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December 03, 2012

The 2013 Nissan Pathfinder Takes a New Road

IMG_0010Calistoga, California: Nissan’s fourth-generation Pathfinder is completely new—and different in ways that will appeal to more women and families. The SUV weighs less, has more room and gets better fuel efficiency than the model it replaces. What’s also appealing is some clever cargo features and technology capabilities that you can’t find anywhere else in the mid-sized SUV segment. The 2013 Nissan Pathfinder is available in 2WD and 4WD versions and starts at a base MSRP of $28,270, while top-of-the-line Platinum versions start at $40,770. Its competitors are the Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot/Passport, Toyota Highlander/4Runner, and the Chevy Traverse/Trailblazer.

IMG_0082 Nissan brought a group of automotive testers to the Solage Calistoga Hotel and Spa to cool our heels at night in quiet luxury, and spend our days motoring on the Calistoga Wine Trail, along twisty and scenic coastal routes. We also drove the 4WD version of the Pathfinder on the dirt track of a nearby ranch, and used the SUV to tow a trailer to assess its pulling prowess. Just as many modern SUVs have evolved, the Pathfinder’s looks have changed to give it a more car-like, crossover appearance. The new model is lighter by some 500 pounds, more aerodynamic, and has changed from body-on-frame architecture to a unibody build; this makes it ride less like a truck and more like a minivan. Pathfinder’s front end is distinguished by an attractive curved grille, dominated by a large Nissan badge and backed by a black honeycomb design; it stretches like a pair of wings across the entire front end. Large halogen headlamps wrap around to the sides. Optional fog lamps are mounted in the lower part of the grille. The roofline slants downward from the shoulders to the tail end, giving the Pathfinder a more coupe-like stature despite its longer, three-row size. Character lines scoop out the middle section like a waist, and the rear liftback has an integrated spoiler. Standard wheels are 18-inch alloys, with bold 20-inch wheels available on the highest-end models. Inside, Pathfinder is bigger than the previous generation version by 8.4 cubic feet overall, and there is ample room for seven passengers in the three rows of seats.

IMG_0072The second row splits 60/40 and can slide back and forth, while keeping a child safety seat latched in (remember to remove the child first!) – the second row moves five-and-a-half inches to give good access to the third row, which splits 50/50. The third row also reclines, and both rows can fold flat to help stow large cargo. There’s also under-floor storage behind the third row. Base trim Pathfinders get new cloth upholstery, while uplevel trims get leather– heated front seats also are standard on top-flight versions. An AM/FM/CD 6-speaker stereo is standard, as is a four-inch color display mounted in front of the driver, which includes vehicle diagnostics and other information. A seven and eight-inch color display is used for infotainment, as well as Bluetooth, a DVD entertainment system and other technology features that are available. All new Pathfinders have a V6 engine that gets 260 horsepower and 240 lb.-ft. of torque; it is coupled to to a continuously variable transmission (CVT); the set-up is the same for 2WD or 4WD versions. Higher-end Pathfinders also have Nissan’s ALL-MODE 4x4-I system, which is engineered with selectable 2WD, Auto or 4WD Lock modes. Fuel economy estimates are 26 mpg highway/20 mpg city for 2WD models and 25/19 mpg highway/city for 4WD models. The sport ute’s top towing capacity is 5,000 pounds. Pathfinder rides on a suspension that is comprised of stabilizer bars in front and the back, with front independent struts and rear multi-link configurations. Vehicle dynamic control and hill start assist are standard technologies, as are six airbags and a tire pressure monitor system. A 360-degree view of the environs immediately around the vehicle is available through the optional Around View sensor system. Four-wheel vented disc brakes with ABS are standard. We drove the new Pathfinder approximately 150 miles, traveling on a wonderful collection of two-lanes from Napa Valley’s picturesque Calistoga Trail to a section of nearby coastal routes that wind around eucalyptus forests and cypress groves, and ascend and descend the hilly terrain that abuts the Pacific Ocean.

IMG_0032We started our evaluation with the base S model and noted the brightened and upgraded interior, with comfy ergonomics for driver and front seat passenger, plus good second-and third-row seat roominess-there is true ease-of-access to the back row. Nissan claims best-in-class (BIC) passenger volume; BIC front head and leg room; and class-exclusive 3rd-row reclining seats, a latch and glide system for 2nd row seats and the EZ Flex seating system-what this means is a more luxurious ride and some innovation to have elbow room, plus a straightforwardness to get smaller riders situated in all rows. Pathfinder’s unibody ride is more ‘car-like’ and Nissan’s engineers have worked the mo-jo to make the cockpit whisper-quiet. Our only complaint was the steering feel with the base Pathfinder’s 18-inch tires; we found it worked well while motoring straight and with small turns, but required some slight corrections when powering through hard corners.

IMG_0024The Platinum edition brought a dual panoramic moonroof, a host of additional infotainment and technology features and larger 20-inch rubber underneath, which also removed our small complaint about the steering in hard corners-- the 20-inchers carved masterfully! The 2013 Nissan Pathfinder comes in four trim levels: S ($28,270 2WD; $29,870 4WD), SV ($31,530 2WD; $33,130 4WD), SL ($34,470 2WD; $36,070 4WD) and Platinum ($39,170 2WD and $40,770 4WD). S comes with cloth seats, a 6-way manual adjusting driver’s seat, power windows and locks, AM/FM/6CD six-speaker audio system, tri-zone automatic climate control, two 12-volt power outlets and locking glovebox. SV adds a seven-inch color infotainment display, USB connection for iPod and Bluetooth connectivity, illuminated vanity mirrors, four 12-volt power outlets, leather-wrapped steering wheel, power adjusting driver’s seat, vehicle –speed sensitive wipers and silver roof rack with rails. The SL trim includes SV features plus halogen fog lamps, heated exterior mirrors, power rear liftgate, heated front seats and leather upholstery throughout, power adjusting passenger seats, heated second-row seats and auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass. ALL-MODE 4x4-I also is standard on Pathfinder SLs with 4WD. Platinum models get a heated power tilt/telescoping steering wheel, Class III trailer hitch with tow harness, 20-inch alloy wheels, heated and cooled front seats, 13-speaker Bose audio system with 8-inch color display, DVD audio/video playback and DVD-based navigation with Bluetooth streaming audio, a 120-volt power outlet and the Around View monitor system.

Sue Mead


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