2018 Nissan Pathfinder N-Sport review

Rating: 7.3
$46,160 $54,890 Dealer
  • Fuel Economy
    9.9L
  • Engine Power
    202kW
  • CO2 Emissions
    230g
  • ANCAP Rating
    5Stars

Yet another version of the Pathfinder has rolled into the CarAdvice garage, this time the N-Sport. Does the extra black detailing equal a more compelling buying proposition?

The 2018 Nissan Pathfinder N-Sport is yet another variant of the popular large SUV that has been part of the portfolio for a long time now. Including the hybrid variants, there are now 10 Pathfinders to choose from – and Nissan reckons this newest iteration has a place too.

What I find most interesting is the way Nissan has positioned the Pathfinder. I might be the only one – actually, come to think of it, our video guru Glen Sullivan is on board too – who laments the ‘softening off’ of what used to be a capable 4WD. I remember testing the ‘proper’ Pathfinder back in the day, low-range gearing and all.

As with most SUVs these days, Nissan research found that hardly anyone took their Pathfinder off-road, and as such it was, let’s say, urbanised. The thing I find hard to wrap my head around is the fact that it leaves the Patrol as the only large, or upper large, proper off-road Nissan in the stable.

The Patrol is a steal in relative terms, but there’s no diesel available and for some buyers it’s just too big. Old Pathfinder owners like Glenno tow their boat and jet ski, head onto the beach, take the kids on camping and surfing holidays, and head into the national parks regularly enough to justify Nissan still offering them something in that segment – Terra perhaps?

Be that as it may, this is the Pathfinder we have domestically heading into 2019, so let’s take a closer look at what the N-Sport trim grade brings to the table.

With a seven-seat cabin, the N-Sport Pathfinder starts from $56,425 plus on-road costs. Like the other N-Sport variants in the Nissan stable, the Pathfinder is based on the mid-spec front-drive ST-L trim grade, and it gets dark enhancement additions for that popular black-pack look. Hey, everyone is doing it in the aftermarket, so why wouldn’t the manufacturers all jump on board?

Buyers get 20-inch alloy wheels painted black, as well as black side mirrors, a black front grille, black front and rear bumper inserts and black roof rails. Exterior colours include – ahem – Diamond Black, Gun Metallic and Ivory Pearl. It will be limited too, with only 250 on offer Down Under.

Standard-equipment highlights are the same as the ST-L, and you can read our full pricing and specification breakdown on the range for that list of features. The 8.0-inch infotainment screen is solid size-wise, but is lacking in the tech department compared to the competition. You do get standard satellite navigation that works well enough, and the Bose audio system is exceptional. It’s actually better than many luxury cars that charge far more for high-end systems. There is also a 360-degree camera, heated leather seats up front that get electric adjustment and two sunroofs.

On the subject of pricing, yes, it’s more than the equivalent non-black-pack-enhanced Pathfinder, but it is only a $2000 premium over that model, and there’s no way you could make all these changes post purchase for just two grand. So, there’s value there for sure.

Perhaps the most obvious strong point in the Pathfinder call to arms is beneath the bonnet in the form of an impressive V6 engine. It whacks out 202kW at 6400rpm and 340Nm at 4800rpm. Mated to a CVT, the ADR fuel claim on the combined cycle is 9.9L/100km.

Into the cabin, there’s an immediate air of space and openness; a plus for this segment where supposedly large SUVs can often feel cramped. You could accuse me of nitpicking the infotainment system, but a sharper touchscreen and proper smartphone connectivity in the form of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay really are things buyers will expect for this kind of outlay.

The leather trim and cabin in general feel sturdy and likely to stand the test of time in terms of family abuse over the years. It’s not a luxurious cabin, but not many are in this segment or pricepoint, and I like the way a Nissan feels like it’s bolted together properly. You never hear squeaks and groans from the interior trim, and while some of the plastics are a little on the cheap, shiny side, you know they won’t cause you any headaches long term.

There’s enough room for the family to grow in the second row, and the third-row seats will be perfect for younger children into their early teenage years. Adults won’t want to be wedged in there for too long, that’s for sure, but that’s also true of every third row in this segment. There are air vents right into the third row, though – a big plus in Australia.

Family buyers will love the EZ-flex (sounds like a Mr Olympia competitor if you ask me) split-tumble second row too. The way it bunches forward makes getting into the third row a cinch, while also opening up a huge storage space if needed.

The aforementioned V6 engine packs a real punch, and like most powerful FWD SUVs, if you happen to nail it hard enough it will light the front tyres up fairly easily. We didn’t test it in wet conditions, but you’ll want to keep that in mind. It gets the Pathfinder cranking in a straight line, though, that’s for sure, even with a CVT doing the work.

It’s not the best iteration of the CVT in real-world terms, but then again it’s not horrible either, and most buyers won’t be stepping into this SUV with snappy gearbox performance in mind. In fact, most people I canvas outside the motoring fraternity, who have no idea what a CVT is, simply think they are incredibly smooth gearboxes.

Probably the only other negative, aside from the wheelspin, is the fuel use that comes with such a potent engine – one that almost asks you to work it a bit too. The ADR claim of 9.9L/100km on the combined cycle is optimistic at best, and we saw an average in the low 13s around town, even when we ratcheted the enthusiasm back a fair bit. You’ll see closer to the 9.9 average on the freeway, of course, so the big V6 will come into its own on longer family holiday drives.

I found the ride around town to be more than acceptable given the pretty sizeable rolling stock – 20s aren’t always easy to harness into a comfortable ride, but Nissan has done a good job here. I’ve read others criticising the handling, but that’s nonsense. I’d rather an SUV take my family around town in comfort than hook into corners. The Navara rides over pockmarked roads and speed humps very nicely indeed.

Safety is taken care of by way of a full suite of active safety inclusions, and there’s the full five-star ANCAP rating as well. Buyers get a five-year/100,000km warranty, and servicing is required every 10,000km/12 months. Those services are capped, so over the first 60,000km you’ll only be forking out $1972.

Does the Pathfinder in N-Sport guise make a compelling buying proposition? A little sceptical at first, it’s fair to say that if you’re buying this kind of SUV, why not get the one that hardly anyone else will have? It’s not the best, or best equipped, in the segment, but that isn’t the be-all and end-all either for plenty of buyers looking for reliability and cost of ownership.

The Pathfinder doesn’t really do too much wrong, and if you can grab an N-Sport variant before they all run out, you won’t be disappointed in its family-hauling capabilities – so long as you remember that it’s FWD only.

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