Nissan Pathfinder family hauler is worth the wait

  • Article by: MARK PHELAN , Detroit Free Press
  • Updated: March 22, 2013 - 11:12 PM

The sleek new crossover SUV shares its name with its truck-based predecessor — but nothing else.

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The 2013 Nissan Pathfinder is a complete redesign from earlier model.

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The 2013 Nissan Pathfinder leads the automaker into one of the 21st century’s growth markets — about a decade late.

The seven-passenger crossover SUV features excellent fuel economy and a roomy passenger compartment, but trails long-established family haulers in other areas.

The Pathfinder is Nissan’s first family-oriented crossover with three rows of seats. It competes with vehicles like the Chevrolet Traverse, Dodge Journey, Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander.

Honda and Toyota created these roomy vehicles that combine SUV looks with car-type fuel economy, ride and passenger capacity. Other automakers followed rapidly. Today, the vehicles have practically replaced the truck-based SUVs that became America’s favorite minivan alternative in the ’90s.

Nissan was inexplicably slow to catch on. It was an early leader in crossovers with the stylish and upscale Murano, but it spurned families’ desire for models capable of hauling six to eight people.

It kept building the truck-based Pathfinder well into last year. The sleek new Pathfinder shares nothing but its name with that model.

Prices for the 2013 Pathfinder start at $28,650 for a front-wheel drive model. All Pathfinders come with a 260-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine and continuously variable automatic transmission. Four-wheel drive Pathfinders start at $30,250.

I tested a very well-equipped Pathfinder Platinum 4x4 that stickered at $43,570. All prices exclude destination charges.

The truck I evaluated featured navigation, leather upholstery, voice recognition, Bluetooth for hands-free phone calls and streaming audio, Bose audio, iPod compatibility, two-screen rear entertainment with two headphones, heated and cooled front seats, dual sun roofs and more.

Pathfinder prices are competitive with mass-market three-row crossovers like the Traverse, Journey, Explorer, Pilot and Highlander.

The passenger compartment is the largest in the segment. The front and middle seats have lots of head and legroom. Even the third row offers acceptable accommodation for adults, though it’s intended for kids.

The second-row bench seat tips and slides for easy access to the back. The second row slides and reclines. The third row reclines.

Luggage room behind the third seat trails the Traverse, Explorer and Pilot.

The wide D-pillar creates a large blind spot for lane changes and backing out of parking spots. I was surprised the loaded Pathfinder I tested didn’t have blind-spot and cross-traffic alerts.

The interior is trimmed in attractive materials and features large dials, clear gauges and simple controls. Soft surfaces cover the dash and every place you’re likely to lean. There’s plenty of storage for glasses, phones, iPods, etc.

The voice-recognition system could use work. It doesn’t respond as quickly as the best competitors, and several people complained about poor audio during hands-free calls. The audio system does not pause CDs and iPods during hands-free calls.

The Pathfinder’s fuel economy is excellent. The Pathfinder 4x4’s EPA rating of 19 mpg city/25 highway/21 combined trumps V-6 competitors by up to 3 mpg.

The Pathfinder’s terrific mileage comes at a cost in performance and interior noise. Its V6 produces less horsepower than all the competitors but the Honda Pilot. Transient throttle response can be labored when diving into gaps in fast-moving traffic.

  • NISSAN PATHFINDER PLATINUM 4x4

    Vehicle type: Seven-passenger crossover SUV

    Engine: 3.5-liter DOHC variable-timing 24-valve V6 

    Power: 260 horsepower at 6,400 rpm; 240 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm

    Transmission: Continuously variable automatic

    EPA fuel economy rating: 19 mpg city/25 highway/21 combined. Regular fuel.

    Rating: Three out of four stars

    Reasons to buy: Fuel economy, passenger room, four-wheel drive, interior materials

    Shortcomings: Interior noise, power, blind spot, hands-free phone operation

    Base price: $28,650

    Price as tested: $43,570

    All prices exclude destination charges.

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