Monday, August 5, 2013

Nissan Pathfinder - On a New Track

As an answer to Ford's Explorer, the original Nissan Pathfinder, based on Nissan's successful pickup truck, moved people with sport and utility.

Now, more than 25 years later, the fourth generation of 2013 moves from that truck platform to a unibody--becoming, essentially, a crossover. That's what the market is doing, too, so the timing is right. The unibody, along with other thoughtful decisions, drops weight by around 500 pounds from the old vehicle--so it is more efficient, especially with its 3.5-liter V6. It has only six fewer horsepower than the '12's larger, heavier 4.0-liter V6, adding to the fuel efficiency--or posted fuel efficiency.

As it turns out, the EPA ratings are 19 City, 25 Highway, and 21 Combined for the four-wheel-drive model (add 1 mpg for the two-wheel-drive version). I got 17.4 mpg in my week of travels. The EPA's environmental ratings are 5 for Greenhouse Gas, and a 5 for Smog, too.

To me, the Pathfinder feels large--certainly bigger than the original model. Nissan's new styling departs from the angularity of truck-based SUVs and delivers some of the molded and finessed lines of the Altima and Maxima sedans. This is a period of greater styling enthusiasm throughout the industry, so there are no more plain cars to buy. Up front is a wide, shiny chrome grille--a little retro--and the roof wears a handy rack. My Arctic Blue Metallic tester had the optional cross bars, so the rack would actually be useful for transporting luggage and not to look jaunty.

My tester, at 4,471 pounds, moved smoothly with the 3.5-liter V6. Nissan installed an XTRONIC continuously variable  automatic transmission, and with that, the car's computer can calculate exactly which ratio will work best for cruising, climbing, accelerating, or wherever the car takes you.

If you have any plans of actually using the Pathfinder offroad, there's a handy dial on the console for the 4X4i intuitive four-wheel-drive system. You can pick two-wheel drive for the most efficient travel under normal conditions. Set it to Auto mode and let the computer decide if four-wheel traction is needed, or, under real climbing or snowy/muddy/icy conditions, lock it into full-time four-wheel drive. It's easy.

What this car will do very well is carry families around. Crossover SUVs are the station wagons of today (you have to be of a certain age to even remember those big, full-size Chevy, Ford, Chrysler, Dodge, Rambler and other wagons that carried people in the 1950's to 1970's. Today, of course, you can take your videos with you, and my tester--the top-of-the-line Platinum model--had the Platinum Premium Package ($2,300), so the front-seat headrests contained screens for the second- and third-row folks to view videos. You get two pairs of wireless headsets and a wireless remote to give those back seat riders all the comforts of home.

The Pathfinder offers three-row seating. I never rode anywhere but the driver's seat, but my full-grown, six-foot-tall son told me that the second row accommodations had plenty of legroom, but that the lower cushion felt too low, and that his knees rode too high. The third row, however, is easy to access, because the middle row folds and slides out of the way, thanks to Nissan's EZ Flex Seating System.

My tester, loaded with everything imaginable, had Nissan's AroundView Monitor, which displays what's behind you when you're backing up, but beside it is an image of your car--from above! You can see the cars parked next to you and anything else--including children, Big Wheels, pets, boxes, planter boxes. It's almost impossible to run over something in this car.

I commuted in the Pathfinder, and that's where I got familiar with the interior. There are good sight lines, a pleasant, light-filled Almond space with soft-looking dash and doors (made of hard plastic), and jaunty angled door handles. The chrome-in-silver settings were posh. It sounds like a bad stereotype, but this new Pathfinder feels more feminine. It's a good chance that the driver will be female--a mom or just an adventurous woman with lots of friends--but there's nothing left that's truckish here.

Pathfinders come in four ascending levels: S, SV, SL, and Platinum. No car leaves the factory these days "stripped," but I know that my Platinum model was the big cheese here. If your interests are about moving people and gear, you don't need more than the S. It has a urethane wheel--the other models get leather. There's no Bluetooth. The seats are cloth in the S and SV--not leather. No satellite radio in the S. It doesn't get much in the way of option packages. But the Platinum is loaded--from it's 20-inch alloy wheels up.

Maybe "stripped" has taken on a new meaning. Every car has air conditioning, power windows, locks and mirrors and some kind of audio system these days. I'm guessing that they don't sell that many S models, with so many other modern conveniences like Bluetooth missing, but the price is surely a factor--both for affordability and for advertising. It starts at only $28,650. All four models offer two- or four-wheel drive, so the top model is the four-wheel-drive Platinum, like my test car--at $41,150. My tester came to $44,395 with its extra package and shipping.

That puts the Pathfinder in plenty of company. Built in Smyrna, Tennessee, it's big, comfy, attractive and wears the latest styling. Nissan has every reason to expect further success. I just wish it could get more than 20 miles per gallon.

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