Nissan Pathfinder — A redesign that works

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Nissan has done more than a creditable job in completely redesigning the popular Pathfinder as a stylish, unibody crossover on a platform shared with the Infiniti JX. The new Pathfinder is 500 pounds lighter than the truck-based vehicle it replaces and nearly 30 percent more fuel efficient.

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, third row seats that recline, an Around View Monitor and an Easy Fill Tire Alert System.

The new drivetrain features a 3.5-liter DOHC V6 engine mated to a next-generation Xtronic CVT (continuously variable transmission), with fuel economy rated at 26 mpg highway/20 mpg city /22 mpg combined for the 2WD model and 25/19/21 for 4WD; both far better than the 2012 Pathfinder's EPA rating of 22/15/17.

All the above in a vehicle 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. The second row slides 5.5 inches forward which allows adults to easily access the third row. Even though adults will fit, we recommend reserving that space for teens and below. You can also bring your boat or small travel trailer — towing capacity when properly equipped is 5,000-pounds.

After hundreds of miles of road testing on both the east and west coasts we concluded that we very much like the overall nimbleness, maneuverability and handling of the Pathfinder crossover. The 260-horsepower engine mated to the CVT got all chores of driving done in commendable fashion. It's a good match for the two-ton vehicle. While we realize the gearless transmission helps fuel economy, we still prefer a standard transmission where shift points are clearly delineated. But we admit Nissan does the best job in the industry with the CVT.

For all its capability the new Pathfinder drives just like a solid road car. Cornering and handling traits are satisfying. It has independent strut front suspension with stabilizer bar, hydraulic electric speed-sensitive power-assisted steering, four-wheel vented disc brakes and ABS w/electronic brake force distribution.

While the Pathfinder is equipped with standard hill start assist there is no hill decent control available. Also not on the options list is blind spot monitoring, something we think should be offered — at least as an option — on all new vehicles.

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 fascia accents, body color bumpers, front and rear spoilers, short front and rear overhangs and a host of other refinements.

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. If you’re not interested in hearing “how much longer till we get there?” then you might want to opt for the Tri-Zone entertainment system that has screen displays built into the rear of the headrests. 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. We also think Nissan does the best job in the industry combing a mix of buttons, touch screens and voice commands. For instance, included are old fashioned radio volume and tuning knobs and pre-set station buttons, still the best way to easily access the radio without taking your eyes off the road.

There are four trim levels beginning at $29,475 including destination charge for the S trim. The rest of the lineup includes SV, SL and Platinum, which tops the lineup starting at $40,370. We figure the SV trim beginning at $32,725 will prove the most popular. It comes with such standard equipment as keyless ignition/entry, eight-way power driver's seat, seven-inch color multi-information display, rearview camera, and an upgraded audio system that includes satellite radio and a USB/iPod interface.

Our test vehicle was an SL trim with the Premium page that included a 13-speaker Bose sound system and a panoramic moonroof. Bottom line price — $38,720.

Base price: $29,475; as driven, $38,720
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6
Horsepower: 260 @ 6,400 rpm
Torque: 240 foot-pounds @ 4,400 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: CVT
Seating: 2/2/3
Wheelbase: 114.2 inches
Length: 197.2 inches
Curb weight: 4,185 pounds
Turning circle: 38.7 feet
Luggage capacity: 16 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 79.8 cubic feet
Towing capacity: 5,000 pounds
Fuel capacity: 19.5 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 26 highway, 20 city
0-60: 8 seconds (Edmunds)
Also consider: Hyundai Santa Fe, Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Flex

The Good
• Excellent fuel economy
• Nice ride quality
• User-friendly controls

The Bad
• No blind spot information system available

The Ugly
• CVT on sport utility may be a turn off