Photos: Kevin Miklossy & Nissan
Is a Pathfinder still a Pathfinder when you strip it of off-road ability? If tree falls in the forest, does anybody hear? If another puffer fish of a seven-seater crossover falls into the market does anybody care? Not long ago the Nissan Pathfinder was a vehicle with purpose, a body-on-frame off-road contender. Now, not so much, despite loosing some weight the Pathfinder has gotten soft… Muscle weighs more than fat.
The shift to a uni-body design lightens the Pathfinder, but subsequently strips the SUV of its skeletal strength and adventurous nature. Call this a metaphor for middle age softening, a drift away from being competition to more outdoorsy cohorts like the Toyota 4Runner and Land Rover LR4, toward a life of lassitude.
Perhaps the Pathfinder is mimicking North America’s trend towards softer, easier and closer outdoor endeavors as laid out in an excellent post from Adventure-Journal? The U.S. Forest Service, for one, is rushing to install “plush” yurts in national forests, and park visits have plateaued since 1995. The trend is towards increasingly convenient outdoor recreation, the type you don’t need a four-wheel drive, time off work, or bothersome fitness to access. Call it low challenge adventure.
The Pathfinder fits this cheaper, easier and nearer access model. Nissan proudly touts that this is its lightest Pathfinder ever, shedding 227 kilograms from the previous model to weigh in at 2,044 kg, but the vehicle never really picks up its feet in a sprightly manner. The groaning hiker of a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) aids fuel economy by keeping the engine in an optimal RPM range compared to a conventional fixed ratio automatic transmission, but steals whatever punch the 260 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque 3.5-litre V6 regular-fuel burning engine offers.
On 4×4 models, there are three modes of operation; front-drive for maximum economy; automatic operation to feed torque to all four wheels as conditions dictate; or the full “John Muir” four-wheel-drive lock for “off-roading”. The latter being a euphemism for gravel roads easily navigated with a car-like ground clearance. If you must have the 2013 Pathfinder, we’d save the money and opt for the fuel and ticket price saving front-wheel drive.
The technologies available? There’s quite a list, but the core ones of interest are navigation, which is perfectly sufficient, a slathering of sonar to keep you from dinging the front and back in parking lots, and the mandatory “Around View Monitor”. The last is a four camera system which composites a live overhead view of the Pathfinder’s immediate surroundings when in reverse or when parking. In a vehicle this size, just dub it mandatory equipment – perhaps it should come with “drive through” mode for when you’re filling up on gut-spread from the King, Clown or Colonel.
No longer slim enough to conceivable fit down a trail, where the Pathfinder scores points is a comfortable and cavernous interior space – conversations between passenger and driver are held at a shouting distance (or maybe that’s just trying to be heard over the low groan of the CVT). The second row of seating is comfortable and the right-side seat can be folded forward for third-row access with child seat is installed – that will win points with some markets. The third-row seats fold flat in a 50/50 split, and will be comfortable for children and not overly so for adults. Either way given the vehicle’s vastness, put the kids or adults you don’t care for in the third row, and they are a physically distant memory.
Beyond that, our Pathfinder Platinum was prodigiously well-appointed with heated and cooled leather seats, heated steering wheel, heated second-row seat, push-button start, navigation system, 13-speaker Bose audio system, XM radio, dual-zone climate control and rear-view monitor. For $3,100 more you upgrade to “Platinum Premier Package” adding dual 7-inch headrest DVD system, rear seat wireless headphones, and wireless remote control to insulate the kids from whatever nature you’re trying to point out. The Platinum also comes with dual panorama moon roof, so you can say you’re getting some sun.
Given that the driver’s seat retracts from the wheel to ease entering and exiting the Pathfinder, whoever the vehicle is designed for must be of truly Jovian proportions. Predictably, the Pathfinder doesn’t drive like a truck, but a massive car. After the Ford Explorer Sport’s electrically assisted power steering, the Pathfinder’s speed-sensitive power steering feels heavy and numb, imparting a barge-like feel to maneuvering. The ride is comfortable and controlled though, with the suspension deadening road imperfections even with the Platinum’s 20-inch wheels shod with 235/55R-20 all-season tires.
Ultimately, the 2013 Nissan Pathfinder is more an appliance to drive than a call to adventure it’s appellation implies. The vehicle is a good people hauler, but too soft around the middle and everywhere else to honour the Pathfinder name. Outdoors aspirations stripped, the Pathfinder has lost its way.
Pull into that viewpoint dear, and we’ll call it a hike.
Details: 2013 Nissan Pathfinder Platinum
Price, base/as tested: $42,098/$47,053
Type: 4WD full-sized crossover SUV
Engine: 3.5L naturally aspirated V-6
Power: 260 hp at 6,400 rpm, 240 lb.-ft. at 4,400 rpm
Transmission: CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission)
Fuel economy, L/100km (EnerGuide): 10.8 city, 7.9 highway
Combined Fuel Economy: 14.1 L/100 kilometers