Not long ago, Nissan’s Pathfinder was a sport-utility truck that was set up for off-roading and hauling gear.
Today, that tough truck has gotten a little softer and is tailored more for comfort. Oh, it can haul and is available with all-wheel-drive, but you are not going to take this vehicle off road. With its remodel for 2013, Pathfinder is pure crossover, leaning toward minivan. That’s because it rides on the Nissan Altima sedan’s platform.
The silver test vehicle, a preproduction model, was the almost upper-end SL model. A $400 towing package and the $780 delivery charge pushed the price to $37,250. You can spend less if you opt for the entry-level S model with front-wheel drive. It begins at $28,650 and bumping up to an AWD model moves you to $30,250. There’s a midlevel SV with cloth seats and then the SL, plus a Platinum edition 4×4 model at $41,150.
If mall cruising and hauling a family is your main purpose, Pathfinder is accommodating. Its interior is spacious, like a minivan, with oodles of head and legroom in the first two rows of seats, plus a third row is standard and folds easily into the rear floor to boost cargo room.
It’s easy to slide second-row seats that also will fold down for cargo carrying. Getting into the third-row seats is easy, but they’re a little short of foot space, like most large crossovers. The assumption is you’ll put kids back there.
With all the seats in place you can get 16 cubic feet of cargo in back, plus there are roof rails to hold more gear on top. These are standard, starting on the SV models and up.
The Pathfinder’s towing capacity is a decent 5,000 lbs.
Pathfinder has a stout 3.5-liter V6 that creates 260 horsepower, and links that with its excellent Xtronic CVT. The continuously variable transmission virtually eliminates the feeling of gear shifts, smoothing the crossover’s pulling power and acceleration, and it works beautifully with this engine.
Acceleration is good, but not overly strong because at 4,381 lbs. the Nissan still feels heavy, although 170 lbs. lighter than the Mazda CX-9. Getting up to highway speeds is no problem, but if you need the power quickly you’ll pay for it with a pretty growly engine during heavy acceleration.
The ride is what you’ll treasure with the Pathfinder. Gone is the trucklike bounce and jiggle. The four-wheel independent suspension makes this feel much more like a large sedan or minivan, pretty plush. Ride is cushioned, controlled and comfortable, all aided by a lengthy 114.2-inch wheelbase.
Steering feels a little vague with some wheel play. Cornering is fine. But you’re after comfort and civility here, not crisp handling.
AWD is controlled via a knob on the console. So you can go two-wheeling if you want, leave it to automatically choose when you need more traction or lock it into a 4-wheel-drive mode.
Inside, the test crossover had black leather seats and a black textured dash with dark wood-look trim on the center stack, console and doors. There was a leather steering wheel and pewter-look trim around the air vents, console, door handle surrounds and video screen.
The vehicle came with heated front and rear seats, a standard backup camera and power rear hatch, plus the leather seating. Everything was comfortable, the seat being relatively flat, with only minor contouring. The driver’s seat is powered and has two memory settings. The seat also powers back from the tilt/telescope steering wheel once the vehicle is turned off.
Climbing in and out of the Pathfinder is on par with other big crossovers and minivans, but the doors remain standard opening style, not sliders like on a minivan. That’s probably better if your kids are a little older.
While fairly quiet on the road, I noticed more wheel well noise in wet conditions than in other crossovers. Pathfinder’s main dash gauges are easy to see, but I found the radio and other information buttons to be busy, especially all the screen status buttons near the center dash info screen. The steering wheel hub is loaded up, too – a bit of information overload here.
That info screen gives you your gas mileage data and radio info, but there are 6 tiny channel selection buttons below it. Not easy to use when wearing gloves. The climate controls also include a lot of buttons beyond the three main dials, again, too much to deal with while driving.
I like the big armrest and storage bin between the front seats, and overhead the visors slide.
Nissan has dropped nearly 500 pounds in body weight from this new Pathfinder, a major reduction. The Nissan is rated at 19 mpg city and 25 highway by the EPA and gets 1 mpg better in 2-wheel-drive models. I got 17.9 mpg in about 60% city driving, with a little snow on the roads.