2013 Nissan Pathfinder Road Test Review
by Tim Healey
If you've ever been a bit late to catch on to a current fashion trend, you'll know how Nissan likely feels about the 2013 Pathfinder. Nissan is moving the Pathfinder from truck-type body-on-frame construction to a more car-like unibody crossover platform for 2013, following in the footsteps of its rivals such as the Ford Explorer, which underwent the same transformation for the 2011 model year.
Oddly enough, Nissan was once actually ahead of the curve. This isn't the first time the Pathfinder has gone unibody--it did the same from the 1996-2004 model years. This time, though, the change seems likely to stick. Unibody construction offers a more car-like ride and better fuel economy than body-on-frame construction, and shifting consumer tastes (buyers are trending toward car-like ride/handling over boulder-bashing toughness) and rising Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards mean that crossover construction is likely to takeover the segment.
Nissan may have joined the party late, but that doesn't mean the Pathfinder isn't trying to be fashionable.
On the Road
If you remember the Pathfinder fondly as a rock-crushing SUV with serious off-road chops, Nissan salespeople will gladly sell you an Xterra. The new Pathfinder is meant to be a family hauler (hence the seven-seat configuration), and it shows.
Put the pedal down, and the 260-horsepower/240 lb-ft of torque 3.5-liter V-6 does its best to get this 4,000-lb beast moving, but there's no disguising that the Pathfinder isn't light, even if it has dropped 500 lbs (according to Nissan) since last year. Acceleration is fine for the urban grind, but it won't bring many grins.
The continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT) also disappoints. Nissan takes pride in its CVTs, since the company has been marketing them for two decades now, but this one offers up some strain and whine in the higher rpm range. It's pleasant enough under more sedate driving, however.
The same could be said of the Pathfinder's ride and handling. It's more than competent in normal driving, but push it a bit and things get uncomfortable. Body roll is relatively well muted, but drivers get the sense that the Pathfinder doesn't like being worked out. One plus is the steering feel; it's pretty nicely weighted, despite some numbness on-center.
As befits a family hauler, the ride is fairly composed, although most of our exposure to the Pathfinder came on well-manicured California roads.
Adding the available all-wheel-drive system didn't appear to dramatically affect on-road performance, but a brief spin on a relatively easy off-road course showed that the system works as advertised, shifting torque as necessary to maintain traction.
Not only has the Pathfinder gone crossover underneath, it's done so at the surface, too. Gone is the brawny, boxy look of the past, replaced with gently curving flowing lines that flow aft from the grille, which is the most muscular part of the vehicle. It reminds us of the Infiniti JX, with which the Pathfinder shares a platform. It's a sleek, stylish, look that reminds us that the days of the boxy SUV are numbered, if not over.
Roominess isn't an issue inside the Pathfinder's cabin, there's plenty of it, especially upfront. Most materials are class appropriate, although we were flummoxed by a large expanse of cheap-looking (and feeling) hard plastic above the glove box. The switchgear is generally accessible and user-friendly.
Nissan offers a flat load floor with the seats folded and promises easy access to the third row (even with a child seat in place on the passenger side), but we had no chance to test that out.
Fuel Economy & Safety
Like most family haulers, the Pathfinder is offering the usual suite of airbags to go along with ABS and other active safety systems, such as traction control.
Fuel economy is rated at 20 mpg city and 26 mpg highway on two-wheel-drive models, with those numbers shifting to 19/25 on all-wheel-drive models.
Nissan has really focused on the family here, and it shows. There's room, comfort, and class-appropriate features. Pricing is on par with the others in the class.
What the Pathfinder lacks is verve, or moxie, or that little defining characteristic that will make it stand out in a crowded sea of crossovers. Like the Explorer and Dodge Durango, it has a name that's been around for a long time, and that can't hurt. But it's a bit on the plain side. Since the off-road component of the Pathfinder has gone bye-bye and been ceded to the Xterra, we hoped that the Pathfinder would at least offer up some on-road fun. But it doesn't.
That's a problem. Not because family-car buyers care about performance--most don't--but because plain old boring consistency doesn't always attract attention, no matter how well a car fulfills its mission.
The Pathfinder will usher you and the young'uns about town without getting much notice. For many, that will be just fine. For the rest, well, we hope Nissan adds some spice to the dish at mid-cycle refresh time.
Specs, Features, Pricing
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6
Transmission: CVT automatic
Drive Wheels: Front, all-wheel-drive available
Base Price: $28,270
Available Trim Levels: S, SV, SL, Platinum
Available Features: Navigation, rearview camera, heated steering wheel, push-button start, satellite radio, Bluetooth, USB port, heated and cooled front seats, power liftgate, tilt/telescope steering wheel, leather seats, heated second row seats.
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