2013 Nissan Pathfinder

NAPA VALLEY, Calif. — Do you honestly think that because of high gasoline prices the sport utility vehicle market is a dinosaur? Revise your thoughts. The all-new fourth-generation Nissan Pathfinder is in the flesh to dispel the myth and it’s doing so with superb design and style. The original Pathfinder, introduced more than 25 years ago, became an instant success and achieved the reputation of being the “perfect family adventure vehicle.”

Each new generation of the vehicle remained true to its original premise while adapting to the desires and styling tastes of the time. The new offering has a lot to prove and several hundred miles behind the wheel has convinced me that they’ve achieved it.

Not content with marketing a vehicle that “does this or that pretty well,” the 2013 Pathfinder offers a long list of “best-in-class” and “unique-in-class” features, including: best-in-class fuel economy, interior volume, front headroom and legroom; most standard towing capacity in class; and class-exclusive selectable 2WD, Auto and 4WD Lock modes, Xtronic CVT, third row row seats that recline, Around View Monitor and Easy Fill Tire Alert System.

Leading the parade is a new drivetrain that features a 3.5L DOHC V6 engine mated to a next-generation Xtronic CVT (continuously variable transmission). Together it achieves a whopping 30 percent increase in combined City/Highway fuel economy over the previous V6 model — 26 mpg highway/20 mpg city /22 mpg combined for the 2WD model and 25/19/21 for 4WD.

All this mileage for a 4,149-pound vehicle (4,290 for the 4WD) that comfortably seats seven. Interior volume is 157.8 cubic feet. EPA cargo volume is 79.8 cubic feet with the second and third rows folded and 16 cubic feet with the two rear rows upright. You can also bring your friend Mr. Boat or his buddy, Mr. Trailer; towing capacity when properly equipped is 5,000 pounds.

Forget the boxy, stodgy image so closely associated with a larger SUV; the 2013 Pathfinder is modern with aerodynamic exterior styling — bolder design cues like a new interpretation of Nissan’s “power strut” grille, lower beltline and thin A- and D-pillars, chrome grille, front and rear door handles and front and rear fascia accents, body color bumpers, front and rear spoilers, long wheelbase, short front and rear overhangs and a host of other refinements.

During our test drives throughout California wine country there was a lot of noticeable head-turning from interested parties, including drivers of previous-generation Pathfinders.

It handsomely sits atop 18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels with light gun metallic paint finish (with available 20-inch) and has a minimum ground clearance of 6.5 inches.

Speaking of Pathfinder’s segment it’s loaded with some really tough neighbors, like Ford Explorer, Toyota Highlander, Chevy Traverse and Honda Pilot to name a few. It’s a very competitive, take-no-prisoners world they all live in.

For all its capability the new Pathfinder drives just like a solid road car. There is no herky-jerky motion that was formerly associated with early-model SUVs. Cornering and handling is excellent. It has independent strut front suspension with stabilizer bar, twin tube shock absorbers with dual flow path, hydraulic electric speed-sensitive power-assisted steering, 4-wheel vented disc brakes and ABS w/electronic brake force distribution, available in 2WD or 4WD models and is equipped with standard hill start assist.

I would have liked to see hill DECENT control as well as blind spot information system but thus far, no go.

The interior is beautiful and contains an all-new design along with a lot of standard and available features such as tri-zone automatic climate control w/rear air conditioning, seven-inch color multi-information display with RearView Monitor, eight-inch color monitor with VGA display, heated steering wheel, a navigation system with voice recognition, NavTraffic and NavWeather and a lot more items than I have space for.

However, if you’re interested in NOT hearing “How much longer till we get there?” then you might want to opt for the Tri-Zone entertainment system that has screen displays at the rear of the headrests in front of the passenger. This will do a lot to decrease interior noise levels.

Instrumentation is very clean, with large tachometer and speedometer dials and a 4-inch LCD Advanced Drive-Assist screen between them. Dual, panoramic moonroof is available and there is easy second and third row access via Nissan’s EZ FLEX Seating System.

The second row slides 5.5 inches that allows those unfortunate enough to sit in the third row a chance at walking again upon exiting. The seating is almost criminally comfortable (and I mean that in a good way). You could drive almost 500 miles nonstop and not be fidgety like you would be in less-accommodating seats.

There are two option packages available: an SL Premium Package and a Platinum Premium Package, and three if you count the Trailer Tow Package. Each package offers a plethora of content to match any need and budget. There are also a number of dealer-installed accessories. There are four models with 4WD and 2WD available in each: S, SV, SL and Platinum.

For those “purists” who bellyache about “them foreign cars” I’ve got news for you. The 2013 Nissan Pathfinder is as much American as John Wayne. It’s built in Smyrna, Tenn., designed at Nissan Design American in San Diego, the engine is built in Decherd, Tenn., and Pathfinder is engineered at Nissan Technical Center, North America, in Farmington Hills, Mich.. Needless to say, American labor makes up the bulk of the process. 

Now for the good news (if you can call pricing the “good news”): There’s a 2013 Pathfinder for every occasion: MSRP for the base Pathfinder S 2WD is $28,270, and rises up to an MSRP for the Pathfinder Platinum 4WD of $40,770.

— Al Vinikour