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Driven: Nissan Pathfinder finds the middle path

Path found: Nissan’s Pathfinder medium wagon has discovered middle-aged spread.

Verdict is in - forthcoming Nissan Pathfinder now a car-like Territory, Kluger rival


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13 Sep 2013


NISSAN’S evergreen Pathfinder mid-sized SUV has certainly been down a few different paths itself, with the latest in a diverse series of iterations a more car-like affair than ever.

The first Pathfinder started off as a Navara truck-based 4x4, and then adopted a unibody wagon shape (1998), before switching back to a ladder-frame wagon (2004). Now it’s morphed into a monocoque crossover.

Imagine being a loyal buyer attempting to keep up with that amount of change! Even Lady Gaga would struggle to keep up with all the constant new looks.

This time, however, any semblance of 4x4 off-road ability has been obliterated, for a Toyota Kluger-esque crossover of family-friendly function over rugged form.

Just like the Kluger, there’s also no diesel option, just thirstier petrol power on the menu. Will the Pathie follow the Toyota’s wheeltracks and buck the local SUV sales bias towards diesel power? We’ll see. What we can say on early impressions is the Nissan is a handsomely proportioned beast, with the slick and contemporary fashion of a new Hyundai Santa Fe. Now that’s a change after the outgoing model’s angular harshness.

On sale in November this year from about $40,000, the R52 series has the Kluger, Hyundai, Kia Sorento, Ford Territory, Mazda CX-9 and Subaru Tribeca in its seven-seater crosshairs.

If you’re an owner of the existing R51 version, you’ll instantly notice how much easier the newcomer is as a family conveyance, with large doors for easy access, deep windows for an airy ambience, and lofty seating that slides and folds quickly for practically unfettered second and third-row entry and egress.

While an adult won’t necessarily want to travel on the rearmost bench, doing so over short distances is no hardship, with air vents and cupholders at the ready to take minds off thoughts of claustrophobia. Similarly, the second row is a spacious and accommodating as any of the Nissan’s competitors.

But it is the front seat environment that is likely to win over prospective buyers at the dealership forecourts.

In the up spec, circa-$55K Ti-style US Platinum format, the interior is like a first-class Emirates lounge – wall-to-wall leather trim contrasted by wood and chrome-like material chintz, and surrounded by gadgets galore.

Yet Nissan’s obviously done its homework because it took only moments to learn – without looking – how to operate the (very effective) ventilation, audio system, and vehicle adjustment controls. Big cupholders, a vast screen, and heaps of storage further made the stay in the SS Pathfinder smooth sailing.

At this juncture it is worth considering the changes going on underneath, because they profoundly affect the way the big Nissan drives and feels.

Based on the US Altima ‘D’ platform, the R52 is far more car-like than ever, sporting a transverse rather than longitudinal engine application, front or all-wheel drive, electro-hydraulic rack and pinion steering, a MacPherson strut front end, a multi-link rear and, most importantly, no diesel.

The latter betrays the fact that the Nissan will hail from the USA rather than Spain (as with the current, outgoing version), since the Americans don’t care for diesels.

Instead, it’s petrol power all the way, in either 3.5-litre V6 or new 2.5-litre supercharged four-cylinder Hybrid guise, both of which are set for Australia (the hybrid will arrive after the V6, some time during 2014).

The latter is mated to a 15kW electric motor, and charged by a lithium-ion battery pack. Both employ a CVT Continuously Variable Transmission.

Nissan expects most Aussies to choose the big V6.

But while the VQ35 is a smooth and refined application, with 191kW of power and 325Nm of torque at its disposal, it needs a bootful of throttle to overcome a considerable circa-2000kg kerb weight.

The V6/CVT is a fairly smooth pairing, and it does pick up speed quite rapidly, but the 15L/100km average displayed on the trip computer (and that was with just one person on board) reflects on how seriously the engine has to slog. The official consumption figures are between 10.7 and 11.2L/100km.

In contrast, the 184kW/330Nm 2.5-litre supercharged four-pot hybrid feels sprightlier and more responsive across the performance spectrum, with a seamless transition between the various drivetrain permutations.

It uses less fuel too (though ours displayed 12.7L/100km, some way off the official claimed 9.0L/100km), but is also noisier and less refined than the long-lived V6. And, again, since a determined right foot is necessary to really power along, the accompanying CVT drone isn’t music to our ears.

As a family conveyance, the Pathfinder is a clever proposition but keen drivers will find the steering overly light and not very communicative, and the overall handling cumbersome. But does the demographic even care? The US breeding is coming through loud and clear.

On the other hand, considering that 235/55 R20 tyres were used underneath, the ride quality on the Hybrid is pretty good, though the firmness on some roads is quite palpable in some scenarios.

Nevertheless, just the fourth all-new Pathfinder in 27 years deserves to make a splash as a smooth and comfortable multi-tasking seven-seater wagon, while the Hybrid option makes for a technically intriguing alternative to a diesel.

Drivers may find it boring – like most of the competition bar the Territory – but as a family conveyance Nissan has clearly dotted the necessary ‘i’s and crossed the ‘t’s.

Now all it needs to do is remind people exactly what Pathfinder stands for this time around….

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