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WINTER JOURNAL: 2013 NISSAN PATHFINDER

Revamped Nissan SUV maintains off-road cred

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Despite the fact that it no longer features a truck-like body-on-frame construction, the newly designed Nissan Pathfinder hasn’t lost any of its off-road capability, as proven in this recent snow test near Ottawa.

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DIEHARD fans of the Nissan Pathfinder were none too pleased when the 2013 model debuted a few months ago.

Gone was the V-8 engine and body-on-frame configuration that gave the Pathfinder its truck-like utility and serious off-road and towing credibility. The faithful were miffed, even though Pathfinders have not always enjoyed a truck platform.

The new Pathfinder, forsaking the old chassis for a unibody structure more like a minivan, is therefore a much different sport utility vehicle, reaching out to a larger audience than just outdoor enthusiasts, off-roaders and rock crawlers. The 2013 Pathfinder is vastly more luxurious, way more spacious, infinitely more refined. But is the Pathfinder just as capable? And can it honestly conquer a Canadian winter?

That is the question I will attempt to answer in the coming weeks as I put a 2013 Pathfinder SL on loan from Nissan Canada through a series of challenges in a place that truly knows what a Canadian winter is all about -- Ottawa. Already there is close to 40 centimetres of snow on the ground. Nights are now routinely -20 C.

In year's past we tested a 2012 Toyota Tacoma, a 2011 Audi Q5 and a 2010 Toyota 4Runner SR5 in a similar way. Those weekly diaries chronicled what the vehicles could and couldn't do -- each vehicle pushed to its limit attempting to access my old wooden cottage that sits at the end of a 1.6-km unplowed lane. The lane snakes to my property on the edge of Bobs Lake near Westport, Ont. Getting there requires a capable 4x4. None of the vehicles tested before got stuck (though I came close in the Q5) and the Tacoma and 4Runner were not challenged to their full extent due to a lack of deep snow -- the kind Ottawa has already seen this winter.

And so when I arrived at the lane on the weekend and stared at 32 centimetres of snow on the path before me, I was filled with more trepidation than ever before, not knowing whether this new, stylish Pathfinder could handle snow that was roughly double its 6.5-inch ground clearance. Was the new Pathfinder a poser? Had it changed so much as to lose its off-road cred? There was only one way to know.

Thankfully, all Pathfinders have an All-Mode 4x4-i system that can be fully locked to split the torque distribution 50-50 between the front and rear wheels. The system allows switching from 2WD to 4WD on the fly but the vehicle has to be stopped to engage 4WD Lock. Normal 4WD operates in an "auto" mode that will split the torque to the front or rear based on available traction, though it is biased to the front wheels. Torque distribution can be monitored from a gauge on the instrument cluster.

Engaging 4WD Lock, I gingerly stepped the Pathfinder -- equipped with Michelin Latitude X-Ice winter tires -- into the deep snow. Immediately, all four wheels began to spin, but momentum was somehow maintained. The snow was so deep it was drifting over the hood as I plowed ahead. Snow was shooting up the sides as the wheels found purchase. Steam was puffing out from the grille and hood lines as snow got pushed out of the way, melted by the engine and radiator. Eventually I bogged down, reversed, then moved ahead again.

Three times I bogged down and had to get more momentum, but at no time did it feel as though I would get so stuck as to require the embarrassing phone call to a friend with a Toyota Tundra. A few minutes later I was still smiling, pulling up to my cottage over a blanket of pure-white deep snow, seriously impressed with how well the Pathfinder had dispensed with its first major challenge.

-- Postmedia News

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