The top-of-the-range Nissan Pathfinder TI gets a suite of updates for 2017 that add some style to the spaciousness. But is it the pick of the Pathfinder bunch?
The Nissan Pathfinder's multi-generational history in Australia has been an inconsistent one, a journey over which more than 70,000 units have been sold.
In the 1990s it was a refined answer to rough-and-tumble off-road rivals, while in the 2000s it morphed into a utilitarian 4x4 when its enemies had become soft monocoque crossovers.
While never a paragon of style or efficiency, it has leveraged keen pricing and mountains of cabin space well enough, averaging about five per cent market share over the past few years.
Nissan launched the MY17 updated model a few months ago, bringing a number of changes to the table to compete with the aforementioned rivals in ways beyond the dotted line.
Who is Nissan targeting? Families of course, people too style-conscious for a people-mover/minivan, who want ride height and do predominately urban driving.
So what has changed? The MY17 Pathfinder get a revised V6 petrol engine with more power yet greater efficiency, matched to a new CVT gearbox that's supposedly better than its predecessor.
There's also a plethora of new partial-autonomous active safety technologies from Nissan's Intelligent Mobility suite, improved infotainment and subtly revised looks with flashy LED headlights available.
Given the latest Mazda CX-9 is still a relatively new offering, the Kluger has just copped its own big upgrade, and the soon-to-be-updated diesel Kia Sorento remains a benchmark, the big Nissan has a task ahead.
While the range kicks off at $41,990 before on-road costs, here we're testing the flagship TI all-wheel drive (AWD) that costs $66,190 – bisecting the cheaper CX-9 Azami and pricier Kluger Grande.
It's also $5000 more than the bigger, roomier and more efficient turbo-diesel Kia Carnival Platinum people-mover with sliding side doors. We reckon shelving your pride and looking in this direction has merit.
The Pathfinder's cabin remains a bit of a grab bag. The positives are its new 8.0-inch touchscreen that is crisper and has simpler menus than before, the trio of USB inputs, better Bluetooth software and a reassuring feeling of solidity and quality, mixed with some genuinely tactile leather and plastic surfaces.
The heated and ventilated leather seats are like big, plush La-Z-Boy recliners as well – not the most supportive, but by God, they're comfortable. There's also a great 13-speaker BOSE audio system with 'Acoustic Waveguide' tech, and an electric-adjustable steering column that adjusts rake and reach.
Negatives: the fascia is still button-heavy, the interface remains less intuitive than rivals, there's no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, it lacks the Kluger's multitude of clever storage nooks, and that foot-operated parking brake remains.
Being the range-topper, the $70k-ish Pathie TI brings a long list of standard equipment: three-zone climate control, leather seats, keyless go, front sunroof and panoramic glass roof, satellite-navigation, 360-degree camera, LED headlights, remote engine start, and auto tilt-down side mirrors to stop you kerb-rashing those nice alloy wheels when parallel parking.
There's also a host of new tech such as autonomous emergency braking (AEB), blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert built into the AEB and adaptive cruise control that mirrors the speed of a car ahead, best for highway driving. This complements the six airbags and 2013 five-star ANCAP crash rating.
The area where the Pathfinder is truly distinguished is cabin space. This beast is more than five-metres long and is a proper three-row, seven-seater rather than a '5+2' like a Hyundai Santa Fe or Skoda Kodiaq.
The middle row seats slide and recline, there are ISOFIX anchors – the large portion of the 60:40 split is on the left-hand side for those affixing permanent child seats, though you can tilt and slide the right-side an ISOFIX-compatible child seat in place to maintain third-row access – big side windows, LED reading lights, and a flat floor.
The seats are quite flat and unsupportive, but you cannot argue with the space. There's also a screen embedded in each front-seat headrest that plays DVDs, USBs, HMDI and Aux-in.
Nissan's other party trick is the EZ flex seating system in which the middle seats 'shrug' – pull a lever and the base rises, the chair slides on rails, and the back-rest tilts downwards in one simple movement.
Access to the third row is therefore well ahead of anything this side of a Kia Carnival or Honda Odyssey, and the third row seating also includes recline adjustment and comes with a rear tether point for a child restraint. Headroom and legroom is decent, though toe-room is limited.
An electric tailgate with motion sensor liberates a large storage area that offers as much as 2260 litres of space with the middle and back row of seats folded flat. Then are a total of 10 cupholders, six bottle holders, four 12V outlets and an under-floor storage compartment below seats six and seven.
In short, the interior still feels a little old-hat in in terms of design, but it's loaded with features and the practicality aspect remains inarguable.
How does it drive though? The big change is the 3.5-litre V6 engine, which Nissan claims uses 50 per cent new parts. It's now got 202kW of power (up 12kW) and 340Nm of torque (up 15Nm) and uses a claimed 10.1L/100km of 91 RON petrol. It also tows 2700kg if required.
It's a free-revving and characterful unit in Nissan's fine tradition, and though it lacks the pulling power or frugality of the Kia Sorento's diesel, it about matches the Kluger's 3.5 V6 unit and the CX-9's turbocharged 2.5-litre four-pot.
We managed fuel consumption of 11.5L/100km, which is actually okay for a car this big, though if you hoof it, you'll see that climb to 14L/100km or more, which won't help household fuel bills much. Slow and steady, guys.
On a side note, you can get a 188kW/330Nm petrol-electric hybrid version for $3000 more, which matches a 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine with a 15kW electric motor and 144V lithium-ion battery, to cut fuel use to 8.8L/100km.
The new CVT gearbox is better than the old unit because while it remains an infinite-ratio unit, Nissan has added in-vogue simulated 'stepped' ratios, so it feels like a 'regular' auto under heavy throttle. This helps noise suppression.
Under the body Nissan has firmed up the suspension a little, which in turn slightly improves the body control/handling. The old Pathie rolled in corners like a flat barge in a storm, whereas this one is more like one of those modern ferries. Still not as dynamic as the Mazda, of course.
The positive trade-off here is that, despite the 18-inch wheels and firmer damping, the Nissan still irons out sharp hits pretty well, ensuring decent road comfort, albeit still a tiny bit behind the super-plush Kluger.
The steering is a little quicker from centre but it remains a little on the heavy and cumbersome side, with about three turns lock-to-lock. Despite the high driving position and large windows, this big Nissan feels every millimetre of its 5.1m dimensions.
Happy in shopping centre car parks and modern estates sure, less so in the inner-city with its tight parks and narrow gaps...
Our tester had an on-demand all-wheel drive system that shuffles torque rearwards when slip is detected up front, and bundles in a hill-descent control and a low-speed lock mode. Don't mistake this for a proper 4x4, but it'll navigate small trails or snowy roads. If you want real capability opt for a Ford Everest or Toyota Prado.
From an ownership perspective, all Pathfinder model grades include a three-year/100,000km warranty and 24-hour roadside assistance program.
Scheduled servicing for the 2017 Pathfinder is required every 10,000km/12 months (whichever occurs first). The approximate prices for each of the first three services are $281, $383 and $281. Reasonable.
All told the updated Pathie is clearly a better bet than before, though it still lacks the CX-9's or Kluger's polish. We think it's actually a stronger option at $42k ST guise where its dollar-for-space equation is inarguably great. If the TI is more your bag, haggle for a deal.
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