Nissan has followed ranks of the likes of Ford and the Chrysler Group taking a risky move away from frame-based architecture to underpin its newest of sport utes, specifically Pathfinder from the Nissan folks.
Nissan is taking Pathfinder back to a unibody chassis as it did for the second-generation vehicle in model year 1996. And, like then, Nissan is outfitting the truck with a 3.5-liter V-6. Unlike its predecessor, this fourth-gen vehicle has slimmed down while increasing in size and operates primarily in front-wheel drive with the rear wheels throwing in their two cents when driving conditions get a bit dicier.
A new CVT gearbox now backs up the Pathfinder engine and the two work to produce some 26 mpg on the highway while spinning up 260hp and 240 lb. ft. of torque and capable of towing up to 5,000 lbs. We were able to test the towing prowess of the new Pathfinder and let me just say if you have something you need to tow use your Armada or Titan as the Pathfinder struggles just a bit. Losing the frame made things a little “jigglier” and there is no towing mirror option so with something like a travel trailer in tow you are almost blind.
The engine and transmission work together very well but if you are not yet used to the feeling (and sound) of the engine behind a CVT it may seem a bit perplexing – no perceptible shifting of gears will do that to newbies.
All 2013 Pathfinders arrive with three rows of seating for a maximum capacity of seven, but should you place your child seat in the center of the second row and properly anchor it you lose the convenient EZ FLEX and LATCH AND GLIDE access to the third row Nissan engineers worked so diligently to deliver (and proudly display on our press junket). Placing the child seat in the starboard second row position allows the system to worked cleverly with the seat in place (just don’t LATCH AND GLIDE with a child in the seat).
I rode for a short distance in the third row of seats and the vehicle and discovered ample headroom and a comfortable ride back there although I wouldn’t want to be sequestered there for any great distances.
Behind the wheel I found the 2013 Pathfinder to be very well mannered and was a breeze to drive and exhibited no torque steer under heavy acceleration even when fully engaged in FWD.
Vehicles equipped with 4WD take advantage of a new All-Mode 4×4-i that offers 2WD, Auto, and 4WD modes and a torque-split display shows how much power is being sent fore and aft at all times. There is also a Hill Start Assist function that keeps the vehicle from rolling backward when moving your foot from brake to gas on an incline.
We tested the vehicles quite extensively in California both on-road and off- and the 2013 Pathfinder performed quite well in most instances. I did observe a similar annoyance on the off-road track as I did with the new Ford Explorer on models equipped with a panoramic glass roof: The mass of glass turns into a giant diaphragm displacing huge amounts of air over my eardrums when the road surface gets very undulating. Much of the noise, vibration, and harshness that is designed to be absorbed by the rigid unibody chassis is transmitted to the glass panels and makes the roof a giant ultra-low frequency transducer.
Aside from that – and the couple of other minor little things I mentioned – I enjoyed my time in the new Pathfinder.
Nissan lists the new model changes as a product revolution versus the outgoing Pathfinder with the 2013 model being 4.6 inches longer, 4.3 inches wider, has eight more cubic feet of interior volume, is 500 lbs. lighter, gets 30 percent better fuel economy, is 13 percent more aerodynamic, has a 16 percent greater driving range.
Pricing will begin at $28,270 for base 2WD models with a top-of-the-line Platinum 4WD starting at just over 40 grand.
All new Pathfinders will be built in Tennessee and the Nissan is nearly identical to its more affluent cousin the Infiniti JX that was new on this platform last year and the two represent a growing trend in the automotive industry away from frame-based architecture for the mid-size SUV segment. They join quite a few others who have already made the switch so for Nissan’s sake let’s hope they are not too late to the party.