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Nissan Pathfinder SL – Driving Report

suv 2x4 blueThe Pathfinder is a long familiar name in utility and sturdiness. Its very name implies forging trails ahead and going the road less travelled. Over recent years, though, the Pathfinder has gotten softer, less rugged, and more appealing to suburban housewives than anyone thinking about going off road. For 2013, we have the new fourth generation Pathfinder, and Nissan is describing it as the “perfect family adventure vehicle”. It has some refinements and definite improvements over the vehicle that it replaces, but is that enough to make it worth considering?
Our test car was a front-drive model (four-wheel drive is an available extra) equipped with the SL Premium package, and on the outside that doesn’t really do anything extra for you. The Pathfinder is about as good looking as competitors like the Chevy Traverse and the Mazda CX-9, but no more really. The 18-inch alloy wheels do help, and in the right color it can actually be kind of sharp. Plus, thanks to spoilers, rear tire deflectors and rear suspension fairings, the Pathfinder has a 13% better drag coefficient than the old version. Of course it’s not the looks that draw people to cars like this, and the inside of the Pathfinder for the most part does quite well. Placed in the popular and competitive seven-passenger SUV segment, it has an impressive level of room thanks to the ability of the second and third rows to fold flat for big time cargo space. The unibody construction that Nissan now uses in place of the old Pathfinder’s body-on-frame design also keeps the floors flatter for more space, and there is even more storage in the back underneath the floor.
The SL package gets you leather, optional Bose Premium Audio speakers and the new Advanced Drive Assist Display screen with the rear view monitor. This is a big help with parking, and the kids always seem to like it for some reason. This 4-inch color display is situated between the tach and the speedo, but an 8-inch touch screen in the center of the dash for connectivity and radio settings is also available. What our test car did not have was navigation. Yes, built-in navigation is a privilege not a right, but for a car that comes in at $38k and is labeled “Premium”, we just sort of expected it and was a little confused when it wasn’t there. To get it, you have to go “Platinum”, and one of those Pathfinders run well over forty grand. Overall, though, the interior was still quite nicely finished and other than the navigation it has and does everything you would want of such a car.
Moving the Pathfinder is a 3.5 liter V-6 mated to a CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) automatic equipped with a manual mode for when you’re feeling a little sporty. The motor makes 260 horsepower, and while that’s four less than the old 4.0 you used to get in the Pathfinder, this new version is 500 pounds lighter, again thanks to that up-to-date unibody structure. That light weight helps the Pathfinder get best in class fuel economy of 20 city and 26 highway miles per gallon. It feels light, too, surprisingly so, and it’s tossable enough to have fun with if you feel so inclined.
All things considered, we found this particular seven-passenger SUV a bit underwhelming. It’s respectable as an all-rounder and is certainly capable of most anything you’d ever really need it for, but it’s hard to get over the price. A loaded Pathfinder might actually seem like a bargain compared to its upmarket sister the Infiniti JX35, but against anything else it’s a tough pill to swallow. Cars like the Honda Pilot and Ford Explorer have been outselling the Pathfinder by huge margins for some time now, and though this new version is competitive, it’s not really enough of a standout to win too many people away from their more familiar small SUV’s.

2013 Nissan Pathfinder SL
Base Price: $34,470
Options: Roof Rail Cross Bars, $300; Carpeted Floor Mats, $200; Illuminated Kick Plates, $275; SL Premium Package, $2,650
As Tested Price: $38,720
Engine Type: DOHC V-6
Displacement: 3.5 liters
Power: 260 @ 6,400 rpm
Torque: 240 lb/ft @ 4,400 rpm
Transmission: Continuously Variable Automatic
Curb Weight: 4,204 pounds
Fuel Economy: 20 mpg city, 26 mpg highway
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[Source: Nissan]