2013 Nissan Pathfinder Road Test Review

Trevor Hofmann - CAP staff
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Toyota's 4Runner will soon be feeling pretty lonely, as the very last of the once ultra-popular midsize SUV segment to use body-on-frame construction. Ford's Explorer went unibody for 2011, as did the Dodge Durango, and now it's Nissan's turn. So out goes the modified truck underpinnings and in comes the 2013 Pathfinder with its thoroughly modern monocoque design.

Why the change? For starters, the Pathfinder was actually a forerunner (sorry for the pun) in unibody construction back in 1996 when Nissan launched the second-generation model. They bolted it back on top of a box frame for its third generation so as to share F-Alpha platform components with the Frontier and Titan pickups, which also share with the Xterra and Armada SUVs, but the SUV market has changed, with less interest in serious off-roaders these days.

It all comes down to handling, interior spaciousness, and probably most importantly, fuel economy. The new 2013 Pathfinder improves on the outgoing model's fuel-efficiency by 25-percent for a best-in-class claimed rating of 10.5 L/100km city and 7.7 highway in front-drive trim or 10.8 and 7.9 in all-wheel drive; using cheaper regular unleaded. These numbers are useful for comparison shopping, but more realistic U.S. EPA ratings are likely what you can expect. Metric converted they equal 11.7 city and 9.0 highway in FWD or 12.3 and 9.4 with AWD. Of course, there's a little more driveline drag when using AWD, plus 45 kilos added weight. Still, changes to hydraulic electric power steering and an innovative new regenerative smart alternator help to reduce load on the engine, and again, reduce weight.

Overall the new Pathfinder weighs almost 270 kilos less than the outgoing one, 48 kilos of which is directly due to the new unibody design. The new drivetrain accounts for almost 21 kg of weight savings; the CVT gearbox 15 kg all on its own. That wouldn't be as noteworthy if the new Pathfinder were a smaller vehicle, but of course this wouldn't be the car business if a manufacturer actually reduced the size of a given model. No, the Pathfinder is larger in every dimension, which in this case is a good thing. It's a real seven-passenger family hauler after all, with seating for real (if not particularly tall) adults in back, not to mention best overall passenger volume in its three-row segment, with best front headroom and legroom. Of course, the new unibody design allows for better handling too, much better handling.

Where the old Pathfinder previously shared underpinnings with the long-gone Infiniti QX4, the new one pulls its architecture from the luxury division's much-lauded 2013 JX35 crossover utility. This means that it's agile. Surprising so, in fact. Our day's drive had us on the beautiful circuitous stretch of highway known as the Sea-to-Sky, or otherwise Highway 99 from West Vancouver's Horseshoe Bay to the stunning hiking and rock climbing community of Squamish, BC. It's an outdoor mecca, an ideal setting for a vehicle that's always been about getting away from it all.

That said the new Pathfinder has very limited off-road capability, being that there is no low gearing range, relatively low ground clearance at 165 mm, and a long wheelbase at 2,900 mm. The merits of a CVT off the beaten path have never really been tested, so I can't say whether or not it would measure up, although I'm guessing its ALL-MODE 4x4-i system is best kept to cottage roads and ski hills. After all, the last time Nissan brought me along to a Pathfinder ride and drive program they made sure to include a fairly extreme off-road segment to show just what the SUV could accomplish, and we were all duly impressed. This time around there was no such adventure, yet we were impressed for other reasons.

For instance, most crossovers have automatic all-wheel drive only, where the new Pathfinder has a console-mounted dial that defaults to Auto or can be rotated to the left for a more fuel friendly 2WD mode, or to the right for locking its four-wheel drive system 50/50, allowing better traction in really slippery conditions or more treacherous terrain. And unlike previous Pathfinders, you can get this new model in front-drive trim if that's all you need. This might be a good idea if you live in a warmer climate or if you're simply ok relying on electronic driving aids like standard traction and stability control. They work well enough for most conditions, so give FWD some thought.

And while we're thinking FWD, let's get real for a second. The number of past Pathfinder owners that even engaged their 4x4 systems into low range at all was infinitesimal, let alone the one time per year these owners thought they'd use it when they bought it. I even thought this way myself before, saying, "Well, it's nice to know it's there if I need it." I've now changed my tune to, "Why should I pay all year in fuel costs and added maintenance for something I almost never use?" If you're serious about off-roading then buy an old JDM diesel-powered Nissan Patrol and park it until you head out on that annual summer fishing trip or go hunting in the fall. OK, maybe that's not too practical for those with limited parking space, but you get the point. Rent an off-roader if you feel the need to 4x4, but drive something efficient, enjoyable, and truly accommodating for the rest of the year.

On that note the new Pathfinder rides wonderfully, handlings impressively, and is quiet thanks in part to its best-in-class 0.34 coefficient of drag, which of course aids the aforementioned fuel economy. Performance from its 260-horsepower 3.5-litre V6 with 240 lb-ft of torque is better than you might think, due to the Pathfinder's lightweight design, and the CVT is surprisingly engaging, reacting more like a conventional automatic than any continuously variable transmission I've tried before. Nissan has really got the CVT pegged. They've been using them for 20 years now, with more than 9 million in production, and while I won't go so far as to say they've perfected the technology, as each new generation seems to get better, this latest version in the Pathfinder is superb.

You can engage the new CVTs shift lever from a nicely refined interior, with a good-looking overall design featuring lots of attractive metallic buttons and trim, some soft-touch plastics on the door trim and armrests (although I'd like to see a little more to keep up with the competition), authentic looking faux wood, and fabulous graphic interfaces. The multi-adjustable seats are truly comfortable too, front to back, and can be had with heated cushions even in cloth trim (joining a heated steering wheel no less) or ventilation in top-line guise, while the second row seats can be upgraded with heaters as well, and offer the most intelligent third-row accessibility design I've ever encountered, as standard.

Nissan calls it the EZ Flex Seating System with 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 (you might want to remove the baby though). The second row splits 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, which adds a little headroom if tilted rearward, plus its own set of speakers and individual heater ducts.

Behind those seats is 453 litres of storage capacity, or about the size of a midsize car's trunk. Lay the third row flat and cargo volume increases to a minimum of 1,201 litres, while a total of 2,260 litres is available when both rear rows are folded flat. And believe me, that's a lot of gear! Plus there's a large under floor storage bin to keep valuables hidden.

As impressive, Nissan has found a way to make its CVT pull 2,267 kilos (5,000 lbs) of trailer weight. The integration of a chain-drive system, instead of the usual belt, adds durability and strength. That should be enough for most camp trailers and smaller boats, and if you need to tow more you can opt for a full-size Armada or that old Patrol in the garage.

The graphic interfaces I referred to a minute ago include a four-inch Advanced Drive-Assist colour display situated dead centre in the Pathfinder's gauge package, between the tach and speedometer, and it's customizable plus really easy to use. There's a separate touch-screen mounted in the middle of the centre stack, which allows 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.

Another interesting item is the optional Easy Fill Tire Alert, 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, while optimizing fuel economy.

Some unusual standard features join the usual list, such as tri-zone automatic climate control with microfiltration, a six-disc CD changer, and pushbutton ignition, although oddly proximity sensing Intelligent Key is optional. Additional options include leather-appointed seats, remote engine start, a panoramic dual-panel moonroof with a power sliding front panel and fixed rear glass panel, a powered liftgate, tri-zone entertainment with two large seven-inch displays integrated into the backs of the front headrests, and a premium audio upgrade, this one a 13-speaker Bose system with satellite radio that sounds awesome. The only odd inclusion on the options list is Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity, which really should be standard.

Nissan doesn't make you pay any extra for other safety equipment though, such as a full assortment of airbags, tire pressure monitoring, and Active Brake Limited Slip, while the Pathfinder's new entry price is excellent at only $31,718 including freight and PDI. Add 4WD and that base Pathfinder S will cost you an additional $2,000, whereas second-rung SV trim starts at $36,968 including destination. SL trim, which will probably be most popular starts at $37,418 for FWD and again $2,000 more for 4WD, while the top-line Platinum is $43,818 including destination. This is great value, but expected as the Infiniti JX35 it's derived from offers more for the money than many mainstream brands, despite its premium cachet.

I'd normally finish off this review by guessing that this new Pathfinder is going to be a major hit when family buyers find out just how good it is and what fabulous value it offers, but there's no guessing about it. It's been on sale for about a month now and is selling much stronger than the old version, which is proof enough that a change in direction is exactly what the old Pathfinder needed.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

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

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