2013 Nissan Pathfinder

Despite size increase, seven-seat SUV loses weight, promising notably greater gas mileage

Newly redesigned, the 2013 Nissan Pathfinder has lost some 500 pounds while moving from a separate body and frame to unibody construction. Most manufacturers have added weight when moving to unibody construction, sometimes augmented by a switch to seven-passenger seating. According to Nissan, that's what happened to three Pathfinders rivals: the Honda Pilot, Ford Explorer, and Chevrolet Traverse. Actually, Nissan has gone back and forth on basic construction since the Pathfinder first appeared back in 1986. Generation One had a separate body and frame, but the second generation (in 1996) switched to unibody. Then back to body-on-frame for the third generation (2005). Now, for 2013, it's unibodied once again.

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Lighter Is Better

Weight-cutting has taken place despite some significant size increases for the redesigned Pathfinder. In addition to gaining 2 inches in wheelbase, the 2013 Pathfinder is 4.6 inches longer overall than the 2012 model, and 4.3 inches wider. Height, on the other hand, has dropped from 72.6 to 69.6 inches. Nissan claims 50 percent improved structural rigidity, as well as a 13-percent improvement in drag coefficient (a measure of slipperiness through the air), now rated at 0.34.

Helping to boost fuel economy by a claimed 30 percent, V-6 engine size has been reduced from 4.0 to 3.5 liters. Running on regular-grade gasoline, Nissan's V-6 now produces 260 horsepower at 6400 rpm, and 240 pound-feet of torque at 4400 rpm. Nissan claims best-in-class gas mileage for its V6: specifically, 20 mpg in city driving and 26 mpg on the highway with two-wheel drive. All-wheel drive drops the estimate by one mile per gallon either way: to 19-mpg city and 25-mpg highway. Driving range per tank has risen by 17 percent, according to Nissan.

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Smooth Operator

Nissan claims to be the first manufacturer in this segment to employ a continuously variable transmission (CVT). The next-generation Xtronic CVT operates with 40-percent less internal friction than before. In addition to rotating at low rpm during highway cruising, the engine runs at what Nissan calls "optimal" rpm while towing a boat or trailer. Towing capacity is 5,000 pounds, and a Tow Mode switch is available to the driver.

The transmission has three settings: two-wheel drive, Automatic, and 4WD Lock (which keeps the vehicle in four-wheel drive regardless of conditions, when selected). The 4WD torque split appears on a readout screen in the Pathfinder's Drive Assist display. Pathfinders offer 6.5-inch ground clearance.

Capable of seating seven, Pathfinders get an EZ FLEX seating system. Second-row seats can slide 5.5 inches fore and aft, and may be tilted down. A Latch and Glide rear-seat configuration lets occupants access the third row even if a child seat is attached to the outer second row seat (on the right side). All second- and third-row seats fold flat, and the third row benefits from a "class-exclusive" reclining feature.

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Interior Settings

The Advanced Drive Assist information center includes a 4-inch LCD display screen, which provides rear sonar indication and lets the driver personalize various vehicle settings. Working with four cameras positioned around the vehicle, the available Around View Monitor provides a composite bird's eye overhead "virtual" view of the Pathfinder and the surrounding area.

Six airbags are installed, including curtain airbags with rollover sensing. Nissan's innovative Easy Fill Tire Alert works with the tire pressure monitoring system, honking when the appropriate pressure is reached. When air is needed in a tire, a separate tire pressure gauge is not required.

Premium features available on Pathfinders include a dual panorama moonroof, tri-zone auto temperature control, heated/cooled front seats, heated second-row seats, and a heated steering wheel.

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Driving Impressions

Road behavior in a top-end Pathfinder Platinum model turned out to approach the Amazing level; it's hard to believe this is a full-fledged SUV, except for the fact of being higher up. The 2013 Pathfinder delivers an expertly controlled ride; following the undulations in pavement, but nearly all are snubbed and dampened substantially by the adept suspension. Steering/handling is even more satisfying, if anything, as Nissan's midlevel SUV stays securely planted regardless of terrain. Occupants also enjoy supremely comfortable and supportive seats.

Acceleration isn't a strong point, but it's wholly appropriate for a vehicle of this nature. Better yet, there's little evidence of the CVT in ordinary driving. Engine speed almost never seems to rise to excess noise levels-though significant mountain grades might yield a different result. But steering/handling is even more satisfying, as this SUV stays securely planted regardless of terrain.

Nissan claims to have avoided D-pillar blind spots, but a major portion of the view directly rearward, through the back window, is blocked by headrests. All SUVs suffer from this malady, according to a company executive, but Pathfinder ranks among the worst in this area. Gauges, on the other hand, are excellent: large and well-illuminated, exceptionally easy to read. Front-seat occupants get plenty of space, too.

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Bottom Line

Pathfinder prices start at $28,270 (plus $825 Destination) for the S model, topping out just above $40,000 for the top Platinum edition with four-wheel drive. In between are SV and SL models, the latter expected to be the most popular trim level. That's the one that gets leather upholstery, which goes into some 60 percent of vehicles in this segment. The 2013 Nissan Pathfinder is assembled in Smyrna, Tennessee.

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