Everything is bigger in America: hence the new Nisaan Pathfinder, which has gone from medium off-roader to major-league family wagon.
Base price: $65,990.
Powertrain and performance: 3.5-litre petrol V6, 190kW/325Nm, continuously variable transmission, four-wheel drive, Combined economy 10.2 litres per 100km.
Vital statistics: 5008mm long, 1768mm high, fuel tank 57 litres, 18-inch alloy wheels with 235/65 tyres.
We like: Slick performance, size, three-zone climate control.
We don’t like: Too soft for some Kiwi corners, no sat-nav or around-view cameras.
How it rates: 7/10
WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW? Over the past few months we’ve had to forget everything we thought we knew about the Nissan Pathfinder. It used to be something akin to a Navara station wagon: same front end, tough separate-chassis underpinnings and a somewhat utilitarian character throughout.
Late last year, an all-new model arrived and it was all change: Pathfinder became an American-style (it’s built there) soft-roader, with massive exterior dimensions and car-like underpinnings that emphasized comfort and refinement.
As of last month, Pathfinder has come more into context. It’s the flagship of a Nissan crossover range that has been comprehensively renewed for 2014. The key players are the just-launched second-generation Qashqai and the all-new X-Trail – which has been similarly refocused from practical wagon to posh urban runabout. All three have the same family look and a similar sense of on-road purpose.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE? The Pathfinder is a smooth operator. Being essentially an American model, there’s no diesel option: instead, the core powertrain is a 3.5-litre petrol V6 with Nissan’s signature continuously variable transmission (CVT). Intriguingly, Nissan New Zealand has also just launched a hybrid Pathfinder – but that’s a story for another day.
The big V6 is all about refinement, especially in combination with the CVT, which is supplied with sufficient torque to stay very cool, calm and collected. It seldom falls into the trap of over-revving so typical of small-engined CVTs.
Nissan is a past master of this technology, of course: it brought CVT into the mainstream 20 years ago and refused to accept that the technology could not work with large-capacity engines.
Pathfinder is a very large car indeed and it’s at its best loping along in relaxed fashion, while passengers enjoy the cushy ride and low noise levels. It’s not a machine you really want to hurry along: both steering and chassis are aloof, although there’s plenty of traction when you need it from the four-wheel drive system.
You can venture off the beaten path if you really want to: the All Mode drive system has electronic 4WD selection, with a 50/50 lock, and is more than capable of light-duty off-roading. But the Pathfinder’s weight, monocoque chassis and rear overhang mean it’s definitely a wagon that prefers the sealed stuff.
IS IT EASY TO LIVE WITH? If space is your thing, Pathfinder will please: you sit up high and the cabin seems vast, with three rows of seating that will happily accommodate seven people – albeit on leather chairs that favour width over shape and support. It’s a world away from the cramped cabin of the previous model.
The dashboard is pleasing for its simplicity but has some inelegant features: hard plastic in places and a large seven-inch touch-screen that seems superfluous without even the option of sat-nav. Nor does the Pathfinder have the excellent 360-degree parking-camera system fitted to some of Nissan’s smaller crossover models.
That’s a real disappointment, especially on a large car where it’s needed most. And where are the DVD screens we see on those American-sourced television advertisements?
Pathfinder delivers on other luxury equipment though, with leather upholstery, power seat adjustment and – crucially – three-zone climate control for the air conditioning, ensuring that the troops in back are looked after.
SHOULD I BUY ONE? Large, petrol-powered crossover wagons are not as niche as you might think. That’s thanks mainly to the Toyota Highlander, another American-made wagon that’s a firm fleet and rental favourite.
It’s easy to see the Pathfinder’s place in the Nissan range: it’s the go-to model for those who want something bigger and/or more powerful than the X-Trail. It’s intended to be the seven-seater of choice for the brand: the Qashqai is now exclusively a five-seater and there’s only one seven-chair X-Trail, in entry-level specification. The Pathfinder impresses for its performance, refinement and space, but seems a bit half-hearted in its interior design and some equipment.
But that hybrid looks like a clever image-enhancing move – especially when Toyota New Zealand doesn’t currently have a petrol-electric Highlander on offer.
- Air conditioning: Three-zone climate
- Audio: CD, iPod compatible
- Automatic lights/wipers: Yes/yes
- Blind spot warning: No
- Bluetooth: Yes
- Cruise control: Yes
- Driver footrest: Yes
- Head-up display: No
- Heated/ventilated seats: Yes/No
- Keyless entry/start: Yes/Yes
- Lane guidance: No
- Leather upholstery: Yes
- Parking radar: Rear with camera
- Power seat adjustment/memory: Yes/Yes
- Rear ventilation outlets: Yes including third row
- Remote audio controls: Yes
- Satellite navigation: No
- Seat height adjustment: Yes
- Self-parking technology: No
- Split/folding rear seats: 60/40 second row and 50/50 third row
- Steering reach adjustment: Yes
- Stop-start: No
- Trip computer: Yes
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