Car reviews - Nissan - Pathfinder - TI
Strong and silky-smooth V6 engine, neatly integrated CVT transmission, supremely comfortable as an open-road tourer, outstanding headlight performance, capacious seven-seat cabin
Room for improvement
Penalty to pay at bowser with petrol V6, over-reliance on front-wheel-drive mode, US-market design penalties, suspect bonnet latch, electric tailgate object/occupant detection
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30 May 2018
By TERRY MARTIN
WE HAVE conflicting emotions when it comes to big, bold, brassy, built-for-America large SUVs like the latest Nissan Pathfinder.
The mighty stature, comforting nature and family orientation make the capacious seven-seat wagon instantly appealing.
But there’s a whiff of McMansion in a vehicle of this magnitude – in its size, weight, the showy facade and, before we hit the road in the top-catalogue V6-powered Ti, the energy bills that must surely follow the decision to overlook the hybrid version of the Pathfinder available for those who want to pay a $3000 premium for a cleaner conscience.
As we found in a previous road test of the 2.5-litre petrol-electric hybrid powertrain, significantly lower fuel consumption is not a given. And with no diesel engine available, that leads us to Nissan’s trademark 3.5-litre ‘VQ’ V6 – a smooth, rich and creamy engine neatly summed up in two words: comfort food.
But is it really good for us?
Price and equipment
The familiar ‘Ti’ badge denotes this Pathfinder as a top-shelf variant, priced at $66,190 plus on-road costs for the four-wheel-drive version tested here.
You can leave out the 4WD hardware and simply purchase the 2WD version, which in Ti spec starts $4000 cheaper at $62,190, while plumping for a 4WD hybrid pushes the Pathfinder ceiling to $69,190 – $3000 above the equivalent V6.
The V6 is also present in lower-grade ST-L (from $53,690) and ST trim (from $41,990), with 4WD requiring the same $4000 outlay in ST-L but a slightly less hefty $3500 for the driveline in the ST.
Features unique to the Ti grade include auto-levelling LED projector headlights – which really do provide outstanding performance on country roads – as well as 20-inch alloy wheels (with space-saver spare wheel and tyre-repair kit), remote engine start, motion-activated tailgate, automatic reverse-tilt for the exterior mirrors, cooling for the front seats (plus driver position memory) and an updated second-row entertainment system with TV screens embedded behind the front headrests, wireless headphones, remote control operation and separate HDMI/USB ports.
That there are no major options says everything about Nissan’s philosophy with its Ti grade – all the bells and whistles are here, with many headline items installed at ST-L level: front sunroof and panoramic glass roof, high-grade 13-speaker Bose stereo system, satellite navigation (with multi-touch functionality), leather seat trim accents, power-adjustable front seats (eight-way driver, four-way passenger, with heating for both), an auto-dimming rearview mirror and a variety of driver-assist safety systems.
Among the equipment fitted standard across the range is an 8.0-inch colour touchscreen, Bluetooth phone/audio connectivity (with voice recognition), tri-zone climate-control air-conditioning and keyless entry/start.
As we have detailed in previous assessments, the Pathfinder Ti is generous in size and nature, with plenty of room for seven occupants and an abundance of creature comforts – albeit with a few limiting factors that stem largely from development priorities for the US market that have not been corrected for Australia.
With the latter, we are talking about things like the larger, heavier portion of the second-row bench (combining two seating positions) being at the ‘kerb side’, making access to the third row more cumbersome than would be the case if the smaller part of the seat was on the left-hand side.
Similarly, the most recent update brought an extra child seat tether point for the third row, but positioned this on the driver’s side in the far-right corner – the most inconvenient position in the vehicle from a parent’s point of view when placing a child into a specialist seat from the roadside.
We also wonder about the reasoning behind creating gimmicky apps measuring cornering g-forces in a vehicle of this nature, when more practical displays are missing such as a digital speed readout in the instrument binnacle that provides a more accurate reading than the basic conventional speedo with 10km/h increments.
And is it the US market that still readily accepts a foot-operated park brake?
Let us hasten to add that American priorities are in many respects perfectly aligned with Australian requirements in this segment, particularly for the driver.
We value the armchair-like seat comfort that proves its worth over long-distance touring, the commanding seating position, wide-ranging electric seat and steering wheel adjustability, relatively easy-to-master steering-mounted and dashboard controls, and a wide array of storage facilities that handle drink bottles, sunglasses, phones and the flotsam that quickly accumulates in the cabin.
Rearward visibility is naturally restricted with the need to accommodate seven occupants, but the driver soon learns to rely on the cameras installed, including a 360-degree aerial view when reversing.
There is more to like further astern, including obvious attention to detail in terms of video entertainment, ventilation, power outlets, storage and, not least of all, seat comfort, adjustment and all-round versatility. Only the narrower centre position in the second row that folds down as an armrest is compromised.
With all seats upright, there is still enough cargo room to fit a decent amount of groceries, but, worryingly, the electric tailgate was found to lack sensitivity when lowering, landing a couple of minor blows before stopping on a couple of occasions.
Engine and transmission
With all that room in the cabin, with all that equipment that comes with the Ti grade and with the 4WD hardware included, the V6 petrol-powered Pathfinder tips the scales at 2070kg – without any cargo or passengers onboard – and therefore must have a strong enough engine to meet the responsibility.
And it does. The recently upgraded 3.5-litre ‘VQ35DD’ petrol V6 is a sparkling engine, now producing 202kW at 6400rpm and 340Nm at 4800rpm, and taking every situation we threw at it – city bustle, open-road touring, hilly back roads and light off-road duties – comfortably in its stride.
The engine is beautifully smooth, quiet when loping along the freeway at the national limit (spinning at 1500rpm), strong through the mid-range when the driver demands it and more than happy to be pushed into the higher regions towards redline.
That it combines with a continuously variable transmission is no drawback, the Xtronic gearbox standing as one of the more impressive CVTs – which tend cop a bad rap, often for good reason – as it builds revs upon throttle application (whether light or heavy) in a manner that doesn’t feel all that far removed from a well-sorted conventional torque-converter automatic.
There is no manual mode with simulated ratios, but no real sense that the driver needs this level of control as the CVT is clearly designed to operate like a ‘stepped’ transmission, its responsiveness is always apparent and refinement levels relatively high.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the downside comes at the bowser, with Nissan’s claimed combined-cycle figure of 10.1L/200km not reflected on our test, except when spending long periods cruising on the open road. City traffic alone pushed figures to the high teens, but over our entire test we averaged around 12.5L/100km.
Ride and handling
Nissan’s most recent efforts to improve Pathfinder’s dynamic performance – stiffening up the suspension and quickening the steering, for example – were clearly reflected on our test drive covering all manner of road conditions.
Where the vehicle impresses most is on the open road, where it acquits itself as an accomplished touring vehicle, making the most of the strong engine characteristics and proving comfortable, compliant and refined for the most part over a mix of smooth and coarse surfaces alike, sealed and unsealed.
The suspension will at times allow some harshness into the cabin, but road imperfections – big and small – are generally ironed out well just as a relatively tight rein is held on untoward body movement during quick directional changes.
The all-wheel-drive system operates with full reliance on the front wheels unless taken to extreme circumstances, so some unwanted front-drive traits such as kickback through the steering wheel on rough corners is apparent.
But the steering wheel is a faithful instrument, well weighted and quite direct for this class at higher speeds, though needing a fair bit of work when negotiating shopping centre carparks.
Dirt roads see the vehicle maintain its front-drive status and rely more heavily on its electronic handling devices rather than automatically shifting torque to the rear wheels, while on rougher tracks the driver can lock in a 50:50 front/rear torque split via the rotary dial on the centre console.
Some moderate off-roading soon proved that the Pathfinder is no match for previous incarnations based on the Navara one-tonne utility – the forthcoming Terra will take Nissan back to this mark – however the ‘Low’ setting on the CVT assists with engine braking on steeper gradients and the electronic hill-descent control system is easy to engage and proves effective in slowing the vehicle down to crawling speeds.
The brakes were up the task at hand and driver-assist systems like adaptive cruise control and blind-spot warning were quickly mastered and worked effectively.
Strong crosswinds encountered on our drive saw the Pathfinder maintain good stability, but there was clear movement with the bonnet, which looks to be related the bonnet latch. This is an area that came under scrutiny in a recall campaign a couple of years ago, and the latching on our test car clearly allowed more movement than would normally be expected.
Safety and servicing
All Pathfinders are fitted with six airbags, a reversing camera, rear parking sensors, tyre pressure monitoring system, electronic stability and traction control, and ABS brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist.
The ST-L and Ti grades also feature autonomous emergency braking, forward collision warning, intelligent cruise control, blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, an around-view monitor and a ‘moving object detection’ system that can pick up movement behind the vehicle when reversing and in front of the vehicle when driving slowly.
The current generation of Pathfinder was awarded a maximum five-star safety rating when crash-tested by the Australasian New Car Assessment Program in 2013.
Scheduled servicing for the petrol V6 is every 10,000km or 12 months (whichever occurs first), which is a lot better than the hybrid which requires servicing every six months/7000km.
When the 2017 series upgrade was introduced, the first three servicing costs for Pathfinder V6 were listed at $281 (first and third) and $383 (second).
Just as it’s easy to either criticise or embrace America’s influence on Australian culture and society, the same applies with motor vehicles that were built, first and foremost, for that authoritative market.
As it turns out, the Pathfinder is not the McMansion of the motoring world as the big dimensions, two-tonne kilo count and exterior bling suggest, for if the label was to stick it would also require the SUV to lack in quality, design execution and attention to detail.
That just doesn’t apply with the models we typically see from Nissan in Australia.
We encountered only minor flaws in a vehicle that has plenty going for it as an appealing mode of family transport, although a role restricted to suburbia will only serve to highlight the major drawback that comes with its sparkling petrol V6 engine: consumption.
Break free of those suburban shackles and a big wagon in a big country seems just as relevant here as it does in the USA.
But modern Australian life, and monthly credit card bills, should also figure in the equation.
Mazda CX-9 Azami AWD from $64,790 plus on-road costs
Right up at the pointy end of class in terms of design, execution and driving experience for a similarly US-focused model, albeit with turbo-petrol four-cylinder power.
Toyota Kluger Grande AWD from $69,617 plus on-road costs
The clever, spacious market leader among the American-bred mum-and-dad SUVs that should be on the shortlist, but requires careful scrutiny feature-for-feature.
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