Nissan takes a new, bitumen-based path with its next generation large SUV
This fourth generation of the Nissan Pathfinder has finally come in from the family SUV wilderness.
The new model is a far more refined offering than the previous vehicle, which launched in 2004, offering a dramatically improved ride quality in particular over the old Navara-based Pathfinder. However, improving on-road behaviour comes at a cost as the vehicle loses much of its extreme off-road capability.
Unlike the previous model, which was only available with diesel engines after the ancient 4.0-litre petrol six-cylinder was phased out two years ago, the new Nissan Pathfinder is petrol only.
While the last model was built in Spain, the new Nissan Pathfinder is based on the Murano wagon and is built in Tennessee, USA. With American demand for diesel virtually non-existent, there was no way the new Pathfinder would be engineered for a diesel engine, despite some great oil-burner engines in the Nissan-Renault family.
Given more than half the large SUVs sold in Australia are diesels, many families may not even bother checking out the new Pathfinder. That is unfortunate, because this is an excellent family SUV that can seat seven in comfort.
The new Nissan Pathfinder is offered as a front-drive model or as a four-wheel-drive, using an on-demand system. It doesn't have a mechanical locking centre differential of the outgoing Pathfinder, or low range. It instead uses an electronically controlled viscous coupling that can send up to 50 per cent of drive to the rear wheels in extreme conditions, although it spends most of its time in front-drive mode. It is possible to lock the drivetrain in 4WD mode, but this only works up to 40km/h.
Nissan insists the new Pathfinder can go a reasonable distance off-road but acknowledges that it is not as capable as the old model, especially with its relatively low ground clearance of 165mm. It also misses out on a full-size spare, making do with a space-saver.
The Navara-based Pathfinder was also a body on frame construction, which helps with off-road work and durability in extreme conditions, but often results in poor ride quality on sealed surfaces. The new Pathfinder has a monocoque construction like all cars and 90 per cent of the large SUVs sold so far this year.
It retains a good tow rating of 2700kg, although some customers may not be comfortable towing such loads with an automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT), the only gearbox available with the new model.
The Nissan Pathfinder is available in three trim levels. The entry-level front-drive ST kicks off the range at $39,990 and is clearly the best value of them all.
It gets a heap of standard gear starting off with 18-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry and start, Bluetooth phone connectivity, three-zone climate control, seven seats, seven-inch colour screen as well as 10 cupholders and six bottle holders (well, it is American after all).
The 4WD version costs an additional $4300. After a run on some slippery gravel at this week's launch in Canberra, though, it is hard to see why anyone would bother optioning the 4WD given how stable the front-drive version felt at speed. Also, if anyone really needs proper 4WD capability, the new Pathfinder is not going to cut it with its part-time soft-roader drive system, especially when compared to the Toyota Prado, Holden Colorado 7 and Mitsubishi Challenger.
As a family hauler with seven seats and a reasonable boot, the Pathfinder, especially the most affordable entry-level model, kicks a lot of goals.
This is a very family friendly vehicle. There is a vast amount of interior space and an adult of average size can sit comfortably in the third row, which is extremely rare. There is also ample room in the second row.
The black 'felt' fabric is pleasant to touch and appears like it would be hard to stain, compared to some cloth trims, while there are climate control vents for all three rows – which is particularly valuable with a full load of children on board.
The car also has Isofix child seat fittings, six airbags, including curtain bags that cover all three rows, a rear camera and a five star ANCAP crash test safety rating.
An ST-L is the next model in the line-up and it costs $50,290 for the front-drive version, with a $4000 premium for the 4WD model. The extra cash buys leather seat and door trim, heated front seats with electronic adjustment, a sunroof, electronically adjustable steering wheel (with telescopic function), fog lights and an anti-dazzle rear-view mirror. It lifts the feel of the cabin and these features will appeal to some customers, but the price hike over the standard model is substantial.
Sitting at the top of the tree is the Ti, with the front-drive model costing $60,790 and the 4WD version adding $4100. This gets 20-inch wheels, an eight-inch centre screen, satellite navigation, heated and cooled front seats and a power tailgate that opens and closes at the touch of a button. Again, these are nice features, but the Ti is not $20,000 better than the entry-level model.
The only engine available for the new Pathfinder is the excellent VQ35 3.5-litre V6. This quad-cam unit produces 190kW and 325Nm in the Pathfinder and works with the aforementioned CVT automatic.
The official fuel economy for the front-drive version is 9.9L per 100km. Further tests will be required, but experience suggests these numbers could rise substantially when loaded up, working in the city or towing, far more so than a diesel equivalent.
The lack of diesel is the Pathfinder’s biggest weakness, but for customers happy to pay a little more at the petrol pump, it is a good drive.
Thanks to the smooth and strong V6, the Pathfinder pulls its 2000kg-odd bulk at quite a reasonable rate. It is no rocket, and attempting a fast start can lead to frustration with a slurring CVT, but is more than quick enough for family duty.
Unlike its Murano twin, which will continue on as a five-seat alternative, the Pathfinder is not going to polarise with its styling. This is an attractive car and the base model gives the impression it is more expensive than it actually is. The only hint it is the cheapest model is the badge and the round gaps in the front bumper where the fog-lights go in the more expensive models. The cabin also has an upmarket feel in all three grades, despite hard dashboard plastic.
Its design is conservative, but it isn't ugly either and the controls are logically laid out.
On the road, the Pathfinder is predictable and its handling is best described as benign. There is expected body roll when pressed through corners, but it doesn't lurch uncontrollably. More importantly, it rides well and has good body control over some rather bumpy roads, something that can't be said for some of its rivals.
It is also very quiet in the cabin, at least before you let the children aboard, with road, tyre and wind noise all well muted.
All up, the new Pathfinder is an excellent seven-seat family wagon that is spacious and comfortable. It is not for those who require real off-road capability and will obviously not appeal to customers seeking a diesel, but has plenty going for it, especially the front-drive ST.