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Detroit show: Nissan smoothes its Pathfinder

Softened: Nissan has taken a much different approach to its next-generation Pathfinder SUV, set to go on sale here in 2013.

Softer US-made Nissan Pathfinder set to replace current tough-nut in 2013

10 Jan 2012


NISSAN’S fourth-generation Pathfinder will abandon the Navara-based body-on-frame platform of the current model for a car-like monocoque construction shared with Infiniti in the interests of fuel savings and greater refinement when it arrives in Australia in the second half of 2013.

Confirming GoAuto’s exclusive report in August last year, the more svelte seven-seat 4x4 wagon – unveiled in concept form at the Detroit auto show this week – will be imported into Australia from Nissan’s American plant in Tennessee, instead of the current source factory in Barcelona, Spain.

But Australian customers will have to wait more than 12 months for the first local deliveries, as the American plant focuses on satisfying North American consumers first from the second half of this year.

When it does turn up in Australian showrooms, the Pathfinder has been tasked with massive growth, with the company planning to quadruple sales of the SUV from about 2400 a year in 2011 to 10,000 units.

Although few specifications have yet been revealed, Nissan claims the new Pathfinder will be substantially lighter than the current model, helping to contribute to fuel consumption savings of up to 25 per cent over the third-generation SUV in its American 4.0-litre petrol V6 form.

12 center imageNissan confirmed that it will downsize the petrol V6 – most likely using the same 3.5-litre VQ V6 employed in the upcoming Infiniti JX35 crossover vehicle from Nissan’s luxury arm – and dump the current five-speed automatic transmission for a continuously variable transmission (CVT), again in the interests of CO2 emissions savings.

The company promised “unprecedented efficiency” from the new powertrain, saying it would maintain “nearly the same horsepower” and driving feel of the larger and thirstier V6 that was discontinued in the current generation in Australia in favour of a more efficient 170kW/550Nm 3.0-litre V6 diesel from Nissan partner Renault.

The current petrol 4.0-litre V6 in the US churns out 198kW of power and 390Nm of torque – the same power as the Infiniti V6 but more torque than the smaller engine’s 336Nm.

The petrol V6 will be restored to the Australian range in its new iteration, but the future of diesel in the new model appears to be in doubt.

No diesel engines are currently available in models made at Smyrna, and while Nissan has not ruled out that development in future, an all-petrol line-up is also possible.

Nissan Australia insiders say the powertrain line-up for the new model is still being debated and, with the vehicle still almost two years away, no decision is imminent.

What is apparent is that sweeping changes to the fundamental design of the Pathfinder promise to make the next model less agricultural in its ride and handling, bringing it more into line with the likes of the Toyota Kluger, Ford Territory and Mitsubishi Pajero that also dispense with the ladder chassis.

However, off-road purists will need to be convinced that Pathfinder’s renowned 4x4 ruggedness and rock-climbing ability has been retained.

Without supplying details, Nissan says the new model will get “an intuitive four-wheel drive system and a towing capacity comparable to leaders in the segment”.

The new model will not be the first monocoque Pathfinder – the second generation in the late 1990s was also built on a car platform – but is seen as an inevitable reaction to the drive for more efficient and more comfortable SUVs.

Ironically, the switch comes just as other manufacturers such as GM Holden and Ford are set to return to ute-based SUVs, in the form of the Holden Colorado 7 and Ford Everest, both of which are also likely to appear in Australia in 2013.

Nissan said the change to a unibody construction offers numerous benefits including enhanced interior packaging flexibility and improved aerodynamics.

Nissan has held back on details of the new seven-seat interior, saying they will be released in the near future – at the upcoming Chicago motor show – but promises “full-sized cabin roominess” with “an array of innovative seating, comfort, entertainment and convenience features”.

The smoother look of the new Pathfinder is described as less agricultural and more “upscale”, while retaining some familiar styling cues of the current Pathfinder and other Nissan SUVs.

The front is dominated by a wide chrome grille and more aerodynamic headlights, with the side profile as a sculptured ‘wave’ line that further softens the design from the current boxy look.

Nissan says these “sweeping character lines” will carry through to future Nissan models in a wave of 20 new or facelifted products due in the next two years.

Nissan North America vice-president Al Castignetti said in Detroit that the Pathfinder had been reinvented.

“We’ve created a vehicle with an extraordinary balance of SUV capability, thoughtful technology and premium comfort to lead the segment once again – and help owners accomplish more in the real world, not just off-road,” he said.

The move to a monocoque design in the Pathfinder brings it closer than ever to the Murano crossover, but Nissan Australia CEO Dan Thompson said the five-seat Murano would remain in the Australian range, targeting a slightly different market.

He said that while the seven-seat Pathfinder would be aimed mainly at families, the Murano would be a “before family and after family” vehicle.

Nissan sold 2318 Pathfinders in Australia last year – up 43 per cent on 2010 – eclipsing the Murano, which slipped 10.8 per cent, to 2246 sales in the 12 months to December 31.

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