Nissan Pathfinder 2.5dCi SE
Atlantis Dunes, Cape Town. On any given Sunday when there is a hint of blue skies, this giant sandbox bursts at the seams with quads, two-wheelers, and a variety of 4x4s, worth millions of Rands. Big and small, fast and slow, they all congregate here in numbers, tackling all kinds of sandy obstacles.
Traditionally, a petrol engine with big torque and power is the preferred choice of weapon in sand. On especially big dunes you not only need horses, but you also need engine revolutions – and diesel engines are generally not particularly keen on higher engine revolutions.
And so we ended up at this place of much horsepower, in a group of Jeeps with much horsepower, in a Nissan Pathfinder 2.5dCi SE Automatic. Let’s first set one thing straight: The Nissan’s 2,5-litre turbodiesel engine doesn’t lack power. It has 140 kW of power (@ 4000r/min) and 450Nm of torque, which peaks at 2000r/min. Our Pathy was fitted with the five-speed automatic shifter, which normally sends the power only to the rear wheels.
A selector knob in the centre console provides the following options: Automatic, where the system distributes power between the front and rear axle depending on grip and conditions; 4H where the system is locked in a 50/50 split between the front and rear axles; and 4LOW where low-range is obviously selected, also in a 50/50 split.
The Nissan doesn’t have a rear differential lock. Instead it gets Nissan’s ABLS system, or Active Brake Limited Slip differential. Essentially this system manages the drive to the four wheels depending on slip and grip. But for really tough off-road work – a task probably not near the top of the Nissan designer’s brief list – a good old diff lock would have been first prize.
Clearly, the Pathy was not created to drive up Mount Kilimanjaro. It’s much happier on a bad gravel road where it is rather comfortable, some mud and a limited level of ruts and dongas. But what about sand?
Queue Atlantis Dunes. Rain in the days leading up to our visit to the dunes had compacted the sand some. And it must be said that, on a hot summer’s day in December, the Atlantis sand is more like quicksand – a nasty, liquid business that tends to suck in 4x4s of all sorts. So at least as far as conditions went, we had it pretty good.
With the drivetrain locked in 4H mode, and the tyre pressures reduced to 1,2 bar, we went sand surfing. And despite an obvious dislike for higher revs, the 450 Newtons and five-speed auto shifter, along with a good helping of momentum, got the Nissan up every dune we could find.