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A roller-coaster ride experience from behind the wheel on sand dunes

S Muralidhar | Updated on November 15, 2018 Published on November 15, 2018

Dubai offers a motley mix of conditions for driving a quartet of Nissan’s SUVs

There is something addictive about experiences that attempt the seemingly impossible — like trying to escape gravity in a hulking sports utility vehicle. Off-roading even in an ordinary four-wheel drive vehicle can itself be quite thrilling, especially if the course has a challenging mix of terrain. The rush of adrenaline, that mild feeling of weightlessness and that weird sensation in the pit of your stomach when the wheels take off and return back to hard ground after their brief stint in the air, are multiplied many times over when you are sitting behind the wheel of a truck-sized SUV weighing nearly three-tonnes!

Dune bashing

And where can you experience this almost throughout the year? Dubai, of course. Dune-bashing on the vast sand dunes just outside Dubai is a popular tourist attraction, and the most preferred vehicle that they seek to ride in is the Nissan Patrol. Last month, I wasn’t being chauffeured onto the dunes, but was instead driving a few of the company’s popular, global SUVs on the streets and dunes of Dubai courtesy Nissan India. Keen on establishing its SUV pedigree, in the run up to the launch of the Kicks, the Indian subsidiary had organised a line-up of four of its SUVs — the X-TRAIL, the Pathfinder, the Patrol on the dunes, and the Dubai-spec Kicks (which is not really connected to the India-spec version). The only other time that I’ve driven more of the brand’s SUVs in one place was in Nissan 360s of the past, an annual gathering of all Nissan vehicles for journalists from around the world to experience in one place.

The X-TRAIL was the first vehicle from Nissan when it entered India. Even though it was an import and was quite expensive, it still had a loyal clientele due largely to its design, proportions, versatility and reliability. It had its share of celebrity owners especially in the South Indian market. The X-TRAIL looks relatively small on Dubai’s roads, where huge sports utes like the Nissan Titan, Hummers and GMC’s trucks are pretty commonplace. In fact, after the US, it would possibly be the gulf countries where one would find high concentrations of SUVs amongst buyers. I drive out of Dubai and towards the desert sands near Ras-Al-Khaimah in a Pathfinder. This was Nissan’s first SUV, making its appearance in 1986 and becoming one of the best-selling SUVs for the Japanese brand. The Pathfinder is actually called the Terrano in many markets globally; and is sold as a seven-seater in many of them too, even though it is a mid-size crossover. It is a front-engined, four-wheel drive vehicle featuring a 3.5-litre V6 that delivers 271 hp of power and 340 Nm of torque (Dubai-spec).

Weightlessness

The Patrol is hugely popular amongst regular car buyers and those who truly want to explore their wild side with a capable off-roader. It is offered with a 5.6-litre V8 and a three-litre V6 petrol engine in the Dubai market. After reaching the dunes and manually deflating the tyres on the Patrols, we are ready to roll. The tyres get more contact with the loose desert sand, and the 4x4’s locking rear differential and traction control system help pull this hulk out of the most difficult situations on the dunes. The first couple of kilometres into the dunes is just firm terrain with sparse vegetation and then the towering sand dunes rise above us. The Patrol pulls away over the small sand dunes almost with an air of nonchalance. With its 275 mm ground clearance, it can handle some of the steep drop-offs without any hesitation.

But the highlight of taking the Patrol off-roading came up with the next set of mammoth dunes; nearly 40 feet high, the classic crescent-shaped dunes pose a unique challenge to even the sure-footed Patrol. We start the climb sideways making steady progress upwards and just before cresting the dune glide down sideways again. The Patrol is tilted more than 40-degrees, rocking back and forth as the traction kicks in over the loose sand and its nose is airborne often. This feels like a roller-coaster ride like no other.

Range of options

Nissan has one of the widest and deepest line-up of trucks, SUVs and Crossovers amongst the major global car brands. The range extends from the Titan, Patrol, XTerra, Armada and Pathfinder to the Murano, Rogue and the Kicks. In markets like the US and in the gulf countries, Nissan’s SUVs are popular because of their four-wheel drive capability and for their legendary towing capabilities.

In India, the Terrano will soon be joined by the new Kicks.

Published on November 15, 2018
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