Nissan engineers overhauled the classic Pathfinder in 2013, and emerged from the garage with a seven-passenger, car-based crossover to replace the five-passenger, truck-based SUV of old.
Pathfinder purists weren't pleased, though most Americans were delighted to drive this more comfortable and luxurious Nissan crossover. In fact, through September 2013, Pathfinder sales are up 167 percent compared to 2011, the last full year representing sales of the old SUV version.
Let's explore five reasons why American drivers are embracing this new Pathfinder.
The 2014 Pathfinder is a family focused, seven-seat crossover that drives live a car and has space for all the stuff we haul around daily, including people, boxes of groceries from Costco, and gear for outdoor adventures.
I've covered many of the improvements in my 2013 Nissan Pathfinder review, so this review highlights key, but different information.
One of the criticisms of the old Pathfinder was that it felt and drove like a glorified truck. That was appealing to four-wheel drive fans, but four-wheel drivers don't represent Middle America. The latest Pathfinder puts those "trucky" memories to rest by delivering a ride that is soft and cushy and isolates passengers from road imperfections.
The Pathfinder feels solid and planted on the road, but expect a decent amount of body roll as your round corners. Still, it's easy to drive and responsive enough in town or on the freeway to make it an easy choice for buyers seeking a large, but-not-too-large, family hauler.
Nissan has sold very few hybrid vehicles over the years. That changes for 2014 with the introduction of a new hybrid powertrain for the Pathfinder, a system that will make its way into other Nissan and Infiniti vehicles in the coming months and years.
The system uses a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine that is mated to the same Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) you'll find on the traditional Pathfinder. A 15-kilowatt electric motor provides electric motivation. Combined, the new powertrain generates 250 horsepower and 243 pound-feet of torque.
By comparison, the standard Pathfinder generates 260 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque. So you sacrifice a little horsepower, gain a little more torque and, most important, benefit from improved fuel economy.
The Pathfinder Hybrid is expected to return 25 mpg in city driving and 27 mpg on the highway. That's a five mile-per-gallon improvement compared to the standard Pathfinder's estimated 20-mpg city rating and a one-mpg-improvement over the standard Pathfinder's 26-mpg rating on the highway.
Simple translation: if you spend most of your driving time in the city, look closely at the 2014 Pathfinder Hybrid. But know that the Toyota Highlander Hybrid offers even better fuel-economy ratings of 28 mpg city and 28 mpg highway.
I haven't had the chance to drive the new Pathfinder Hybrid model, but look for a complete review soon.
Even if a hybrid Pathfinder doesn't appeal to you, know that the standard Pathfinder offers best-in-class fuel economy—at least if you buy the front-wheel drive version. That means the Pathfinder tops the Ford Explorer (except for the EcoBoost version that feels underpowered), the Honda Pilot, Chevy Traverse and other top-selling crossovers.
The 22-mpg combined rating for the FWD Pathfinder is impressive. I drove more than 200 miles in mixed driving conditions and averaged just under 22 mpg, so the EPA expectations are realistic. That fuel-economy score tops the 20-mpg I achieved driving the Toyota Highlander and Chevy Traverse earlier this year.
In fact, it's a one-mpg-improvement over the 2013 Pathfinder I drove just a few months ago.
For most United States drivers, a front-wheel-drive crossover makes perfect sense. Fuel economy is slightly improved compared to a 4WD model, yet they still gain all the passenger space and high vehicle stance American buyers crave in crossovers.
If you live in the northeast, northwest or Rocky Mountain areas, where cold weather and/or high altitudes conspire to create a weather forecaster's dream job, an all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive crossover can prove nearly invaluable.
The Pathfinder lets you operate in one of three modes: 2WD, 4WD or Auto. A dial located behind the gearshift enables you to lock in four-wheel drive when necessary. Otherwise, you can drive the car in two-wheel-drive mode until conditions change. Then, place the dial in Auto mode and the vehicle automatically senses when the road becomes slippery and adjusts power to each wheel as needed. It's a smart system that makes foul-weather driving safer.
Not everyone wants or needs the most luxurious crossover. Nor do they need every bell and whistle on a vehicle to compete with their neighbors. Nissan offers six Pathfinder trims to help match budgets with wants and needs.
The base 2014 Pathfinder S starts just under $29,000 and has the essentials you need in a seven-passenger crossover. However, useful features like Bluetooth and a rearview monitor are not available.
The mid-cost trim, the Pathfinder SL, starts just over $35,000 and adds fog lights, a power liftgate, Bluetooth phone, leather-appointed seats in the first two rows, and a rearview monitor.
Step all the way up to the most expensive trim, the Platinum Premium, and gain a dual panoramic moonroof, a tri-zone entertainment system, 20-inch aluminum wheels, Nissan's excellent Around-View Monitor/rearview camera system, and a starting price that tops $42,000.
My test model was the Pathfinder SL and had a final price of $39,515 after adding the $1,570 SL Tech Package that included an 8-inch screen, navigation, and 13-speaker Bose audio system. It was a well equipped, comfortable crossover that worked well for my family.
The new Pathfinder is considered a midsize crossover. That's a crowded category that includes quality vehicles like the GMC Acadia and Chevrolet Traverse, the Toyota Highlander, the Honda Pilot and Mazda CX-9.
The Pathfinder is competitive, but not the class leader, though there is much to like in this crossover, including class-leading fuel economy, decent overall fit and finish and a smooth ride. Styling is safe but far from memorable.
Having driven the 2013 Toyota Highlander and 2014 Nissan Pathfinder just weeks apart, I can easily say that both vehicles will work well for the majority of American families. They feel similar on the inside and both are innocuous from the outside. If you like the Highlander, try the updated Pathfinder. I suspect one of those vehicles has a strong chance of ending up in your garage.
One last thought: if you want an even more luxurious version of the Pathfinder, you can also look at the Infiniti JX35, which shares the Pathfinder's platform but offers a more premium look and feel.2014 Nissan Pathfinder photo copyright 2013 Speedy Daddy Media, Inc.
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