2013 Nissan Pathfinder

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2013 Nissan Pathfinder: Review

By Kirk Bell of MSN Autos
Rating: 9.0

Bottom Line:

Nissan made the right choice to turn the Pathfinder into a comfortable family hauler. Few buyers will miss the clunky body-on-frame design and the off-road and towing ability that came with it. The new Pathfinder is far more pleasant to drive and is a good match for a new breed of comfortable and refined midsize crossovers.
Pros:
  • A pleasure to drive
  • Room for seven
  • Fuel-efficient for this class
Cons:
  • Interior materials could be richer
  • Third-row seat is uncomfortable
  • Lacks the connectivity of most rivals

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.

Model lineup
The 2013 Nissan Pathfinder comes in four trims: S, SV, SL and Platinum. The $28,270 S trim comes with cloth upholstery, tri-zone automatic climate control, second- and third-row split-folding seats, AM/FM stereo with 6-disc CD changer, auxiliary input jack, and P235/65R18 tires on alloy wheels. The $31,530 SV adds rear park assist, 8-way power driver's seat, fold-flat front passenger seat, keyless access and starting, satellite radio, USB port, Bluetooth wireless cell-phone link, and a rearview camera. For $34,470 buyers get the SL with leather upholstery, heated front and rear seats, memory system for the driver's seat and mirrors, universal garage-door opener, remote engine starting and a power liftgate. The top of the line is the $39,170 Platinum. It comes with such features as a navigation system, Around View camera, power tilt-telescoping steering wheel, heated and cooled front seats, Bose sound system, and P235/55R20 tires.

Notable options include a dual-screen, rear DVD entertainment system and a panoramic sunroof.

Under the hood
The Pathfinder is motivated by a 3.5-liter V6 engine that puts out 260 horsepower and 240 lb-ft of torque. It is mated to a continuously variable automatic transmission that has an infinite number of gearing ratios and never shifts. The Environmental Protection Agency fuel-economy ratings are 20 mpg city/26 mpg highway with front-wheel drive and 19/25 mpg with all-wheel drive.

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.

Inner space
Competitors such as the redesigned Dodge Durango and Ford Explorer have raised the bar for interior quality among midsize crossovers. The Pathfinder doesn't quite reach those levels. While those competitors have soft surfaces on most touch points, including the dashboard, the Pathfinder has a hard plastic dash that looks about as good as plastic can look. The door tops and armrest are soft-touch, though, and the front seats are supportive, so the Pathfinder is quite comfortable.

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
The Pathfinder is 4.6 inches longer and 4.3 inches wider than the outgoing model, but it sheds 500 pounds, coming in at as little as 4,149 pounds. Many full-size cars weigh that much. The lighter weight and switch to a unibody platform make for very pleasant road manners. Handling is well controlled, almost sporty, putting the Pathfinder right up there with the Ford Explorer for dynamic capability. There is a little lean in turns, but far less than the outgoing model, and the ride is smooth. The steering is nicely weighted, especially at speed, and the brakes are strong and predictable.

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?
The redesigned Pathfinder will serve families well. It has good room for seven, with a back seat that is easy to access, although it's not as comfortable as some rivals.. It is as pleasant to drive as any vehicle in the class and is competitively priced.

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.

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BB03 - 7/30/2014 3:32:59 AM