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Road Test and Review - 2013 Nissan Pathfinder SL

Benjamin Hunting
by Benjamin Hunting
March 18, 2013
7 min. Reading Time

The 2013 Nissan Pathfinder turned a lot of heads when it was unveiled earlier this year, for a number of reasons.  The new Pathfinder replaces the previous generation's truck-based platform with a unibody design that is intended to be more comfortable and car-like, abandoning the old model's off-road pretensions.  Bigger inside, bigger outside, and boasting an entirely fresh personality, the 2013 Nissan Pathfinder is aimed at a demographic of buyers who are more interested in hauling around their families than tearing down wilderness trails with reckless abandon.

In this way the Nissan Pathfinder has matured, joining a growing list of large crossover vehicles that have traded in their full-frame roots for the more civilized trappings of lighter, more fuel-efficient designs.  Up against competition like the Ford Explorer, the Dodge Durango, and the always-lurking Toyota Highlander, the Pathfinder makes a strong play for the hearts and minds of those who aren't quite ready to lay down cash on a minivan.

2013 Nissan Pathfinder SL Review: Models and Prices

The 2013 Nissan Pathfinder is available six different trim levels, but as has become the custom for certain automakers several of these tiers can be thought of as additional options 'packages' rather than truly distinct models.  The core of the Pathfinder lineup starts with the S trim (MSRP $28,650) which includes features such as three zones of automatic climate control, a six-CD changer, power windows and door locks, and 18-inch rims.  Moving up to the Pathfinder SV (MSRP $31,910) adds a rearview camera, Bluetooth connectivity, remote unlocking and keyless ignition, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a color information screen, and power adjustments for the driver's seat.

The vehicle I drove for a week as the Pathfinder SL (MSRP $34,850) which adds to the SV's charms with fog lights, a power liftgate, heated leather seats for the first two rows, a remote starter, a power passenger seat, heated mirrors, and parking sensors.  Above the SL is the Platinum (MSRP $39,550) which includes 20-inch rims, a navigation system, the Around View 360-degree parking assistance feature, cooled front seats, and a DVD player.  The SL Premium (MSRP $37,500) is essentially a grouping of options that adds a tow package, upgraded stereo, and two panoramic moonroof openings to the Pathfinder SL, while the Platinum Premium (MSRP $41,850) installs the moonroofs and the DVD player on top of the Platinum trim's equipment.


2013 Nissan Pathfinder SL Review: Design

  • The 2013 Nissan Pathfinder offers a completely new design inside and out.

The 2013 Nissan Pathfinder presents quite a changed face when compared against the model it is replacing.  Nissan has enlarged the vehicle's grille and chrome surround, creating an angled, aerodynamic front fascia that projects strength in a much different manner than the 2012 edition, and it has also shortened the crossover's hood and done away with the older SUV's flat, rectangular greenhouse and slab sides.  In their place are curvy style lines, a subtly rising beltline, and a curved roof that gives the new Pathfinder a more dynamic appearance even when sitting still.  The vehicle's 18-inch rims do a good job of filling the vehicle's fender wells, and although a couple of inches of ground clearance have been erased from the Pathfinder's portfolio it still rides a respectable 6.5 inches above the pavement.

The interior of the 2013 Nissan Pathfinder sees a similarly radical makeover.  Most noticeable is Nissan's decision to stuff the crossover with high end materials wherever hands and fingers might encounter them.  Hard plastics are kept to a minimum, sharp edges are non-existent, and the utilitarian aspects of the previous Pathfinder have been smoothed over by a design aesthetic that is determined to reinforce the family-friendly nature of the new model.


2013 Nissan Pathfinder SL Review: Comfort and Cargo

  • The 2013 Nissan Pathfinder is substantially larger inside compared to the previous model.
  • Second row seats now slide for easier third-row access and increased overall comfort.

The driving position offered by the 2013 Nissan Pathfinder SL is excellent, with plenty of visibility available out of the front and to the sides of the large vehicle.  The rear window isn't quite as large as one would like, but that's where the rearview camera comes in (as long as it hasn’t been obscured by snow or rain).  The second row of accommodations offers reasonable mounts of legroom and the split bench also be slid back and forth without disturbing a center-mounted child seat.  The proximity of the rear bench to the floor might push a few knees up for taller passengers, but this is more of an issue in the third row which is more suitable for child-sized passengers.  Overall, the Pathfinder now provides close to 60 cubic feet of additional interior volume when contrasted against the 2012 version of the SUV, a feat made possible in part by a slight increase in overall length.

Cargo room for the 2013 Nissan Pathfinder checks in at 79.8 cubic feet in total, which is roughly equivalent to several other full-size crossovers in its class but well below the cavernous amounts of storage space offered by a minivan or a traditional full-size SUV like the Chevrolet Suburban.  Even some class-mates like the Mazda CX-9 offers more capacity for stowing gear.  With all three rows occupied, there's not a ton of room between the inside of the liftgate and the rear row's seatback, which forced me to drop it down when hauling food home from the local grocery store

(something to keep in mind when planning a family vacation).  I was very pleased, however, to see that Nissan had included a button (hidden to the left of the steering wheel underneath the dash, but still) that remotely opened and closed the power liftgate.  This feature is all too often restricted to just the vehicle's key fob, which is significantly less convenient to use when unloading.


2013 Nissan Pathfinder SL Review: Features and Controls

  • The 2013 Nissan Pathfinder joins the rest of the Nissan lineup via its modernized control surfaces and readouts.

Slipping behind the wheel of the 2013 Nissan Pathfinder put me in an environment reminiscent of the brand's newer passenger sedan efforts.  Specifically, the Pathfinder borrows much of its switchgear and information display design from the recently-released Nissan Altima, a fact that shows most strongly in the LCD screen mounted between the analog speedometer and tachometer.  This information center allows drivers to cycle through a number of screens that display efficiency data, details on the vehicle's various settings, and of course the now-common graphical representation of the automobile traveling down the road.

Everything else about the Pathfinder's feature set is as expected, with a pleasant array of knobs and buttons well-organized on the steering wheel and the center stack.  Nissan's infotainment system is easy to use and its touchscreen is logical to navigate.  I would have liked to have some of the controls found stuck under the left side of the dash moved to a more accessible location, but that's a personal preference, and there's only so much dashboard real estate to go around.


2013 Nissan Pathfinder SL Review: Safety and Ratings

  • The 2013 Nissan Pathfinder brings a new safety structure to the table for the current model year.

The 2013 Nissan Pathfinder comes with the standard array of airbags that most buyers have come to expect from a full-size crossover: dual forward units, side impact airbags mounted to the front seats, and side curtain airbags that deploy along the full length of the vehicle's passenger compartment.  It also features electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes, and traction control.  A bit more unusual is what you can't find on the Pathfinder - a blind spot monitoring system, forward collision warning, and lane departure warning are absent even from the vehicle's options list.

2013 Nissan Pathfinder SL Crash-Test Ratings:  There is no current crash test data available for the 2013 Nissan Pathfinder.


2013 Nissan Pathfinder SL Review: Engines and Fuel Economy

  • The 2013 Nissan Pathfinder gains a new V-6 engine and transmission.
  • Low-range four-wheel drive is no longer available with the crossover.

The 2013 Nissan Pathfinder adopts the 3.5-liter version of the brand's VQ six-cylinder engine, a unit that can be found under the hood of many other Nissan products (the previous version of the crossover used a larger-displacement version of the same engine).  In the Pathfinder it is rated at 260 horsepower and 240 lb-ft of torque and it is matched with a continuously-variable automatic transmission in order to maximize fuel economy.  The Pathfinder is rated by the EPA at 20-mpg in city driving and 26-mpg on the highway for the front-wheel drive edition, and 19-mpg around town and 25-mpg during stop and go driving for the all-wheel drive version that I piloted during the week-long road test.  My own fuel mileage did not come in near either of these measures, with the crossover posting a thirsty 13-mpg tally in city-heavy driving.

The vehicle's optional all-wheel drive system can be set to front-wheel mode in order to further enhance fuel savings - a bonus that I was unable to take advantage of due to the snowy weather I encountered during my driving - and it can also be 'locked on' via dial mounted on the center console when attempting to traverse particularly treacherous roads.


2013 Nissan Pathfinder SL Review: Driving Impressions

It's not hard to understand why the 2013 Nissan Pathfinder from a truck frame to what is essentially a blown-out version of the platform that anchors vehicles like the Altima and the smaller Murano crossover.  The Pathfinder's new unibody threads - and subsequent 500 lb weight loss - contribute to a driving experience that isn't exactly nimble, but which shines above those offered by similarly-sized SUVs like the Ford Expedition.  Piloting the Pathfinder down the road isn't particularly challenging as long as one keeps in mind the sheer length and height of the vehicle, and while it doesn't feel as big as a Chevrolet Traverse there is no denying that the Pathfinder's dynamics are taken from a different playbook than those of a five-passenger crossover.  Abstain from any wheel-cranking heroics and the Nissan comports itself with a smooth and comfortable decorum, but some might have trouble parking the beast due to compromised sightlines out of the rear window.

The 3.5-liter V-6 that serves as the 2013 Nissan Pathfinder's only engine option is up to the task of carting around considerable mass of the crossover.  It's not able to flex any real muscle when passing or attempting to beat the car beside you to an open spot on the boulevard ahead, however.  The continuously-variable transmission attached to the motor doesn't come across as buzzy or lazy - two of the most common faults associated with CVTs - and is a welcome companion for daily driving.  I didn't do any towing with the Pathfinder, but it's rated for 5,000 lbs of trailer weight, which is very competitive in its class.  I did get a chance to exercise the all-wheel drive system, tackling snowbanks and wet roads with the rotary knob set to automatic, and I encountered zero traction loss even when climbing a pile of the white stuff.

In fact, the only real complaint that I had during my time behind the wheel of the Pathfinder had to do with its behavior in tight corners.  More than once I found myself moving through a 90-degree turn only to find that power had been cut by the vehicle's stability control system.  Even with the accelerator pinned to the floor, forward progress was minimal.  I had to remove my foot from the pedal and then re-apply the throttle in order to get more power.  What made this quirk unusual was the fact that it always occurred at low speeds, which made me wonder if there was some disconnect between the vehicle's steering wheel position sensor and its stability control system.


2013 Nissan Pathfinder SL Review: Final Thoughts

The 2013 Nissan Pathfinder is more than just a sign of the times - it's an example of what can happen when a car company listens to what its customers are asking for out of a vehicle and then does its best to build a model that will satisfy the broadest range of potential owners.  Passenger space, cargo room, attractive looks, and above all a very reasonable pricing structure are some of the Pathfinder's strongest points, and the fact that its fuel mileage improves on the model it replaces will not be lost on shoppers feeling the pinch of higher and higher gasoline prices.  The 2013 Nissan Pathfinder doesn’t lead the full-size crossover pack in any particular category, but it does represent a strong pick for anyone seeking value in a high capacity daily driver.


2013 Nissan Pathfinder SL Review: Pros and Cons


  • Strong, stylish lines
  • Good interior room for passengers and cargo
  • Smooth ride
  • Reasonable fuel efficiency for its size
  • Extensive use of high quality materials in the passenger compartment


  • Large size inhibits maneuverability
  • Power is acceptable, but not class-leading
  • Missing advanced safety features

Nissan Canada supplied the vehicle for this review



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