Car reviews - Nissan - Pathfinder - range
Conservative good looks, decent ride and handling, genuinely roomy interior for seven adults, city-friendly combination of CVT with V6 engine
Room for improvement
Interior fit-out already feels dated, low-set instrument cluster, petrol-only line-up limits appeal, limited benefit from AWD system, questionable value in top-spec Ti, big fuel use
31 Oct 2013
PATHFINDER was once an adventure vehicle. Rugged in construction, it dumped its thirsty petrol engines in favour of torquey, fuel-sipping diesels in a package more comfortable tackling the tough Canning Stock Route than congested back streets.
With this new generation, it crosses the divide into lifestyle vehicles with more city-bred cache. There’s no diesel, either, and just the promise of a far-off petrol-electric hybrid with a supercharged V6.
It’s a good-looking thing to behold, losing the long, lanky, narrow, squared-off looks of the off-road Pathie for smooth, sweeping, Toyota Kluger-esque proportions.
The only real carry-over from the previous generation of the vehicle bearing the same name is the seven-seat layout – and that’s the last valid comparison we are going to make with the old one, by the way. They share nothing else.
Open the driver’s door to the Pathfinder, and you’re presented with a modern-looking, car-like interior that is modestly understated, with nice brushed chrome-look highlights and matte black plastics.
A large seven-inch colour screen with a reversing camera function sits high on the dash of our mid-specification ST-L that we’re driving, framed with air vents and perched above a dial ringed in buttons for working the multimedia interface, and the controls for the tri-zone climate control that is standard across the range. The leather-wrap steering wheel looks classy, and isn’t too fussy with buttons for cruise control, Bluetooth phone and audio functions.
The wide centre console running between the comfortable, supportive front seats is surprisingly devoid of clutter, featuring only toggle switches for the heated front seats, a couple of extremely generous-sized cupholders, and a dial for the on-demand all-wheel-drive system that mainly keeps the Pathfinder in front-wheel-drive mode.
There are problems, though. The first is a kludgy foot-operated parking brake that clutters up the footwell – a strange carryover on a brand-new, ground-up vehicle that suggests maybe it is not so new underneath – and the instrument cluster, which has a couple of issues.
The first is that it sits way too low on the dash. The top of the binnacle cover is almost at the same height at the dash, so to catch a glimpse of the speedo, the driver has to move his or her eyes a long way down from the road.
In an age when cruising as little as 3km/h above the speed limit can cost you hundreds of dollars in fines, it is unacceptable.
Therein lies the second problem – there’s no driver aids to make things better.
This is a brand new design and apart from a tyre pressure monitor there is little to show it. There’s no low-dash friendly digital speedo, or a head-up display.
In fact, look around, and the Pathfinder brings little new to the seven-seat SUV scene. A DVD player? Toyota’s Kluger already has it. Volumes of interior stash space? Ford’s Territory has done it for years. Apart from a somewhat pointless Range Rover-like surround camera, and an entertainment system in the top-specification Ti that can push audio or video to three different users via almost redundant RCA plugs – surely it should have been USB – the Pathfinder’s innovation struggles to stand out from the crowd.
When you can afford to spend the time looking at the speedo, it’s nicely done.
It’s a standard tacho on left, speedo on right layout, but it is split by a nice LCD graphic display that shows a picture of the Pathfinder in the same colour as the exterior paint job. You can’t flick through its trip computer functions via the steering wheel, though, and instead it is set using buttons mounted on the instrument cluster binnacle.
Storage around the Pathie’s front seats is good. Door pockets are narrow, but burst with two generous-sized cupholders, and another two take the front-row count to six. There’s six more cupholders in the middle row if no one is sitting in the centre rear and the armrest is flipped down, and each of the third-row seats has another pair. That’s 14 cupholders for six occupants – and a lot of pee stops.
A storage tray up front with a couple of 12-volt sockets is handy, and there’s a long, narrow slit of a stash space by the front-seat passenger’s right knee.
It is called a map pocket, but is really only good for stashing a mobile phone and purse or wallet.
The deep lidded centre console is split between two levels, and houses a 12-volt socket, USB slot and, in our ST-L, three RCA jacks.
The second-row seats are good. The door opens wide, giving decent access to an almost flat floor, although the seats are a little flat and unsupportive with not much padding on the base for an adult-sized derriere. Still, they slide fore and aft, the seatbacks recline, all three get headrests, and the narrow centre bench gets a three-point harness.
The only issue is a distinct lack of toe room behind the front seats. This means the second-row seat needs to be further back than if the occupant was able tuck their shoes under the front seats.
At the flip of a side-mounted lever, the second-row seat flings its base upwards and the seatback forward to provide a good-sized gap for accessing the third-row seats.
Nissan boasts the rear pews are large enough for adults, and they’re right, as long as it is small adults with a degree of flexibility to fold themselves in.
Part of our drive included time in the third row, where the report came back that while there was little cushioning and support, yes, adults could spend time in the back thanks to a seating position that was not too knees-up. There was a lot of road noise, though.
If the third row is not needed, you can stow the seats and open up more boot space. The headrests drop forward, and the seatback lays down, although it does not yield a flat load space – unless we were doing something wrong.
Behind the third-row seats is a flip-up false floor that yields even more storage space. It also includes the gear to swap over to the space-saver spare wheel, including the winding hoist that lowers it from its recess behind the rear bumper.
Enough of inside, how does it drive?The US-made Pathfinder range is fitted with a 3.5-litre V6 engine mated to a continuously variable transmission – a combination that Nissan does particularly well.
It makes 190kW of power and 395Nm of torque from fairly high in the rev range.
The CVT is able to keep the engine in its sweet spot, maximising torque under light throttle and maximising power under a big push of the long-travelling pedal.
Around town, you never notice the strange, slipping clutch sound the drivetrain makes, and the Pathfinder easily keeps up with the cut and thrust of day-to-day traffic.
It rides well, too, soaking up lumps and bumps comfortably and with little fuss. Our drive on backroads south of Canberra took us over some quite rough roads that looked more like a layout for a long-distance hopscotch tournament, and the 18-inch Continental tyres soaked up everything without fuss.
Surprisingly, in our time behind the wheel of the 20-inch Bridgestone-clad Ti range-topper, the ride was almost exactly the same despite the harder-riding, low-profile tyres.
However, the Pathie does have a high centre of gravity, so stringing a few corners together will have the big SUV shaking its head like a dog as the weight moves from one side to the other.
It’s also not much chop if you enter a corner too quickly. Understeer, where the nose runs wide instead of following the corner, arrives quickly if the Pathfinder is driven enthusiastically, with the electronic stability control cutting in late to scoop things up.
The all-wheel-drive system underpinning the Pathfinder is a bit of a mystery.
It drags the SUV along using the front wheels up until the point it thinks some rear drive is also needed.
We tested it on a dirt road from a standing start, where according to the trip computer’s torque-vectoring graphic it only pushed 30 per cent of the drive to the rear wheels under hard acceleration from a standing start. Pushing hard around corners on dirt, only about five per cent of the drive made it to the rear hoops. Cornering quickly from a standing start on a bitumen road used about 25 per cent.
In theory, the Pathfinder should only use about 10.2 litres of regular unleaded per 100 kilometres (front-drive versions are rated at 9.9L/100km). On our test, driving country roads resulted in a figure closer to 13-15L/100km – albeit with a bit of irregular behaviour behind the wheel. We will have to wait until it lands in GoAuto’s garage before making a call on that.
The usefulness of the all-wheel-drive system, which adds as much as $4100 to the top-spec Ti but only $3000 to the entry-level ST, is questionable if all this Pathfinder is built to do is ferry children to soccer practice.
So too is the $10,000-plus premium Nissan is asking for the jump from the mid-specification ST-L to the range-topping Ti.
On paper, you only need to spend $2300 on an option pack for the mid-spec car to add Ti-spec fruit including a surround view camera, satellite navigation, a bigger 8-inch LCD screen, and a premium 13-speaker audio system.
OK, so you miss out on a second sunroof over the second-row seats, DVD players built into the back of the front-seat headrests, more RCA plugs and a cooling function for the front seats, but on all accounts, it is one example of where shopping further down the product range can generate much better value.
Nissan’s Pathfinder, then, hides some pretty big changes behind a fairly long-running name that stood for something entirely different to what it does now.
The new Pathfinder, though, will find favour among buyers seeking off-road looks shaped to inner-city life. Those big seats, too, mean it is a rare vehicle that a family can genuinely grow into, not out of. The only thing rough about it is some of its edges.
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