If you want a perfect example of a model keeping up with the times, look no further than the 2014 Nissan Pathfinder.
The Pathfinder’s always been a trendsetter. One of the first to realize that throwing a full body over a pickup frame made for a compact SUV that was tough, durable, and had a whole load more machismo than either a wagon or a Minivan. While the first Pathfinder in 1986 was a 2-door, the 4-door followed soon thereafter and it really hit the sweet spot in the marketplace.
Well, we’re now at the 4th generation of Pathfinder, introduced last year as a 2013 model, and the SUV market has really changed. Oh we still want capable, go anywhere type vehicles – although fewer and fewer ever venture off the paved road – but we’d also like car-like comfort, all the bells and whistles, and while you’re at it, good fuel economy too.
And staying loyal to it’s name, the Pathfinder has found a way to give buyers what they want, while leading the way with lots of neat innovations that make it such a useful vehicle.
Your first clue that this is the new Pathfinder is the styling. This is one handsome vehicle, and notably different from the previous model. That model had a big, strong shouldered, trucky look that looked tough as nails. The new model still cuts a formidable presence, but the linebacker look has been replaced with tight, crisp curves and a very upscale look. Kind of like that former football pro that’s landed a gig as a sports commentator. Nice, expensively-tailored suit, but underneath, you can see there’s still plenty of muscle.
Speaking of muscle, some may be concerned that switching over from the previous generation’s body on frame design to a more car-like unibody would cause the new model to go wimpy, but that's not the case.
Power comes from Nissan’s familiar 3.5-liter V6, and it pumps out a very respectable 260 horsepower and 240 lb-ft of torque. That’s enough for a best-in-class 5,000 lb. standard towing rating. This is also the best application we’ve driven of Nissan’s CVT transmission. Power is smooth, and abundant, yet it sounds and feels more like a traditional automatic than previous CVT’s which would doggedly hold onto a certain rpm. Great for a motorboat – annoying in a car.
That CVT does work its charms, though, giving best-in-class city (20 mpg), combined (22 mpg) and highway (26 mpg) ratings. We averaged around 19 mpg in our time, and that’s quite a good number for real world (read that as lead-footed) driving for a large, 7-passenger vehicle.
Along with the thrifty fuel economy, we were impressed with the ride. The Pathfinder is exceptionally smooth and quiet, handles well, and notably feels smaller than it actually is when tooling around town.
Although or tester was a front wheel drive model, there’s a 4WD that features 2WD, Auto Mode and 4WD lock modes that should easily handle more than most Pathfinder owners will ever need.
What most owners definitely need is room, and here the Pathfinder really delivers.
There’s room for 7 with three rows, and while it’s not a minivan, Pathfinder’s 2nd row seat easily glides and tilts forward for easy access to the third row. The 2nd row seat on the passenger seat can even tilt and slide with a child seat securely strapped in. (only when empty please!) It’s a touch of brilliance that shows Nissan really pays attention to the details.
That third row is okay for adults for short trips, but for longer trips, it’s best for kids. Let Grandma and Grandpa enjoy the spacious 2nd row seats.
If you’re not playing family truckster, the second and third row seats fold to create a flat loading floor and a spacious 80 cubic feet of cargo space. There’s also a neat under floor storage space behind the third row, great for stashing valuables.
Whether it’s a run to Home Depot or High Mountain Adventure, the big Nissan coddles its occupants. Based on the same chassis as the Infiniti JX35 we tested recently, the quality of materials and design makes us feel like the JX has nothing over our Pathfinder.
The materials are soft to the touch, and everything feels beautifully crafted. The front seats are notably firm and supportive and great for piling on the miles. The main gauges are large and legible, and the large LCD center console is great for viewing audio and navigation. Nissan is one of a handful of manufacturers that really makes technology accessible, setting up Bluetooth for phone and streaming audio was a snap – no pulling out the manual required.
Our tester was the nicely equipped SL model, and coming in at just under $36,000 is a good value. But thumbing through the brochure, we’d be sorely tempted to ring up the bill with some neat available options. The Around View Monitor gives a virtual 360º overhead view on the center LCD screen, and also lets you flip through the forward screen – no bumping the car in front, right hand curb side view, – no scraping your wheels, as well as the traditional rear view.
We’d probably opt for the gargantuan Dual Panorama Moonroof, and speaking of views, the tri-zone entertainment system features a monitor in the back of each front seat headrest, which can play individually – perfect when you’ve got one kid who wants SpongeBob, and another that wants to plug in a video game. The best part – have them both wear the wireless headphones, and you can adjust the Bose audio system to play only in front, leaving you in glorious peace – no matter how long the trip.
Go full-boat on a 4x4 Pathfinder and you’ll be close to $44,000 – but that would be one luxurious vehicle indeed. On the other side of the coin, the entry-level model starts at just $28,000 and that’s a great choice if you want style, space and room for 7 on a budget.
So, while our expectations for SUV’s has changed over the years, the Nissan Pathfinder not only keeps up, it leads the way with innovation, comfort, a great drive and smart value. If you’re looking at 7-passenger SUV’s be sure to put it at the top of your list. It’s certainly at the top of ours.
A quick note – coming in the 2014 model year is a new hybrid edition, featuring a supercharged 4-cylinder engine, and a slim battery pack that doesn’t cut into cargo or passenger room. Sounds intriguing, and so does the estimated 27 mpg highway. Look for a review on it soon.
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