Nissan introduces all-new 2013 Pathfinder with unibody design

Trevor Hofmann - CAP staff
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Toyota's 4Runner will soon be feeling pretty lonely, as the last of the once ultra-popular midsize SUV segment to sport body-on-frame construction. The previously dominant Explorer went unibody for 2011, as did Jeep's Grand Cherokee and its brotha from anotha motha Dodge Durango. Now it's Nissan's turn, so out goes the old body-on-frame and in comes the 2013 Pathfinder with its thoroughly modern unibody design.

Why the change? For starters, how about a 30-percent improvement in fuel economy? Of course, the new design will allow for better handling too, despite being longer and larger with seven-occupant seating for full-size adults. Actually, the new Pathfinder has the best overall passenger volume in its class, as well as the best front headroom and legroom.

"It's no secret that the industry has shifted as gas prices have increased," said Al Castignetti, vice president and general manager, Nissan Division, Nissan North America, Inc. "But while traditional SUV customers are looking for improved fuel economy, they still demand a vehicle that can do all the things they need, like carrying seven people, towing, and providing the surefootedness in all conditions of a four-wheel drive."

Where the old Pathfinder previously shared underpinnings with the long-gone Infiniti QX35, the new one pulls its architecture from the luxury division's much-lauded 2013 JX35 crossover utility. This means, however, that the 2013 Pathfinder will have very limited off-road capability, but that's not a problem says Nissan.

"The majority of our customers just don't go off road," said Tom Smith, director of SUV marketing at Nissan. "They're concerned with gas mileage, all-weather capabilities and having enough space for their families."

These were the same concerns Ford and Chrysler group addressed with their new Explorer and Grand Cherokee/Durango SUVs respectively, but it should be noted the domestics are still quite capable off the beaten path. Just how effective the new Pathfinder is on the trail will have to await until independent on- and off-road tests have been conducted, but Nissan is saying its ALL-MODE 4x4-i system can be used in 2WD, Auto or 4WD modes.

Nissan fans can immediately feel confident in the new Pathfinder's 2,267-kilo (5,000-lb) tow rating however, as it's best in class. There may be some owners of the old Pathfinder that will be looking for more, mind you, as last year's V8-powered version could tow up to 3,175 kg (7,000 lbs). For these, Nissan still offers its full-size Armada SUV.

Addressing the need for better fuel economy, the new Pathfinder's 227-kilo (500-lb) lighter curb weight of 1,882 kg (4,149 lbs) in front-wheel drive and 1,946 kg (4,290 lbs) in all-wheel drive trim joins the vehicle's other refinements, which include improved aerodynamics, for estimated mileage of 11.7 L/100km in the city and 9.0 L/100km on the highway in front-wheel drive trim or 12.3 city and 9.4 highway in all-wheel drive (based on metric equivalents of the U.S. EPA numbers equaling 20 US mpg city and 26 US mpg highway). Of course, there's more driveline drag when using all-wheel drive plus extra weight, 45 kilos (100 lbs) in the case of the new Pathfinder, but nevertheless its 30-percent improvement over the previous Pathfinder gives it best-in-class city, highway and combined fuel economy, that latter of which is the equivalent 10.7 L/100km in metric for the front-wheel drive Pathfinder and 11.2 for the all-wheel drive version (Canadian EnerGuide ratings will be lower due to a different rating process).

Performance off the line should be fairly strong due to the Pathfinder's standard 3.5-litre V6, which makes 260-horsepower and uses Nissan's Xtronic Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), a fuel-saving drivetrain technology that the Japanese brand has adopted across most of its lineup and come close to perfecting. Nissan says this next-generation CVT reduces fuel consumption over previous versions due to increased ratio spread and lowered internal friction.

While common practice in Canada is for automakers to only offer all- or four-wheel drive versions of SUVs also sold with front- or rear-wheel drive in the U.S., it is likely the Canadian-spec Nissan Canada will join its southern counterpart in offering the more fuel-efficient front-drive version of its new Pathfinder, too.

Just which standard and optional features Nissan's Canadian division chooses to include in its 2013 Pathfinder is unknown however, but for the most part mum's the word south of the 49th too. We do know that Nissan's new 4-inch Advanced Drive-Assist colour display will be dead centre in the Pathfinder's gauge package, though, between the tach and speedometer, and that it's customizable, "easy-to-use" and puts important info directly within the driver's sightline. A separate touch-screen will be mounted in the middle of the centre stack, says the U.S. press release, which will allow access to the infotainment system, with its vehicle settings and available navigation system, not to mention Nissan's segment-first Around View Monitor reverse camera system.

The Pathfinder will also get a new EZ Flex Seating System with something Nissan calls Latch and Glide, which is an industry-first seating system (unless you include its inclusion in the Infiniti JX35) that allows access to the third row while a baby seat is fastened into the second row seat. The second row is split 60/40, and Nissan boasts of segment-best 14 cm (5.5 inches) fore-aft seat travel. Additionally the third row features a first in segment recline feature, showing a desire to please all occupants.

Currently, Nissan is advertising its impressive Easy Fill Tire Alert as a key safety feature of its new 2013 Altima, a first-ever technology that honks the horn when each tire reaches its optimal pressure while being filled. Proper tire pressure helps a vehicle handle better and stop faster, let alone optimize fuel economy, therefore this feature being added to the 2013 Pathfinder is good news.

The usual options offered in this segment will be part of the 2013 Pathfinder menu in the States, at least, and these should find their way north of the border. On the list are leather-appointed seats, proximity sensing keyless access with pushbutton ignition, remote engine start, dual-zone climate control, a panoramic dual-panel moonroof with a power sliding front panel and fixed rear glass panel, tri-zone entertainment, and a premium audio upgrade, this one a 13-speaker Bose system with satellite radio. The only odd inclusion on the options list is Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity, which could be argued should be a standard feature being that it's now illegal in many U.S. states and Canadian provinces to hold a mobile handset while driving. Nissan's U.S. division hasn't stated whether it will offer Bluetooth as a standalone option or as part of an expensive audio upgrade or even pricier premium package, or possibly as both. The new Pathfinder's "premium materials" should be standard, however, which will be a nice upgrade over the outgoing Pathfinder that wouldn't be held up to a premium standard.

Nissan has been steadily improving the quality of its interiors with each new model upgrade, the 2013 Altima just the latest vehicle to prove this point.

"Unveiling our next-generation Pathfinder is a major follow-up to the introduction of the all-new Altima sedan," added Castignetti. "With its bold new design, best-in-class fuel economy and family adventure capabilities, our dealers can't wait to share this new model with customers in their showrooms."

And just when will Nissan dealers be able to share this new SUV with us? The 2013 Pathfinder goes on sale in the U.S. this fall, and the Canadian version is likely to follow suit. Expect further details including pricing closer to its official launch.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Crossover, SUV, Nissan, 2013, Pathfinder, $30,000 - $39,999, Midsize,

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