It’s a sign of the times that sport utility vehicles are trading in their body-on-frame construction to go the unibody route. Buyers want crossovers that drive like cars, not squared-off rigs that behave like pickup trucks. Additionally, switching to unibody construction allows engineers to shave down curb weight figures, which in turn helps drive up fuel economy numbers. It’s a win-win situation for automakers and the average consumer.
The latest machine to enter the universe of unibody is the all-new 2013 Nissan Pathfinder. Built on the same platform as the recently launched Infiniti JX35, the Pathfinder looks to bring a refined driving experience along with class-leading fuel economy into the three-row crossover SUV segment. It may have gotten soft on us, but it might also be better prepared to take on the rest of the competition by doing so.
If you’re a fan of Nissan in the slightest, then you already know what to expect with regards to trim levels for the new Pathfinder. Starting at the bottom of the group is the Pathfinder S with its $28,270 price tag. From there you move up to the SV, which starts out at $31,530, and move on up to the SL trim that costs $34,470. Finally, you can opt for the top-of-the-line Pathfinder Platinum and you’ll need at least $39,170 to do so.
Those prices are for front-wheel-drive examples, but the Pathfinder is also available with four-wheel-drive. The S 4WD starts at $29,870 and the SV 4WD is $33,130. Further up the chain is the SL 4WD that is priced at $36,070. Finally, the Platinum 4WD costs $40,770.
There are just three easy options packages offered if you wish to enhance the Pathfinder over the base equipment. The SL Premium Package, available not so shockingly on the SL trim, will run you $2,650. This adds a premium Bose 13-speaker audio system, 120V power outlet, a dual panorama moonroof, and a few other premium amenities. Those who purchase a Pathfinder Platinum can step up to the Platinum Package, which costs $2,300 and adds a pair of seven-inch monitors in the back of the front headrests, wireless headphones, and a few more items to up the lux a little bit more. Finally, SL and SV Pathfinders can be equipped with a Trailer Tow Package that adds a tow hitch receiver and costs $400.
No longer a sizable SUV with off-road chops, the Pathfinder now faces down the likes of the Ford Explorer, Chevrolet Traverse and the Dodge Durango. All are priced similarly across their respective trim lines, offer front and four or all-wheel-drive, and boast seating for at least seven passengers. The 2013 Pathfinder has an ace up its sleeve though, for those of you who are conscious of how much fuel your machine is sipping.
Thanks to the 3.5-liter V6 under the hood, the 2013 Nissan Pathfinder offers up a class-leading 26 miles per gallon on the highway. That’s two to three miles more than the competition. Additionally, the Pathfinder is good for 22 miles per gallon in combined driving.
Nissan worked hard to sculpt the lines of the all-new Pathfinder, and offered up the chance to pen the design as a competition amongst the automaker's global design studios. It was truly a world-wide effort as the initial design was provided by Europe, Japan provided feasibility analysis of the design, and the U.S. studio finalized the work.
The result is what Nissan refers to as a ‘Smart Fusion’ and ‘Dynamic Adventure’. Marketing speak aside, we believe it’s a good-looking machine that blends in with both the lower end of the Nissan family while aspiring to a similar look as the upscale offerings from sibling Infiniti. Still, we are a bit sad to see it stray from its blockier roots.
The fresh, forward-thinking look isn’t just aesthetically pleasing but also offers better visibility to those inside. The shoulder line swoops from the lamps back to the tail, and carries a bit of the side daylight opening along with it. This means that more light enters the cabin, and the driver has a better view of things outside of the vehicle.
It’s not all about the driver on the inside of this three-row crossover SUV, but he or she does get special attention. Everything is within easy reach and clearly visible, which means less time for one’s eye to leave the road in order to find a button or menu option. Additionally, the gauges received a nice upgrade that leaves them looking very reminiscent of a high-end chronograph watch.
Since passengers have to be comfortable too, Nissan equipped the Pathfinder with its patented EZ Flex and Latch and Glide seating systems. The second row can be adjusted up to five inches backwards and forwards. This creates more legroom when necessary for third-row passengers, or allows for increased comfort when there’s no one in the last row. The Latch and Glide system, first shown on the Infiniti JX35, means that parents don’t have to worry about removing a child seat in order to reach the third row. The second row seat behind the front passenger can slide forward with such a seat in place, and it’s easy to use as well.
Just like its Infiniti sibling, the 2013 Nissan Pathfinder has been fitted with a 3.5-liter V6 engine that’s a part of the award-winning VQ series of motors. This unit is good for 260 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque, and it’s paired with a CVT. The idea of using such a transmission sounds odd at first, but Nissan engineers worked very hard to make sure it can handle the job of hauling around the Pathfinder.
In fact, a new chain drive system ensures that the Pathfinder has no trouble out on the road, especially when towing stuff behind it. The Pathfinder is rated to haul up to 5,000 pounds, and it does so with relative ease, thanks in part to the downhill towing speed control system.
Nissan offers the new Pathfinder with either front or four-wheel-drive. Fuel economy for the front drivers is rated at 20 miles per gallon in the city, and 26 miles per gallon on the highway. The four-wheel-drive Pathfinder loses just one mile per gallon in both the city and on the highway. On top of that, the four-wheel-drive version is equipped with a driver selectable setup that can be placed into 2WD, Auto (Intuitive 4WD), or a locked 4WD mode for trickier terrain.
We’re not going to say we were excited to hop into the new Pathfinder and hit the road. Looking at the specs left us a bit cold, and we expected to be a bit bored with this one.
We were wrong…
The 2013 Nissan Pathfinder has matured, and it’s done so in a rather remarkable way. Nissan managed to drop 500 pounds from the curb weight, which is a massive step in the right direction of aiding fuel economy and driving enjoyment. The result is a soft-roader that rides like a premium sedan out on the highway, yet can be pushed through all-weather situations with comfortable confidence.
It’s not a dulled down machine and there’s even a bit of engine roar when the gas pedal is depressed. Additionally, the CVT has been perfectly tuned to handle the vehicle. It’s no secret that the average CVT leaves a lot behind when it comes to enjoying the experience behind the wheel, yet Nissan has found a way to keep everyone happy in this application.
The new Pathfinder handles itself wonderfully out on the road, both on the highway and around town. The suspension keeps the ride perfectly firm without sacrificing the comfort of those onboard, and the brakes easily haul in the heft. In fact, it’s not even that much heft thanks to all the weight saving measures.
Typically when we test a vehicle like this, we expect to far undercut the projected fuel economy figures. Again, we were pleasantly surprised because we had spent a day thrashing the machine both on-road and off of it and the central display between the gauges showed a few ticks over 22 miles per gallon. It was spot on with what Nissan told us to expect.
Grabbing a bit of tech from the Infiniti parts bin, Nissan has fitted the Pathfinder with the AroundView monitor system. This unit works with multiple cameras, a sonar system, and the rear view monitor to create a bird’s eye view of the area around the Pathfinder. You can see potential danger in every direction should it be presenting itself.
Another great “safety” feature is offered up for those with children. The Pathfinder is available with a tri-zone entertainment system that allows kids to watch something different on each of the two rear monitors. The third portion of the tri-zone system is for the driver up front, who can choose to listen to music rather than another episode of Yo Gabba Gabba!
We consider this one of the greatest safety features available on the 2013 Pathfinder.
We mourn the loss of the body-on-frame Pathfinder that we know and still love. We also welcome the arrival of the all-new 2013 Pathfinder because it’s a whole lot better than we expected it to be. Class-leading fuel economy, dynamic styling, and interior comfort have us pondering how the three-row segment is going to shake out. The other guys better be paying close attention because we think Nissan has done a lot right with its latest iteration of the Pathfinder. It drives nicely, hauls easily, runs efficiently and is priced the same as the rest.
The Nissan Pathfinder is dead. Long live the Nissan Pathfinder.
(Also… if you still need to go off-road, there’s always the XTerra.)
-Class-leading fuel economy. -A CVT that actually doesn’t bore us to tears. -AroundView monitor keeps an eye on potential hazards.
-Via con dios, body-on-frame Pathfinder. -Why not stuff the 3.7-liter or 5.6-liter in there for a Sport version?
Test vehicle courtesy of Nissan. Photos by Jeff Glucker.