The fourth generation Nissan Pathfinder loses its ruggedness for 2013, switching to a unibody from the traditional body-on-frame approach. It looks more like an oversized crossover vehicle than the rock-traversing machine of old. But don't for one minute think this makes the new Pathfinder any less capable.
Due to changes in what SUV buyers now demand, most of Nissan's competitors have already made the switch to unibody, making the Pathfinder a little on the tardy side. Buyers have now traded their cliff ascending desires with a priority placed on better fuel economy and all-weather capability.
What that means is SUV buyers are no longer pretending they drive up Mount Kilimanjaro on a weekend, and admitting that the most challenging conditions they face is wet tarmac and occasionally some slippery slush.
(Full Disclosure: Nissan wanted me to drive the new Pathfinder so badly they flew me out to Napa, California and made me take a cooking class at the Culinary Institute of America. Presumably my wife had left a subtle note with the folks at Nissan, stating that my culinary skills needed some work. Now I can cook the meanest Halibut. Well, I could, if only I hadn't lost the bloody recipe.)
Switching to a unibody has shaved a lot of weight, despite the car becoming a few inches larger. Mix that with substantial drivetrain/engine assembly savings and a lightweight CVT gearbox, just to name a few, and you end up with a Pathfinder that is 500 lbs lighter than the outgoing model.
All this weight shedding has not ruined its ability to pull things, however. In fact, it posts a best in class 5000-lb standard towing. And it boasts class-leading highway fuel efficiency too, at 26 MPG.
Ward's Segmentation now classifies the new Pathfinder as a large crossover vehicle (like the Ford Flex), rather than the mid-sized SUV segment in which the old Pathfinder was situated. It still fits seven passengers comfortably, and while it might struggle mastering the extremes, it manages basic off-roading without breaking a sweat.
The 2013 Pathfinder deserves legitimate consideration for the space conscious, fuel-efficient SUV buyer. It's worth a look for those who pretend to traverse Antarctica, too.
With a drag co-efficient number of 0.34, the 2013 Pathfinder is 13-percent more aerodynamic than the outgoing model, and it isn't hard to see why by looking at the two side by side. The old Pathfinder looked far more rugged, with bulging fender flares and a square demeanor. The new model appears more like a crossover vehicle, with sweeping lines and a more tapered front end. Despite its extra inches, the new Pathfinder doesn't look bigger; in fact, you could be forgiven for thinking it is actually smaller.
It's more refined and modern, and I like the inconspicuous size of the car. Like the girl next door, it's naturally pretty without needing mounds of attention-grabbing makeup.
I have two pet peeves when it comes to interior. One was avoided, one was not. Firstly, I hate plastic. Interiors filled with cheap, nasty plastic make me want to push the car off a 2,000-ft cliff with the plastic-loving design culprit trapped behind the wheel. Fortunately for him, use of the tacky material is limited and the cabin feels (like the exterior) elegant yet understated. It was a comfortable, inviting place to be.
My second peeve was present in all its unholy glory — a cheap, flimsy, rubbery steering wheel. Unless you are like Superman, and can somehow drive with pure mind-power, holding the steering wheel is imperative. Therefore I want it to feel soft, luxurious and pleasing to touch. It's like Nissan paid close attention to every other aspect of the cabin and then ran out of time to make a wheel of similar quality — so they robbed the material from the base Versa and made one from that, instead.
Wheel aside; seats are comfortable, trunk space is decent and third row legroom is good –- although the seat bottom feels a bit low. Rear seats recline, which helps add comfort and Nissan have incorporated Latch and Glide to the second row – meaning you can slide the middle row forward (even with a car seat still attached) to allow people into the third row with ease. This negates the need for fully-grown adults to spear into the third row headfirst looking like complete idiots. Although, I do enjoy watching that.
Nissan reduced engine size in the new Pathfinder, eliminating both the 4.0L V6 and the 5.6L V8. Instead, they replaced it with their 3.5L V6, providing 260-hp and 240-lb ft of torque. The car comes as either 2WD or 4WD, with the 2WD now powering the front-wheels rather than the rear.
Acceleration is solid, perhaps somewhere around the mid 7 seconds to 60mph (although Nissan won't say). Power delivery is buttery smooth and you don't feel like you are lacking in ponies. It's a good balance that isn't blazingly fast, but adequately does its job.
Four-wheel disc brakes with Brake Assist and Electronic Brake-Force Distribution comes standard to the new Pathfinder. The pedal has a relatively short travel and is firm and predictable. Nissan claim the car can decelerate better than its competitors, although from behind the wheel it was hard to tell. They did feel solid, capable and efficient, however.
The Pathfinder's 500-lb weight loss is felt directly through the variable assisted power steering. It feels more nimble and suspension is relatively stiff. It handles bumps with far more poise than many of its rivals, yet when it comes to off-road motoring, it still works admirably. Powering up steep, dusty climbs and bumpy, cow-ridden descents, the Pathfinder made the trip with little fuss. It's a touch rough in the second and third rows, but from behind the wheel it feels far smoother. Ground clearance can be an issue on some rocky sections, and the car does feel less rugged than the old car.
If you opt for the 4WD model, then you have three settings to choose from. Either 4WD Locked –- which holds the torque split at 50/50, or 4WD Auto that will gravitate between 100/0 to 50/50 -– depending on the conditions. Or, to save fuel, you can turn it to 2WD mode and leave it alone — until you come across that frozen Floridian glacier, of course.
Driving a Ford Explorer feels far more floppy on undulating driver's roads (floppy is an extremely technical term, I know), but once you get the weight transferred and settled into the turns, it's surprisingly engaging to drive. If I could blend the Pathfinder's stiffer ride with the Explorer's cornering, you would have a great combination — as the Pathfinder does not deliver the same level of engagement as the Ford.
What it does do, however, is handle in a manner that inspires confidence and manages body roll extremely well. It just doesn't make you want to find a bit of open road and let it fly. It is an SUV, of course, so it doesn't really have to. Despite that, there are others in the segment that handle a touch better – but not many.
I'm not a CVT fan. I appreciate what they can accomplish in terms of fuel efficiency, but most of the time, they ruin perfectly good cars. Nissan's next generation Xtronic CVT, designed with a specific Pathfinder drive chain, is actually extremely good. I know, shocking, right?
It feels more natural than most CVT's and the engine note, mixed with interior quietness, makes it extremely nice to drive. With a 40-percent reduction in internal friction, the gearbox is silky smooth. This is the first application of CVT in the segment, and doing so kind of makes sense. It helps climbing steep off-road hills - as the gearbox holds the car in the optimal rev range. Driving the competitors vehicles during the day – with their standard transmissions – made me want to return to the Pathfinder in search of the smooth, linear power delivery the CVT produced.
Honestly, I'm as shocked as you are with this development. Especially given how bad I found the CVT in another new Nissan product I can't talk about until later. Let's just say it rhymes with Sissan Nentra.
The standard 6-speaker audio system is pretty average, but the optional 13-speaker Bose system (coming as part of the $2650 SL Premium Package) is a nice upgrade. The down side to the Bose is the subwoofer takes up part of the under floor storage in the trunk, and with 7-seater SUV's like the Pathfinder, rear trunk space is limited anyway.
The Pathfinder is nicely equipped. The Latch and Glide system (mentioned already) is standard and great for families, and the Easy Fill Tire Alert is extremely useful for the blind. Tri-zone entertainment is available, along with hill-start-assist, around view monitor (it gives a birds eye view of the car), 8" monitor with navigation, XM NavTraffic and weather, streaming audio via Bluetooth, heated and cooled front row seats, and even heated second row seats and a heated steering wheel. A dual panorama moon roof is available, too.
Starting as low as $28,270 (excluding destination) for the 2WD S model, the price ramps up to $40,770 for the 4WD Platinum, with the optional Platinum Premium package an additional $2,300 on top of that. Nissan have priced the Pathfinder very competitively, with cars like the Chevy Traverse and Ford Explorer coming in a few grand higher.
The Pathfinder is a genuinely good, practical, economical car — making it a great buy if you're in the market for a medium sized SUV. It's perfectly capable of conquering a bit of wet tarmac and, of course, it'll even handle some snow, too. So stop pretending you need a car to drive across the Himalayas. There aren't many hills in Kansas, after all.
2013 Nissan Pathfinder