Nissan finds right path with competent family cruiser

BY Brian Harper. Jun 03 04:00 am

Over its 30-year run, Nissan’s Pathfinder has undergone several interesting transformations.

Originally a two-door sport ute that was essentially a covered version of the Hardbody pickup, it added a second set of doors five years later. The second-generation 1996 model lost the body-on-frame architecture and gained a lot more sophistication, keeping abreast of the competition as the popularity of SUVs exploded.

The third-generation 2005 version reverted to body-on-frame, grew bigger, bulkier and more truck-like, while adding a third row of seats. But the most dramatic change occurred with the 2013 fourth-generation model. Again, it shed its body-on-frame architecture for a unibody — this time based on the Altima/Maxima car platform — and became a mid-size, three-row crossover.

Though quiet and comfortable, this latest version of the Pathfinder has never left an indelible impression on me, being one of those not-a-minivan, family-type, all-wheel-drive vehicles, a group that includes the Hyundai Santa Fe XL, Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot, GMC Acadia and Mazda CX-9.

It wasn’t until I offered the 87-year-old father of a good friend of mine a ride in my 2016 Pathfinder Platinum 4WD tester that I began to see it in a different light.

Fred, who still drives (a late-model Honda CR-V), was quite taken with the Nissan’s level of refinement and solidity. Looking around the cabin and the dash area, with its leather seats, polished wood, satin metal trim, full instrumentation and the navigation screen in operation, I had to agree with him. For its $47,000 price tag (the Platinum is Pathfinder’s highest trim level) it offers a near-luxury experience. OK, maybe not quite on the same level as its upscale sibling, the Infiniti QX60, but close enough.

With the exception of its compact Sentra sedan, Nissan is having better luck with sales of its crossovers, notably the Rogue and Murano, than its cars. While the Pathfinder is a little farther down in the rankings, sales are up 18 per cent so far this year. Its resonance with consumers comes from a variety of factors beyond its ability to seat seven — everything from its intuitive all-wheel-drive system to a 5,000-pound standard towing capacity to a high level of comfort and modern conveniences.

It’s also not bad to look at. Though sporting a conventional wagon-style body, the Pathfinder’s profile is smooth and aerodynamic, with pronounced wheel arches, a solid stance and large door openings, which make entering and exiting the crossover a breeze, even for taller passengers. The Platinum model comes with a dual panorama sunroof, with a sliding front panel and a fixed rear glass panel that extends over the second and third rows. Combined with the large windows, the cabin feels open and inviting.

The Pathfinder is also ridiculously easy to park, even in tight mall spaces, thanks to the brilliant Around View Monitor, which projects a virtual 360-degree image of the area around the vehicle onto the centre-console screen.

For the past 30 years, the Pathfinder has always had a V-6 engine. In the fourth-gen model, that engine is a DOHC 3.5-litre unit mated to an Xtronic continuously variable transmission. Putting out a solid 260 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque, the six is a quiet, balanced motor. It will push the 2,044-kilogram Pathfinder Platinum to 100 kilometres an hour in about 8.5 seconds — six seconds to accelerate to 120 km/h from 80 — while delivering fuel economy better than most crossovers its size. I averaged 11 litres per 100 km during my week with the tester, in a fairly even mix of highway and suburban use.

(Those looking for news of the Hybrid version are out of luck. It was never a volume seller, and Nissan dropped it from the lineup for 2016. However, the Infiniti QX60 still offers a Hybrid version.)

Interestingly, the Pathfinder’s All-Mode four-wheel-drive system is one of the few that allows the driver to select full-time 2WD to improve fuel economy. Additionally, All-Mode includes Auto mode, which automatically monitors conditions and adjusts power between front and rear wheels for the best traction, and 4WD Lock mode for when road conditions make full-time 4WD the best choice. The rig is not meant for heavy off-roading, but it does include standard hill-start assist for added control when starting and driving away on a steep incline, and hill-descent control to help travel slowly down steep, rough terrain.

I didn’t have any occasion to use the third row of seats, other than to drop them, as well as the second row, to accommodate a plastic picnic table and a couple of chairs, which the newly enlarged cargo area handily swallowed. The EZ Flex seating system has 140 millimetres of second-row seat travel for ease of entry to the third row. When the third row is stowed, there’s 47 cubic feet (1,331 L) of cargo space. When the second row is also dropped, the floor is completely flat and there’s a cavernous 79.8 cu ft (2,260 L) of room. There’s also a large under-floor storage area.

Not flashy or extreme, the Pathfinder is one of those vehicles that goes about its business with a quiet competency that can be mistaken as boring. This means there’s little, if anything, that blows me away — dynamically or otherwise. Conversely, it would be difficult to find any particular deficiency. So, this Nissan makes a solid family crossover for those needing both space and utility. After several attempts over the past three decades at rejigging its formula, the company has found the right path for the Pathfinder.

 

— Postmedia Network Inc. 2016

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