22 November 1996

JAPANESE BRASH

V ENGLISH CALM. – WHO WILL WIN?

Two off-roaders in the £26,000 bracket are compared by Andrew Faulkner and Andrew Pearce. Does the Discovery or Nissan Patrol take the biscuit?

IN ways that owe more to human fallibility than chance, history sometimes repeats itself. At the back end of last year, we pitted a six-cylinder Japanese 4×4 against a Land Rover product – Landcruiser versus Range Rover. Now heres the Discovery batting for Solihull against Nissans Patrol.

First-glance impressions suggest the pair dont have much in common. The Discovery formula is long established – semi-elegant style, a four-cylinder turbodiesel, permanent four-wheel drive and plenty of space in a tall bodyshell.

Alongside the Disco, the Nissan looks like something Desperate Dan ought to drive; squat, long, chrome-bedecked and gargoyled. All it lacks is cowhorns on the bonnet and a saddle. Like the Discovery, it sits on beam axles and coil springs, but diverges with part-time four-wheel drive and a straight six motor. Yet the two come head-to-head on price: An extrovert-package XS Discovery costs £26,620 on the road, the Patrol Turbo D in SE spec comes home at £26,410.

Rattle and hum

Although things are pretty even in the output department (111hp/

195lbf ft from the Discoverys 2.5 litres, 113hp/173lbf ft from the Nissans 2.8 litres), the way the motors perform couldnt be more different.

In simple burn-up acceleration theres nothing in it. Both cars weigh much the same (surprisingly, at 2.04t, the Nissan is 37kg lighter) and maximum powers are on a par. Neither is a slug or a flyer and both have fair overtaking capacity. Its in torque terms – daily driveability – where the Brit wins.

The Discoverys direct-injection four is a bit vibratory, hoarse at low speeds and inclined to roar when pushed hard.

But its a slugger. Maximum twist comes at 1800rpm and torque backup is good. To get any significant response takes a hard shove on the throttle, but the motor can be lugged back to near-idle speeds and still delivers the goods. In that sense its a traditional diesel, designed for low speed off-roading and trailer work.

Nissans new, downsized and emission-friendly indirect-injection six is simply on a different planet for noise and vibration, humming sweetly as the revcounter needle chases upward at petrol engine velocity.

But can it pull at low speeds? Nope. Not only is there less torque on offer but it peaks at a lofty 2400rpm. Below 2000revs the engine starts to lose interest. By 1800 – maximum torque point for the Discovery – its sinking fast, never to recover.

This is not a big shortcoming on main roads where the engine can be kept stoked up, but it will catch you out on back lanes or when pulling a load. Half the problem is the engines smoothness. You just dont notice the revs sliding back. The other half is the lack of sheer cylinder capacity to keep on beavering once turbo boost drops.

So the Discovery has the most flexible motor, which must make trailer towing easier. On that score, honours are even in capacity, with both cars rated to haul up to 3500kg. And the Land Rover noses ahead on economy, too. In normal running, its direct-injection 300Tdi unit returns 27.2mpg against the Patrols 24.7mpg.

But it loses out on the motorway. Where the Patrol just poles quietly along at 80mph (highly optimistic speedo notwithstanding), the Brit roars and drones. Discoverys seem to vary in this respect, and the test XS was a noisy one. Other long-term irritations would be its heavier clutch and more awkward gearshift, plus more transmission noise and slop.

Roll and jiggle

The balance shifts back to Solihull on comfort. Although the Discovery sways and dips, its ride is always soft and generally controlled. Lean through corners is significant despite anti-roll bars at both ends.

The Nissan is altogether harder, jiggling over broken surfaces and crashing more into holes; it feels coarser, though the ride wont upset old bones. It too rolls through bends, but without the galleon-like grandeur of the Discovery.

Neither is a sharp steerer. The Discovery has the edge on straight-line stability – on a dual carriageway and over cambers the Patrol wanders more – yet despite that extra body roll the Brit turns more tidily into bends. Discovery steering lock is significantly better, too, making the Nissan feel like a barge in confined spaces.

How about grip? Off-roaders seldom like to be hurried, but in dry conditions this pair stick pretty well to tarmac thanks to wide, road-biased tyres. The Nissan has the adhesion edge, though both cars tend to dissolve into mushy understeer once the front tyres let go.

Land Rover keeps up the pressure by fitting ABS brakes as standard, and as usual the system works like a charm. ABS is not an option on the opposition. But Nissans all-disc setup is strong and the driver gets more feedback from the pedal.

New plays old inside

Internally the contrasts continue. Nissan gives Patrol owners a hard-edged, utiltarian dashboard but softens the outlook by adding a drivers airbag, heated leather seats and an autochange CD player.

The Discovery simply blows all this into the weeds, despite coming with less kit and not running to standard airbag protection; youll need to find £570 more for that. Its cab is better finished in classier materials (crass seat panels aside), and feels to have been designed rather than thrown together. Those front seats may not be heated but are softer to the bum than Nissans harder slabs, too.

Land Rover provide more bins, cubbies and pockets for workaday rubbish, along with two interior-brightening manual sunroofs. The Nissans interior is already quite cheerful thanks to good glass area and light trim, which is just as well as a sunroof is not an option. It does have a separate rear compartment heater. The Discovery gives individual controls for each cabin half though the systems radiator robs most of the central cubby box.

Rear passengers get a better deal from the Discovery, perching on generous seats whose squab angle is potentially kinder to bad backs.

Both cars come with a secondary rear chairs to lift passenger number to seven, and here the Patrols forward-facing bench is a much more comfortable and stomach-friendly affair than Land Rovers twin, sideways-on alternatives. Neither set-up is much use to lanky bods.

On load space the Nissan pulls back lost ground. Most of its extra body length turns up in the back, creating luggage room even with all the seats in use; deploying all the Discoverys seats kisses goodbye to spare storage.

But Nissan then blows it by squashing the rear loading aperture down a whopping 190mm (7.5in) less than the Discoverys, and cluttering the floor with a sore-thumb rear seat latch and the CD autochanger.

On the rough

Over tracks and broken ground the Discovery simply floats along where the Nissan patters and judders, so round one goes comfortably to the home product.

And thanks to permanent all-wheel drive, the Land Rover pilot has no need to shift into 4×4 mode, though thats not hard in the Nissan and can be done on the move. With the Discoverys centre diff locked the two drivelines are equivalent – but the Patrol adds a rear diff lock.

Off road work started with a puzzle. On damp grass, the Discovery stood and spun while the Nissan just moved off. Check centre diff lock is in and repeat; same result. Check Nissans rear lock is out; same result. Something was having a big influence on grip – the tyres? Both were road-biased, with 265-section Dunlops on the Patrol and 235-section Goodyears on the Discovery.

In the circumstance you might expect the narrow tyres to find more purchase, but it didnt happen. On every climb, the Discovery spun and the Nissan gripped. Where axle travel or gradient defeated the Patrol, its rear diff lock generally generated the extra shove needed to hoist it up or out. And when it did stop, reverse-gear synchromesh made finding backwards gear faster and quieter.

Both cars use beam axles and coil springs. Putting the pair over axle-twisting gulleys showed no big difference in articulation. But the shorter, more nimble Discovery has much more underbelly clearance.

The conclusion

This is a test with no clear winner or loser. Each car has its strengths; the Discoverys ride, torque, economy and interior, the Patrols creamy-smooth diesel, rear diff lock and higher spec for the price.

As with last years Landcruiser/Range Rover comparison, the decision which to buy just wont arise for plenty of potential customers – the Patrols bad-boy looks will put them off.

But if you can put up with image and if your use takes in more open road than lanes and trailers, try one – it definitely grows on you.

Two manual sunroofs bring light and air into the Discovery.

The Patrols centre box looks big, but the rear compartment heater fills most of it. Cup holders (front) are useful fitments, though.

The Patrols longer body (above left) leaves luggage room even with the rear twin seats up. Pity about the CD autochanger and central fixed seat latch which only serve to clutter the floor. Bringing the Discoverys sideways-facing seats into play (above right) loses luggage space and is likely to upset occupants breakfast.

Bull power. Patrols stonking wheel arches make the car much wider than it looks from inside.

Above: Patrols dash has had the style bypass operation. Discovery version (below) is much better, though seat panels are not to everyones tastes.


DISCOVERYFACTS


&#8226 Model: Land Rover Discovery 5-door XS

&#8226 Engine: 2.5-litre four, direct injection, intercooled

&#8226 Power: 111hp

&#8226 Torque: 195lbf ft

&#8226 Drive: Permanent 4×4

&#8226 Suspension: Beam axles, coil springs

&#8226 Weight: 2080kg

&#8226 Towing capacity: 3500kg

&#8226 Price: £26,620


PATROLFACTS


&#8226 Model: Nissan Patrol GR, SE Turbo D

&#8226 Engine: 2.8-litre six, indirect injection

&#8226 Power: 113hp

&#8226 Torque: 173lbf ft

&#8226 Drive: Part-time 4×4

&#8226 Suspension: Beam axles, coil springs

&#8226 Weight: 2043kg

&#8226 Towing capacity: 3500kg

&#8226 Price: £26,410

Right: Japanese brash against English discretion – Nissans Patrol takes on the Discovery.