2014 NISSAN PATHFINDER REVIEW
What's Hot: Superb powertrain, excellent interior space, generous spec.
What's Not: No diesel, hard dash-plastics.
X-FACTOR: More family-friendly manners, smoother and easier to live with all-round: that's the new Pathfinder.
Vehicle Style: Large SUV
Engine/trans: 190kW/325Nm 3.5 petrol 6cyl / CVT auto
Price: $39,990 (ST 2WD) to $64,890 (Ti 4WD).
Fuel Economy claimed: 9.9 l/100km (2WD), 10.2 l/100km | Tested: 9.9l/100km
Models driven: ST 4WD, ST-L 4WD, Ti 4WD
The Nissan Pathfinder has a curious history.
Starting life as a bona-fide body-on-frame offroader, it morphed into a monocoque SUV for its second generation before reverting back to a ladder-frame architecture for the Navara-based R51 Pathfinder.
The transition from an agricultural ladder-frame chassis to a unibody will, Nissan expects, significantly boost the Pathfinder’s appeal to family buyers.
Our first drive around the ACT and rural New South Wales has revealed that this SUV is no longer as capable off-road as it was, but it's a better seven-seat family SUV..
The Pathfinder’s interior is no-nonsense: a little sober in its design, but highly functional.
There’s a little more hard plastic on the dash and centre console than we’d like, however the Pathy’s cabin feels absolutely rock-solid in its construction - typical Nissan traits.
More importantly, it’s comfortable. Even ensconced in the base Pathfinder ST’s velour-clad seats, we enjoyed tremendous comfort.
The cushioning of the front seats proved supportive over nearly 500km of country road cruising, and there was more than enough sprawling space.
The second-row occupants enjoy a sliding bench seat and their own climate control console (tri-zone climate control is standard on all Pathfinders), with heaps of leg, head and shoulder room.
But it’s the rearmost row that is the Pathfinder’s most impressive feature. There’s space for two adults back there (not small adults either), face-level air vents between the C and D-pillars and entry and exit is easy.
The only downside is a seat squab that’s rather flat and lacking in under-thigh support - but, to be honest, the last time I was this comfortable in the third row of an SUV I was riding in a Mercedes-Benz GL 500.
In fact, even with an ISOFIX baby seat plugged into the outboard second-row seat, I was able to easily step into the third row. It’s thoughtful design features like this that make the new Pathfinder an immensely appealing family wagon.
The mid-grade ST-L is our pick, as far as cabin comfort goes.
You get all of the usual luxuries that make life easier - Bluetooth, heated leather seats and a powered passenger seat - along with some not-so-usual luxuries, like a power-adjustable steering column and two sunroofs..
Sat-nav is available as an option on the ST-L, and stardard in the range-topping Pathfinder Ti - which also gets three independently operable entertainment screens and a powered tailgate.
Luggage space is another strong point. Even with the third row raised, there’s a respectable amount of boot space both above and below the Pathfinder’s false floor.
The space saver spare is mounted under the car too, meaning you won’t have to dig your luggage out if you get a flat.
ON THE ROAD
Under the bonnet lies Nissan’s familiar VQ35DE 3.5 litre petrol V6 and an Xtronic CVT automatic.
It’s a stout, refined drivetrain that makes light work of motivating the 1920kg Pathfinder, and a world away from the coarse turbo-diesel inline four of the previous generation model.
The CVT is also one of Nissan’s best, and one of the most sorted CVTs we’ve come across.
The one long continuous ratio with no stepped gears might not make for an exciting transmission, but aside from some slowness to its kickdown response, this CVT’s smoothness and flexibility fits in with the Pathfinder’s character.
Fuel economy is listed as 9.9 l/100km for all 2WD variants, and 10.2 l/100km for those equipped with 4WD. During our extended country drive in the 4WD versions, we managed to average 10.1 l/100km - not a bad result at all.
As for the new Pathfinder’s handling, the move from ladder chassis to monocoque construction has done wonders for ride comfort.
The suspension tune is soft, which is to be expected. There’s body roll aplenty, but the Pathfinder tracks through corners with little fuss.
When pushed harder, it gently transitions into safe, predicatble understeer.
This soft suspension also soaks up big bumps with absolute ease. The ride feels a touch choppier on the big 20-inch alloys of the Pathfinder Ti, however it’s still incredibly smooth
The steering is pretty numb though, and this lack of tactile feedback coupled with the overly-light wheel makes it hard to accurately place the car in a corner.
Then again, when was the last time you went for a fast blat in your seven-seater? Exactly.
We do wonder whether it’s worth springing the extra dough for 4WD though.
On a dirt road the torque split indicator showed 100 percent of drive going to the front wheels most of the time, and try as we might we could only get a maximum of 25 percent to head to the rear axle - and only under very aggressive driving.
If you plan on regular visits to the snowfields, live at higher altitudes or plan to tow a boat, 4WD might make sense. However we suspect the majority of drivers won’t ever need it.
But they'll need to watch their backs now. The new Pathfinder has everything it needs to control the balance of power in this segment.
The absence of a diesel might hurt its appeal for some, but the popularity of the petrol-only Kluger suggests that this may not be such a handicap.
With more interior space, better handling, more equipment and a powertrain that’s just as polished as the Kluger, the Pathfinder is a more competent all-rounder than Toyota’s big wagon.
The Captiva 7 leads on price and the Territory is still the best-handling SUV in that segment, but we’d opt for the Pathfinder.
It just feels the more substantial and well-rounded offering than those two - and most other SUVs of its kind.
Pricing (excludes on-road costs)
- Pathfinder ST 2WD - $39,990
- Pathfinder ST-L 2WD - $50,290
- Pathfinder Ti 2WD - $60,790
- Pathfinder ST 4WD - $44,290
- Pathfinder ST-L 4WD - $54,290
- Pathfinder Ti 4WD - $64,890