Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid v Toyota Kluger V6 : Comparison review

The continual rise in the cost of living is no doubt front of mind for many Australians. One of the places we all seem to feel this pain is at the petrol pump.

This is even more challenging for families, as the bigger the car, the bigger the bill.

Manufacturers, always eager to dangle the efficiency carrot, have been throwing ever-smaller engines and hybrid powertrains at pretty much everything in their lineups to try and find that golden balance between drivability and economy.

The latest model to lob in the full-size, seven-seat SUV class is the Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid. A curious mix of a 172kW 2.5-litre supercharged petrol four-cylinder engine with a 15kW electric motor, replacing the traditional 3.5-litre non-boosted V6 in the rest of the Pathy range.

The new petrol-electric combination claims impressive combined cycle consumption of just 8.5 litres per 100 kilometres, an improvement of 1.8L over it’s petrol-only counterpart.

As always there is a trade-off, however, and the Pathfinder Hybrid attracts a $3000 premium over the petrol model.

One of the best sellers in the same category is the Toyota Kluger.

Yet the hybrid drivetrain offered in the United States (where the Kluger is built) is denied Australian entry, something especially odd coming from a brand widely known for frequently shouting its Hybrid Synergy Drive wares.

Locally, the Kluger is offered only with a 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine, which has a combined cycle claim of 10.6L/100km, an increase of 2.1L over the hybrid Nissan.

And while, yes, the Nissan wins the economy numbers game on-paper, does the alternative driveline provide a true benefit over the traditional Toyota in the real world?

We recently compared the Kluger and Pathfinder as part of our family SUV comparison, where both received strong praise for their practicality and room, particularly for third-row passengers.

Each car can be had in both two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive configurations, starting from $40,990 for the Toyota Kluger GX and $42,990 for the Nissan Pathfinder ST Hybrid (or for the latter, $39,990 if you go V6 instead of hybrid).

For our comparison we’ve gathered the Kluger GXL ($53,990) and Pathfinder Ti Hybrid ($68,090) that both turn all four wheels. The closer match would have been the Kluger Grande at $67,520, but it was not available for this test.

While the Nissan is kitted out with all the goodies including rear-seat entertainment and a twin-sunroof, we are focusing this test on economy, driveability and basic functionality over features.

That said, it is worth covering a few basics.

From the driver’s seat the view of both cars is quite similar. The twin-gauge instrument cluster is split by a multi-function display, which in the newer Pathfinder is a colour screen angled in such a way it almost looks holographic. The Toyota opts for a more conventional monochrome display, which is more functional than fancy.

The steering wheel provides cruise control, telephone, volume and trip computer selection functions in both cars. The Nissan has a mixture of buttons and rocker-type switches which are ergonomically trumped by the Toyota’s more simple d-pad style approach.

Materials in the Kluger feel a bit more premium than the Pathfinder. While both share plenty of switchgear from older and lesser models, the Toyota just seems more solid.

Above: Nissan Pathfinder (top) and Toyota Kluger (bottom).

Even the integrated compass-point rotary dial and button array the Pathfinder uses to control the 8.0-inch touchscreen display seem more out of place than the generic looking 6.1-inch touchscreen in the Kluger.

Both cars are comfy up front though, and have two large cup holders in the center console, with storage in the armrest – the Toyota obviously employing a wormhole or other kind of quantum theory-based mathematics to create an enormous bottomless pit that brings up horrific memories of ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ episodes as your arm goes in and disappears beyond the elbow…

There’s plenty of storage and comfort throughout the rest of the cars too. Both offer tri-zone climate control and four cup holders per row.

Above: Nissan Pathfinder (top) and Toyota Kluger (bottom).

The Toyota’s seats fold in a 60/40-split configuration for both the second and third row (the smaller side on the left), where the Nissan has 50/50 in the rear and 60/40 in the middle (with the smaller part on the right, on the traffic side for right-hand drive markets such as ours).

Both cars offer a sliding middle row, to help access as well as rear passenger legroom, but the Nissan’s seats slide, flip and fold in a smooth movement to make entry and exit to the third row very easy.

Its sheer size is most evident from the middle row, though, which has sensational leg room and feels like Business Class (or so I’m told).

Above: Nissan Pathfinder (top) and Toyota Kluger (bottom).

The seating configuration of the Kluger is flexible, but nowhere near to the same degree as the Pathfinder, and the third row is notably more cramped in both head and legroom, as well as being harder to get in and out of.

Smaller children wont notice it as much, but it might create grumpy teenagers on long trips – and nobody wants that.

Drop the kids at school and fold all the seats flat – in both cars – and you’ve got a heap of space. The bigger Nissan offering a whopping 2259 litres against the Toyota’s 1872L.

Above: Nissan Pathfinder (top) and Toyota Kluger (bottom).

Read our full category comparison or individual reviews of the Pathfinder and Kluger for more detailed information, because it’s time to talk fuel economy...

To precisely compare their real-world fuel figures, we devised a 165km loop that included freeway, stop-start urban, country backroads, a steep hill, tight curves and an unsealed section. We selected that length as it is approximately 1.0 per cent of the typical annual distance travelled by the Australian family car.

For further standardisation, both cars had tyre pressures checked and set at 40psi, ran the climate control on automatic at 20 degrees and were driven with cruise control on for 100km/h stretches (freeway and backroad).

Tyre sizes varied slightly, with 20-inch wheels on the Nissan using 235mm-wide, 55-aspect tyres, against 18-inch wheels on the Toyota with 245mm, 60-aspect rubber.

The Pathfinder weighs in at 2073kg, the Kluger at 2020kg.

Each car performed the loop once, with both a driver and passenger on board, the latter switching seats at the same point on the trip, measuring audio levels over a two-minute period from a sound recorder in the third row.

First up, the hybrid Nissan.

The Pathfinder is a big car, at just over five metres long. The new monocoque SUV design much more user friendly than the previous ‘Navara with seats’ iteration.

The steering is light and feels a bit vague off-centre, although you can feel ruts and bumps through the wheel. Those same bumps keep the chassis busy too, as the car feels perhaps a little firm overall. This does give the car reasonable turn-in to corners, albeit with obvious bodyroll.

Road noise over coarse-chip surfaces is notable, but gravel is handled with aplomb. The cabin felt quite noisy, both in the back and in the front, and from the third row the meter reading was about 76dB.

The engine never feels strong though. It moves the big Nissan easily enough, but the harsh ‘strained’ noise from the CVT gearbox in combination with the mediocre performance makes you feel the Pathfinder is trying too hard for a car of its size.

This is more apparent on the open road too, as around the urban section of our loop, the Pathfinder is quiet and well mannered. Strangely it rarely seems to switch to full Red October-style silent running like many other hybrids do.

The Pathfinder’s hybrid system is designed to provide more efficient running from the combined power of the electric and petrol engine rather than zero emissions, and so you will only see the car operating in EV mode on initial startup or when coasting down a hill (where the CVT uses friction to charge the battery pack).

Slightly smaller in every dimension, the Kluger looks aggressive with its modern ‘Americool’ style.

There is more steering weight and a more connected feel than the Nissan. The Kluger gives less abrasive feedback through the wheel, and yet it never feels dull or disconnected.

Despite being smaller and lighter, the Kluger feels more solid than its rival.

It would seemingly ignore ruts that the Pathfinder skipped over. Interestingly, the noise meter reported a slightly higher dB reading (80 dB vs 76 dB) from the third row, despite the general feeling that the car was quieter. This may be due to better insulation in the front (where most of the discussions of what to eat for lunch took place).

Power wise, there is no replacement for displacement, and the big V6 feels smooth and powerful in all driving conditions. The six-speed automatic gearbox works extremely well, keeping most changes below 3000rpm and feeling consistently smooth.

Twin circuits complete, we hit the petrol station to compare figures.

The Pathfinder consumed 13.23L (for 8.0L/100km), the Kluger 17.99L (for 10.9L/100km) – a difference of 4.76L for the 165km route, or 2.9L/100 km in favour of the Pathfinder. Extrapolate that using our annual figure and you will use 476L or about $700 more fuel per annum in the Kluger. Given the comparable specification Kluger is about $500 cheaper, you will theoretically be financially ahead after a single year with the Nissan.

Both the Kluger and Pathfinder need six monthly services, but the former’s intervals are 10,000km compared with just 7000km for the latter – one of the lowest of any car on-sale. To three years or 60,000km, Toyota asks just $1020 as part of its capped price servicing program compared with $1831 (to three years) or a massive $2903 (if 63,000km comes up first) for the Nissan.

Based on our fuel economy results it will take five years of ownership for the fuel saving of the Pathfinder to see you over $3000 in front of the Kluger, which while not an inconsequential amount, absorbs only some of the servicing outlay.

If your family hauling needs are largely urban, the interior space and configuration are of key importance, and you are concerned about the pinch at the pump, then the Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid offers a truly economical solution in a terrifically practical package.

In addition to being cheaper to service, however, we also preferred the look, comfort and driving experience of the Kluger. If Toyota were to offer its hybrid powertrain, or add a diesel powerplant to this large SUV, then you would likely have an unbeatable category killer.

Click the Photos tab for more images by James Ward and Tom Fraser.

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