Car reviews - Nissan - Pathfinder - range
Packaging, functionality and usability of the second and third row, improved ride, thoughtful storage options and cabin touches, visibility, space
Room for improvement
Foot operated park brake, dowdy dashboard design, slow tailgate operation
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21 Mar 2017
THE last time Nissan introduced a new Pathfinder, it was a bit controversial.
What once was a go-anywhere, hard-edged Navara-based off-roader had morphed into a seven-seat soft-roader that could be easily described as a soccer mum car.
This time around, Nissan is introducing a mid-life facelift of the US-sourced R52-series model that lobbed in late-2013. The refresh ushers in a new face, some added optional safety bits, tweaks to the V6 engine and better connectivity.
Pricing stays largely as is – except for a $500 increase to the base 2WD ST – but buyers get more kit than the outgoing model.
On the outside, the Pathfinder receives sharper front-end styling than the model it replaces, giving it a more modern look and helping keep it fresh against the striking Mazda CX-9, the recently updated Toyota Kluger and the handsome Kia Sorento.
The tail-lights have also been updated and the new contrasting black alloy wheels give it a stronger presence in the metal.
It is probably not the design leader in its segment but it’s hard to complain about the overall look of the Pathfinder.
The changes to the SUV’s exterior and underpinnings have not been replicated in the cabin and that is a shame.
Apart from a new driver display in the instrument cluster and an 8.0-inch touchscreen, there is nothing new with the dash. It maintains its button-heavy look and it is starting to look seriously old compared to the cabins of its rivals, notably the CX-9 and Sorento.
Everything functions as it should, but the overall look and feel of the dash holds the Pathfinder back. We also don’t care for a foot-operated park brake.
Why do car-makers insist on fitting cars with these things?Luckily, there are a lot more positives to be found in the rest of the cabin.
Up front, it is easy to find an excellent driving position in the big comfy and supportive seats. In base ST guise, the cloth trim looks and feels high quality. In fact we preferred it over the black leather-appointed seats in the top-spec Ti, but we understand most parents would rather the leather for easy child mess clean ups.
Visibility is best in class thanks to the low window frames and narrow D-pillar, but if you need more help, reversing sensors and an around-view camera with predictive guidelines makes parking easier.
Second-row accommodation is impressive, with a firm but comfortable pew, and there is loads of head, knee and legroom. Toe room under the front seat is limited, however.
Occupants in the second and third row have plenty of storage options – there are 10 cupholders throughout the cabin – as well as air vents.
There is a nifty plastic step into the flat second row floor that helps avoid messy carpet on a wet day, and a rubber seal on the wheel arch to mitigate against people getting dirty pants when loading kids or shopping into the back door.
Nissan says the Pathfinder is a real seven seater and it is not wrong. Getting into the third row is a cinch thanks to the slide and tilt second-row seats, which can even be moved when there is a child seat attached.
There is ample room for young ones to sit in the third row for longer journeys and the abundance of glass – including the panoramic roof in ST-L and Ti – means it doesn’t feel like a dark cave back there.
Nissan has added a motion sensor power tailgate to the Ti grade, which, like other systems, operates when the user has the key in their pocket and uses a kicking motion under the rear bumper.
We are happy to report that it works, but the power tailgate is slow to open and close.
First up on our drive from the New South Wales snow fields to the southern coast, we sampled the base ST in all-wheel-drive guise which is priced from $45,490 plus costs.
It is powered by a worked-over version of Nissan’s 3.5-litre V6 that delivers an extra 12kW/15Nm for an output of 202kW/340Nm and Nissan has tweaked the suspension tune to make it a bit stiffer than before.
There was never a huge problem with the V6, but the Pathie is heavy so an extra bit of grunt is welcome.
In a straight line the Nissan is no slouch, but as mentioned it has a fair bit of heft to haul so don’t expect supercar zero to 100km/h times. It is not as sprightly as the CX-9 with its segment-leading 2.5-litre turbo four-pot, but getting away at the lights and overtaking is a breeze.
The changes to the suspension have made a subtle difference to the ride and handling, with the SUV not feeling quite as floaty as before – it’s a bit more tied down now, but without impacting ride comfort.
It still feels like you are driving a lounge suite, but pushing the Pathfinder through some twisty mountain roads, there seems to be less bodyroll than before.
The steering, which has also been tweaked, is mostly crisp and nicely weighted, but not as sharp as a smaller car. On that note, the Pathie feels smaller on the road than it looks.
Next up, the all-wheel-drive Hybrid Ti flagship that is priced from a hefty $69,190 featured a drab dark grey leather interior that was only broken up by the contrasting cream ceiling.
The supercharger in the hybrid powertrain ensures that under hard acceleration, the Hybrid does not sound as nice as the V6, but in terms of acceleration and overall performance, it is difficult to differentiate between the petrol-electric variant and the V6.
There is a slight fuel economy advantage with the Hybrid (8.6-8.7L/100km vs 9.9-10.1L/100km) but in all other areas they are much the same. If you dig the technology and think you can save a bit on fuel costs, go for the hybrid, but be aware if you like towing things, the V6 can haul 2700kg compared to 1650kg for the Hybrid.
If anything, the Hybrid felt slightly heavier than the V6 when tipped into corners.
The new-gen Xtronic continuously-variable transmission (CVT) paired with both powertrains is stepped now so feels more like a traditional torque converter auto, and that’s a good thing. It’s a much improved unit.
The driving route took us on some unsealed dirt roads and it was a wet morning in NSW. We were pleasantly surprised by how grippy the Pathfinder was on this terrain, thanks largely to the ‘auto’ function on the all-wheel-drive system and the likely intervention of the traction control.
Even when pushed, the Pathfinder did not embarrass itself on the dirt and was actually quite a bit of fun.
The big Nissan is a funny proposition. It is not the class leader – the Mazda CX-9 owns that title for now – and it doesn’t do everything perfectly, but it is also one of the more complete offerings in the segment.
It drives and rides well and has solid standard features for the price, but it is its usability as a real-world seven-seat family SUV that should put it on more shopping lists.
People with kids that need the space and want their kids to be happy in both seating rows would be wise to compare the Pathfinder against its key competitors.
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