published Saturday, November 3rd, 2012

Test Drive: New Nissan Pathfinder takes crossover road

The 2013 Nissan Pathfinder has clean exterior lines and seating for seven. 
Staff photo by Mark Kennedy
The 2013 Nissan Pathfinder has clean exterior lines and seating for seven. Staff photo by Mark Kennedy

FAST FACTS

* Model: 2013 Nissan Pathfinder S.

* Exterior color: Super Black.

* Interior color: Charcoal.

* Engine: 3.6 liter, V-6.

* Horsepower: 360.

* Transmission: Continuously variable.

* Fuel economy: 26 mpg highway, 20 mpg city.

* Dealer: Hunt Nissan.

* Price (as tested): $30,340.

Nissan's redesigned 2013 Pathfinder is remarkably different than the outgoing model.

It's as if the old Pathfinder did a U-turn in the woods and emerged from the trees as the Starbucks-finder.

The old Pathfinder was one of the last body-on-frame SUVs in the midsize segment. The new model, however, is built on a unibody platform shared with the excellent new Infiniti JX. The result is a quiet, composed SUV that is, frankly, a screaming value.

"It's got a much softer ride," Danny McVay, sales manager at Chattanooga's Hunt Nissan, said of the new Pathfinder. He said the dealership, which had only one Pathfinder demo earlier this week, has about 18 units in the pipeline scheduled for delivery in coming weeks.

STYLING AND FEATURES

The outgoing Pathfinder was boxy and covered with rugged cladding. The new, seven-passenger Pathfinder has clean, sleek lines and looks more like a stretched wagon. Most suburban owners will like the new, classier look, I think. With the nose badge removed, the 2013 Pathfinder could almost pass for an Infiniti or an Audi.

Inside, our Super Black Pathfinder S was more pedestrian than the luxury models, though, with charcoal-colored cloth seats and no upscale features such as navigation. (Leather-trimmed seats and navigation are, of course, available as options.)

Still, the cabin in the base S is quite livable and the dash is free of the techno-clutter that can take over a car these days.

The spacious new Pathfinder is functional for large families. The rear seats can be adjusted back and forth more than 5 inches. I climbed into a third-row seat without much trouble, and I could have ridden there comfortably. A second-row seat section flips forward to allow access to the third row without disturbing a child's safety seat -- a real plus for families with an infant or toddler.

Our test car, even in base trim, included such nice features as push-button ignition, tri-zone temperature controls and piano-black interior trim inlays.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

The Pathfinder's drivetrain might be the vehicle's best selling point, mating a silky, 3.6-liter V-6 to a continuously-variable transmission generally acknowledged to be the best in the business. (An 8-cylinder option has been dropped.) The Pathfinder rolls on 18-inch alloy wheels shod with all-season Continental tires.

Coupled with great cabin isolation and a soft-sprung ride, the 2013 Pathfinder feels like it would be near perfect on long trips with children in tow. Speaking of towing, the Pathfinder is no weakling. It's capable of pulling up to 5,000 pounds.

As for fuel efficiency, the government estimates the Pathfinder will return 26 miles per gallon highway and 20 miles per gallon city.

BOTTOM LINE

The real beauty of the Pathfinder is price. Our base test car barely broke the $30,000 level, which is about $18,000 less than the loaded-out Infiniti JX we drove back in June. (In fairness, the JX is a well-executed luxury crossover, with all the expected bells and whistles.)

Interestingly, both the Infiniti JX and the Nissan Pathfinder are assembled up the road in Smyrna, Tenn., so local buyers of either SUV can feel good about keeping their dollars circulating in the Volunteer State.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...

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