2013 Nissan Pathfinder: Review
By Kirk Bell of MSN Autos
The Nissan Pathfinder dates back to 1986, a time when automakers figured everyone interested in an SUV was an adventurer. The vehicles all had macho names that suggested they were capable of exploring strange new parts of the world: Pathfinder, Explorer, Blazer. However, few people ever found new paths, forged new trails or explored the unknown in these rugged vehicles. Instead, owners used them as high-riding wagons to transport the family.
For 2013, Nissan is facing this reality by transforming the Pathfinder from a body-on-frame, off-road-ready beast into a more carlike unibody family-hauler. We drove the new Pathfinder in Napa Valley, Calif., and learned that the change is for the best.
Notable options include a dual-screen, rear DVD entertainment system and a panoramic sunroof.
Under the hood
The available all-wheel-drive system sends 100 percent of the power to the front wheels under normal driving conditions, but it can send up to half the power to the rear axle when it detects slip. It also has a 4WD lock feature that locks in a 50-50 front-rear torque split.
The dashboard layout features a 7-inch screen up top that is controlled by a cluster of buttons around a single dial below the screen. On the base version, the screen displays digital readouts of radio stations in a font that looks like it belongs in a 1980s video game. When equipped with the navigation system, it becomes an 8-inch screen and includes NavWeather, NavTraffic, and a Zagat Restaurant Guide. It doesn't, however, pair with smartphones to provide access to apps. Many competitors offer that connectivity, and so does Nissan's own compact Sentra. However, the screen does offer an Around View monitor that provides a 360-degree top-down view of the vehicle. That's quite handy when maneuvering in tight quarters.
The rear seating is versatile. The 3-passenger second-row bench seat slides forward and aft 5.5 inches. This allows passengers to maximize legroom in the second or third row, and a happy medium provides decent space in both rows. The third row, however, is best for kids since the low seat bottoms mean adults will sit knees up, which is uncomfortable on long trips. The second-row seats are also split 60/40, and they tilt and slide forward to provide a 22-inch walkthrough to the third row. That makes it easy for adults to get into the back row, and it even allows for an eight-inch walkthrough with a child seat in the second row.
While second-row space is plentiful, these seat bottoms also sit a too bit low. A pair of bucket seats with a walkthrough or a center console would also add versatility.
Total cargo space is generous, but some rivals have more. Fold down the 60/40 split-folding second row and 50/50 split-folding third row and the Pathfinder has 79.8 cubic feet of cargo space. By comparison, the Chevrolet Traverse has 116.3 cubic feet of cargo space, the Dodge Durango 84.5 cubic feet, the Ford Explorer 80.7 cubic feet, and the Honda Pilot 87 cubic feet. There is also 16 cubic feet of space behind the third-row seat, which will be just enough for a week's worth of groceries.
On the road
Despite the new crossover design, the Pathfinder keeps some of its capability. It can tow 5,000 pounds -- down from 7,000 but still quite a bit of muscle. The all-wheel-drive system is meant mostly for on-road foul-weather security, but it does have a locking center differential to give it some basic off-road ability.
The engine is Nissan's familiar 3.5-liter V6 mated to a continuously variable automatic transmission. CVTs can be annoying when paired with small, gruff 4-cylinder engines, but we find it to be perfectly livable here. The engine is refined, even at high rpm, and the CVT is quick to respond to throttle inputs. Front-drive fuel economy is a best-in-class 20 mpg city/26 mpg highway.
Right for you?
Kirk Bell has served as the associate publisher for Consumer Guide Automotive and editor of Scale Auto Enthusiast magazine. A Midwest native, Bell brings 18 years of automotive journalism experience to MSN, andcurrently contributes to JDPower.com and Kelley Blue Book's kbb.com.