The Nissan Pathfinder is three years into its seven-year life, but is it having a mid-life crisis?
Did you know, the average model cycle for any car is seven years. That’s seven years from glorious launch fanfare to run-out special retirement.
Seven Grand Finals, as many iPhones, possibly two Olympic Games, and according to schoolyard mythology, enough time for a swallowed piece of chewing gum to fully digest (that’s not true, by the way). Bottom line, it’s not an overly long time.
But in terms of a car, particularly the technology that drives it, seven years can be a lifetime. While much of the mechanical underpinnings use robust physical properties that see out the seven-year itch with ease, the infotainment and driver assistance tech moves at a much more rapid pace – like ageing in dog years.
The fourth-generation 2016 Nissan Pathfinder ST was launched in Australia in 2013, making it bang-on halfway into its seven-year life.
The range is available in front- and all-wheel drive as well as three trim grades, and our ST is the entry point to the AWD Pathfinder range.
Like the Kluger, the R52 Pathfinder was designed and built in North America - and it conveys that same handsome and likeable design that the Americans do so well.
It’s a big thing, too. A smidge over five metres long (5008mm) and 1.9 metres wide (1960mm), the Pathy out-footprints the Kluger but is a shade shorter than the new Mazda CX-9.
For an entry-level car, it has a number of pleasant features, like keyless entry and start, a powered driver's seat, tri-zone air conditioning and rear-view camera.
You don’t get leather-trimmed seats, but I have to say, after about ten minutes just sitting in the Pathfinder, sinking into the soft almost velvety fabric of the seats, you never want to get out. It’s like hugging someone dressed in a polartec snuggy, and even the pad on the top of the center armrest is wrapped in the stuff.
I’m sure they’ll probably get spoilt quickly as children spill all manner of fluids and foodstuffs on them, but when new, take a moment to bask in the sheer comfort of the fabric.
Note that I said I took ten minutes just sitting in the car. It might have been fifteen minutes - this is how long it took to pair my phone to the most anti-intuitive interface in the history of recorded time. I don’t say that lightly, either. I’ve owned a Lada.
There’s no shortcut to a phone menu on the main infotainment console, you have to trigger the process from the steering wheel. From then on it’s a comedy of poorly designed instructions that tell you what to do on the media screen, but require you to continue to use the steering wheel controls, in a totally non-intuitive way.
We completely understand that if this was your car, then you would pair your phone once and be done with it, but this process sets the tone for the rest of the infotainment that is largely neither info-y nor tainment-y.
For example, the 7.0-inch media screen is a QVGA display which is a 320x240 pixel resolution. If that sounds small, it is. For context, just one app icon on the homepage of a 'retina screen' iPhone is 180x180 pixels. One icon.
I used to play Leisure Suit Larry on a higher-resolution screen than this, thirty years ago. THIRTY!
That, then, explains why the rear-view camera is like watching a Quicktime™ video clip from 1990. It’s good that Nissan has included one, because plenty of cars still don’t, but maaan... that resolution is a throwback to when undercuts were cool.
If you need even more nostalgia, there is a CD player and the centre console has RCA input jacks so you can connect up an old video camera. It might as well come with a $20 Brashs voucher. (Remember when you had to add $10 of your own cash to afford a full album?)
You do get a 2GB music storage drive, though, which is helpful as the audio system doesn’t support Bluetooth streaming. Yes, you read that correctly – there is Bluetooth phone but no Bluetooth audio.
The fact that three of the buttons on the interaction console below the screen are designed to turn it off should be a bit of a warning. Simply, this tech is decades old. You can do better, Nissan.
Even the dashboard layout with the giant empty space in front of the passenger seems like a lost opportunity. Why not put a second glovebox or drinks chiller there?
We will say, though, that the 4.0-inch high-resolution data display that sits between the instruments is quite cool. The image is angled back, giving a somewhat holographic experience as it reflects on the plastic binnacle cover. There’s even a feature to change the colour of the car icon to match your own, which is pretty fun.
Moving on from the techno frustrations though, the rest of the Pathfinder’s interior is hugely practical, and for the most part, hugely huge.
The middle row splits 60:40 and both seats are on rails so you can adjust for legroom or accessibility. Winding my own clock back seven years when the little person couldn’t talk (or talk back, am I right folks!), having the capsule on a sliding seat to be closer to the front was a huge benefit.
The seats flip, tumble and slide to help make entry-and-exit to the third row as simple as possible, and right back there you still get decent room for bigger children.
Even on the base Pathfinder ST, you’ll find three-zone air conditioning (driver, front passenger and rear passengers). There are vents on the side panels for the back-back, and in the center console, complete with temperature controls, for the middle row.
Being an American design, there are cup-holders everywhere, with particularly cool ones built into the passenger doors.
If running the car in five-up format, you can recline the seats slightly and enjoy sumptuous legroom, while maintaining a huge 1353-litre boot (measured to the roof). With all seven seats in play you score 453 litres, but fold everything away and there is a van-like 2259 litres.
You even get a neat cubby under the floor plus a space-saver spare wheel, too.
Powering the Pathfinder is the naturally aspirated VQ35 3.5-litre V6 with 190kW and 325Nm of torque. It feels punchy off the mark, but power peaks right around the clock at 6400rpm, so you really need to work it hard to get the most out of it.
Around town the response is good, but on the highway you feel the car needs longer legs a few extra newton-meters of torque to feel properly capable.
This is exacerbated by the CVT automatic gearbox which feels particularly elastic at touring speeds. It works well in the city though, offering a smooth transition between ratios and impressive fuel economy.
Nissan claim urban consumption above 13 litres per 100km and a combined cycle of just over 10 – but we saw as low as 8.0 litres per 100km on a sustained highway tour and averaged out at 11.
Driving around town, the big Nissan feels heavy and a bit lifeless through the wheel. It’s not unmanageable by any means, just not as light as it should be as an urban-friendly family truckster. There’s a sense of disconnection, in that you can waggle the wheel and the car just sort of floats in response.
It’s not an unpleasant car to drive, by any stretch - in fact far from it. It's just not very engaging.
Vision out of the Pathfinder is good, unless the third-row headrests are up, which all-but blocks the rear window. There are no driver assistance aids like blind-spot detection either.
The AWD Pathfinder has an intelligent drive selection dial which can be changed from two- to all-wheel drive from within the cabin. You can leave the car in automatic mode where it will offer traction to the rear wheels when needed.
Don’t expect to run the Telegraph track. though: the Pathfinder is a soft-roader that can handle trips to the snow or Grandma Sally’s farm, but not too much more.
The big plus with the 2016 Nissan Pathfinder ST at the moment is the price. Nissan has an offer of $43,990 drive-away, which saves a solid $4000 from the retail price, and the current market offer on the entry level Toyota Kluger.
The Pathfinder is a good family car with a great interior and some nice goodies that is just let down by antiquated infotainment and ordinary dynamics. The seats are great, it’s nice to drive and while the V6 isn’t perfectly suited to touring, it does a solid job around town.
We’ve seen an update hit the streets in the USA which we will see next year, and given there are another three years left in the big Nissan’s diary, we hope this will address some of the Pathfinder’s quibbles and let the Pathy see out its term as a good all-round family SUV.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by James Ward and Tom Fraser.