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Car reviews - Nissan - Pathfinder - range

Our Opinion

We like
Seven full-sized seats, vast cabin space, surprisingly good fuel economy, cruising comfort
Room for improvement
No diesel option, frustrating continuously variable transmission, 2WD struggles for grip

Gallery

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Nissan logo11 Feb 2014

Price and equipment

In many cases the off-road prowess of a big SUV is of little concern to drivers, with most four-wheel-drives rarely leaving the black-top.

Car makers, including Nissan, have realised this and now offer the dimensions and looks of a rugged off-roader without the price-inflating equipment. It’s no surprise, then, that this generation of the Pathfinder name has none of the desert-crushing ability of its predecessor.

Nissan offers its road-focussed, US-built Pathfinder starting from $39,990 before on-road costs, Despite its low price, the entry-level Pathie ST’s equipment still runs to a Bluetooth phone connection, cruise-control, DVD player with auxiliary RCA input, keyless entry/engine start and 18-inch alloy wheels.

Stepping up to the $50,490 ST-L, tested here, adds heated front seats with electric adjustment, power adjustable steering column, self-dimming rear-view mirror, part-leather upholstery, fog lamps, heated door mirrors and a two-part sunroof consisting of a conventional hatch over the front seats and a large fixed glass roof over the rear two rows.

Both variants offer the same rugged, off-road looks and a high driving position, but features more city-friendly road-oriented tyres, and a V6 petrol engine coupled to a CVT driving only the front wheels. Optional all-paw traction on the ST-L adds $4000 to the price.

Our test car also came with the optional $2300 “Around View” 360-degree external camera package that includes a top-quality 13-speaker Bose stereo system with internal flash drive, and larger eight-inch touch-screen with satellite navigation.

The wipe-clean leather option would certainly be a luxury when cleaning up after kids and pets, but we found it hard to justify a more than $10,000 price-hike over the entry level ST.

Interior

If you needed any evidence that this car is equipped to sell well in the North American market then look no further than the cup and bottle holder count. The Pathfinder’s basic, but far from cheap-feeling, interior has 16.

As well, there is up to 2259 litres of load space with all seats stowed, four 12-volt power sockets and seven seats.

That last feature is probably the Pathfinder’s most important and valuable selling point.

But with so much space available, more than just children can occupy all the pews, with enough for fully grown adults in both the second and third rows.

Access to all rows is straightforward with a clever tilt-and-slide arrangement for third-row access. The second row also slides forward, giving third-row passengers all the legroom they need.

The full-size seats in the rear offer good levels of comfort, giving a light and airy feel via generously proportioned windows and sunroof.

The second-row ventilation controls, and air vents in the second and third rows, are also very welcome.

Nissan has done a particularly good job with both the information and entertainment system’s ease of use and the rich-sounding Bose stereo, but the curious Bluetooth phone-pairing process requires a single handset to be paired twice – once for music streaming and a second time for phone use.

Access to the generous boot is also good, but the tall tailgate didn’t open high enough to prevent the edge becoming a hazard to taller users.

Engine and transmission

With an increasing demand for diesel engines in most passenger car segments, we were surprised to see no oil-burning option for the Pathfinder.

The 3.5-litre V6 petrol fitted standard across the range is a perfectly good engine, offering smooth and broad power across its rev range. It works very well in something like the new Nissan Altima, but in something as massive as the Pathfinder it becomes a little breathless.

That said, once up and running on the freeway with air-conditioning turned off, the very quiet normally aspirated petrol engine managed a surprisingly good fuel efficiency figure of 9.4 litres per 100km – decent for a vehicle weighing in at 1960kg and better than Nissan’s own combined figure of 9.9L/100km.

A continuously variable automatic transmission does a reasonable job of sending power to the two front wheels. It turns the engine note into a constant drone, but it extracts the most from the smooth and relatively torque-laden V6 engine under most driving conditions.

However, there was the odd clunk and jolt from the driveline when pulling away quickly.

A “Sport” button on the gear selector holds a slightly higher engine speed when pressed.

Ride and handling

It does not take much to get the Pathfinder’s front tyres complaining on twisty roads, and traction on both sealed and unsealed surfaces proved problematic at times. However, point-to-point pace is not the Pathfinder’s intended purpose.

Winding back the speed a notch and letting the lumbering Nissan take its time reveals its impressive cruising ability and comfort.

On the freeway, cabin noise is very low and the generous seats provide lounge-like comfort suited to extended journeys.

On rougher unsealed roads, the generous ground clearance and soft suspension absorbed much of the corrugations.

Despite its size, the large Nissan is easy to maneuver at low speeds and in more urban environments, enabled by a high seating position and the effective surround-view camera display.

The variable electric power steering is light at low speeds for easy parking, but if the steering wheel is spun rapidly, the power assistance sometimes struggles to keep up.

Safety and servicing

The Pathfinder has scored a top five-star ANCAP crash rating, and includes a tyre pressure monitor, six airbags including side curtain ones that extend to the third row, and all the expected electronic stability control and braking aids.

The Pathfinder is covered under the ‘myNissan’ capped-price servicing program, and has a three-year, 100,000km extendable warranty.

Verdict

Nissan’s Pathfinder may have a name that suggests it can tackle some pretty gnarly terrain, but with only the front wheels driven by a V6 petrol engine, the FWD ST-L is probably more suited to the already-discovered bitumen path.

However, if carting a serious amount of luggage, or up to seven fully-grown adults in comfort is a regular thing, then the big Nissan is well worth a look.

Unless you absolutely insist on an easy-clean leather interior and a few extra comfort-oriented trinkets, you could save yourself more than $10,000 and stick with the already well-equipped entry-level ST.

OK, so the latest Nissan Pathfinder has now lost its appeal as a knobby-tyred rock-hopper poised to spend the weekend battling mountains.

However, if you can find a sealed road to the summit, it will take you there with all the friends and gear you can pack.

Rivals

Toyota Kluger KX-S 2WD ($51,490 before on-road costs)Due for replacement soon, the big seven-seat Toyota also uses a 3.5-litre petrol engine but mated to a conventional five-speed automatic. A slightly higher price tag and softer on-road dynamics hurt.

Ford Territory 2.7 TS 2WD ($50,240 before on-road costs)For similar money to the Pathfinder, Ford can offer a good-looking rear-drive SUV with a more practical diesel engine under the bonnet. Still one of the most family-friendly interiors on the market, but in two years’ time it’s all over.

Hyundai Sante Fe Highlander ($51,490 before on-road costs)Hyundai also offers the Santa Fe with a 2.2-litre diesel option, but at this price it adds all-wheel drive with a six-speed automatic and rich equipment level. Dynamically inferior, and third-row seats are for young children only.

Specs

MAKE/MODEL: Nissan Pathfinder ST-L 2WD
ENGINE: 3.5-litre naturally aspirated V6
LAYOUT: Front-engine, front drive
POWER: 190kW@6400rpm
TORQUE: 325Nm@4400rpm
TRANSMISSION: Continuously variable transmission
FUEL: 9.9L/100km
EMISSIONS: 233g/km CO2
WEIGHT: 1960kg
SUSPENSION: Macpherson (f)/multilink(r
STEERING: Electric assist rack and pinion
BRAKES: Vented disc(f)/ vented disc(r)
TOWING CAPACITY: 750kg unbraked/2700kg braked
PRICE: From $50,490 before on-roads

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