towing vans or campers through the bush. The 3.0L V6 has a litre and a half less capacity than the big ’Cruiser, but you’d never accuse the twin-turbo diesel, backed up by a fantastic 8-speed auto, of being sluggish. And the interior’s comfort levels are up there with a jet owned by a Saudi oil prince. It just oozes class and opulence to the point where you actually start wondering how you ever got by not being surrounded by leather and woodgrain.
And then there’s the Y62 Patrol.
Don’t get me wrong, these vehicles are among the nicest to ever come from the Nissan stable. They’re light years ahead of the previous solid-axle GU Patrol in terms of driveability and interior luxury; however there are a few points of difference between the Patrol and the other two vehicles on test.
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The first is the big one – namely the fact that the Y62 isn’t available with a diesel engine (seriously Nissan, the 5.0L V8 turbo diesel Cummins from the US Nissan Titan would work so well). Not that the alloy 5.6L petrol ‘eight’ is bad by any means – gobs of torque, power for days and that exhaust note! Put the right pedal down and I challenge any red-blooded 4X4 lover to not crack a smile. Then there’s the fact that just before we put this article together, Nissan Australia decided to chop the price of the Y62 by around 20 grand to boost flagging sales – so a six-figure cheque is no longer needed to get the keys to Nissan-san’s flagship vehicle.
This raised an interesting question for us. Does this vehicle still belong on this luxo-barge test? Ultimately, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’, but in order for us to bring the cost up to par with the Disco and ’Cruiser, a stock-standard Patrol was never going to do. With this in mind we grabbed our mates’ highly modified Y62 that, if you bought one new and did it up in a similar manner, would bring it up to about the same price as the other two. Seems fair enough to us, anyway.
It’s always a fine line to walk when you’re out testing over a quarter of a million bucks worth of automotive gold. On the one hand, you don’t want to damage these things because you’re confident replacing a guard would cost more than you make in a year; but on the other hand we want to see what these things can do. Dirt roads are one thing, but we want to know if they can handle the pressure off-road – this ain’t no wine-and-cheese tasting mag after all …
With that in mind we spent some time exploring the Capertee Valley canyon system which, as a point of interest, is actually larger than the Grand Canyon in America. With a near endless maze of steep tracks, water crossings, mud holes and rocky terrain it should be more than enough to put these vehicles through their paces.
The area is a couple of hours north-west of Sydney so we’d have plenty of opportunity to see how the vehicles handled the on-road stuff, as well as punt them across the dirt roads at the entrance to the National Park. From there we could nervously pilot them through water crossings, mud, rocks, and all manner of climbs and descents, to determine which 4X4 is the one to spend your coin on.
Along for the ride was Deputy Editor Evan Spence, mainly because he was banned from being in the office on his own after the last product-test-related office fire; and off-road racer Milo Milanovic, who kindly took a break from building his billion-horsepower 6.0L V8 tube buggy to take a somewhat slower trip through the bush with us. If anyone’s going to find the weak points in these 4X4s, it’s these guys.
The road trip in was comfortable, if unsurprising. All three of these vehicles’ interiors are extremely nice places to spend a few hours behind the wheel, and there’s no shortage of power from any of them for effortless cruising on the blacktop. Dirt roads yielded much the same results. The fully independent suspension setups of the Discovery and Patrol are made for this stuff. They simply floated over the corrugations and erosion mounds like they weren’t there; and even with a solid axle in the back end, the 200 was barely less of a joy to drive on the dirt. Top marks all around here.
The road down into the valley is incredibly steep to the point where it is impassable in the wet, so we engaged low range (no getting out to lock the hubs like a peasant with these three) and spent a few minutes engaging the various crawl modes that each vehicle’s computer systems offered.
The Discovery has the simplest layout. Simply hit the button for low range, select the little off-road logo that most closely matches the terrain you’re on, and decide whether to flick the hill-descent control switch or not (we chose to, on this occasion) and let the computers do the rest.
The Nissan requires you to use the dial to select low range (it was also the only vehicle on our test with a factory rear diff-locker) and you can select between sand, rock and snow modes as well as optional hill-descent control. It’s fairly straightforward to use, but all of us had to spend a little longer familiarising ourselves with this one before we had the hang of it.
The LandCruiser had more knobs and switches than the others, and it was a little more intimidating at first; but once we worked out what everything does, it was surprisingly intuitive. It has multi-terrain modes so you can dial in the gearing reduction to suit whatever it is you’re driving on, which was neat; and the electronically controlled transmission (ECT) made things even easier.
Now I’m a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to 4X4s. I like shifting an actual lever into low range, manually locking the hubs and flicking on a locker when more traction is needed – but I have to say these modern electronically controlled rigs take all of the guesswork out. No matter what you point it at, the computer controls the torque delivery and sends power and traction to where it needs to be – making even tricky tracks an absolute doddle. To say we were all impressed would be an understatement; and any nervousness we felt at steering expensive vehicles over inhospitable trails was
But as a driver, these technological advancements do bring about a sense of disconnection with the vehicle and terrain. Think back to your first 4X4. Chances were it was something old and clunky like a HiLux, Zook, GQ Patrol or 40 Series. You, as a driver, had to pick your line, select the right gear, apply the correct amount of throttle and work the clutch and brake pedals just right so you could make it over the obstacles. You could feel every rock and undulation under your tyres – which brought a sense of ‘oneness’ with your vehicle.
You front up to those same obstacles in these modern computer controlled rigs, press a button, and the car pretty much drives for you. There’s not much in terms of driver input required. It makes for a much easier and less fatiguing drive, but it takes a lot of the driver ability out of the equation. Whether that’s a bad thing or not is up to you … but it’s worth mentioning for those of us who find Zen in their off-road driving.
Making our way towards our campground after dark it was unsurprising to find that the modified Patrol was the winner here. While the fancy LED headlights of the other two did an admirable job for being stock, the high beams just couldn’t compete with the aftermarket ARB spotties on the big Y62 when it came to ’roo spotting. Again, once we’d reached our camp and were setting up, the side awning and LED strip lighting on the Patrol made life heaps easier.
Cargo space between the three was similar – with all three comfortably taking fridges, swags, camp chairs and clothes bags with plenty of room to spare. In terms of actual space the 200 Series was marginally more cavernous, but not by much. All three made near-perfect vehicles to camp out of; but the Patrol, with its aftermarket inclusions, had to take this round.
The next morning we were back on the tracks – tackling water crossings, mud, rocks and steep climbs. We came across an impromptu travel ramp in the form of a bank on the side of the track, so we naturally put all three vehicles up to see which had the most flex. The solid rear-axled 200 took the blue ribbon here; but it was interesting that there was bugger-all difference between the three. The fully independent Disco and Patrol only got a couple inches less travel than the ’Cruiser before cocking a leg. Geez, we didn’t think deciding between these three would be so difficult.
Not long afterwards we came up to a long section of track that was dotted with mud holes. The Patrol’s aftermarket Cooper all-terrains gave it a slight edge, but none of the vehicles were stopped by the sloppy stuff. Back onto the fast dirt and you’d have a hard time determining which one was faster. The petrol V8 Y62 was pushing larger tyres but it seemed to never run out of grunt, and would probably take out a straight-up drag race between the three. As I’ve already mentioned, the LandCruiser’s engine is simply amazing … and while it may put out a little less power, the torque monster more than made up for it by returning much better economy. The Disco was the quiet achiever here. While it didn’t have the V8 roar from the exhaust pipes, and you wouldn’t call the power delivery ‘neck-snapping’ exactly, it had more than enough mumbo and that 8-speed auto was hard to fault. Combined with the air suspension which lets you raise or lower the body depending on the terrain, it simply floated over everything at speed.
So you’ve finally received that inheritance from that rich uncle you had no idea you had, and you’ve got $100K to drop on a new fourby. Which way should you go?
Look, you could choose any of these 4X4s and not be disappointed in the slightest. As far as capability vs. comfort vs. everyday liveability goes, these three have it all in spades.
The Patrol, being a fair whack cheaper than the others, probably offers the most bang for your buck. That saved coin can go on some quality bar work, lights, a winch and camping gear and you’ll still have a few grand left over for fuel on a some long trips; and you’ll ultimately end up with an arguably more capable vehicle for the same outlay.
The Discovery, as far as I’m concerned, set the benchmark on this test for comfort. It had the nicest interior, the most intuitive controls; and it was easily the nicest to drive over corrugations thanks to that beautiful airbag suspension. It’d probably be the best daily driver too, as it’s slightly smaller than the other two and feels a little more nimble in tight spaces. It also returned the best economy over the test period.
At the end of the day though, the 200 series just did everything a little nicer. The little touches like the refrigerated centre console and the double sun-visors just made it a joy to drive. And that engine! If the idea of two turbos, eight cylinders and common rail injection doesn’t get your heart thumping, you may want to check yourself for a pulse. For a super-comfortable around-Australia tourer that returns decent economy while putting out enough power to tow a 25ft van without a drama, this is the vehicle for you.
Words by Dex Fulton, Photography by Matt Fehlberg