Butterflies are some of nature’s most beautiful creations. These delicate insects come in a huge range of shapes and sizes, not to mention just about every color of the rainbow. It’s hard to believe such otherworldly creatures are born of wrinkly, sausage-shaped caterpillars.
|1. A 3.5L V6 makes 260 hp and 240 lb-ft of torque, a little bit less than some of the competition, but you won’t notice the difference.
2. A CVT transmission is standard, which takes a lot of the fun out of driving but really does help improve fuel economy.
3. FWD versions can return 20 mpg city and 26 mpg on the highway for an average of 22 MPG. AWD models lose one mpg in each category.
4. Pricing starts at roughly $29,500, including destination and delivery fees. The top-of-the-line Platinum Premium version at nearly $43,000!
Traditional sport-utility vehicles have been undergoing a similar metamorphosis. Over the last few years they’ve been shedding their crude, truck-based bones for lighter unibody architectures.
One of the latest SUVs to trade its full-frame in for a passenger-car platform is the Nissan Pathfinder. This redesigned crossover delivers sleek styling, a spacious interior for people and payload as well as impressive fuel economy. So is it the ultimate family vehicle or just another delicate beauty?
INSIDE, OUTSIDE, UPSIDE-DOWN
Unveiled at the 2012 North American International Auto Show as a concept, designers stayed faithful to that handsome model. The production version is one of the nicest-looking vehicles in its class, which includes vehicles like the Chevrolet Traverse and Honda Pilot. It has an elegant, cleanly styled body. Such restraint and sophistication are more in the realm of Audi than Nissan.
But ultimately it’s what’s inside that matters most. An haute couture body can be completely let down by a slipshod interior. Luckily for passengers the Pathfinder avoids this pitfall.
Its dashboard is simple and lacks any unnecessary swoops or surface fussiness. The square-looking instrument panel is punctuated by circular air vents on the driver and passenger sides. It’s constructed of decently grained hard plastic that feels as sturdy as the Lincoln Memorial.
It really doesn’t matter if the dashboard is hard. Where extra squish counts is on the doors, and this Nissan’s panels are covered in gooey-soft nougat. It’s like resting your elbows on freshly baked cinnamon buns, except you don’t have to worry about staining your clothes with icing… or licking it off afterward.
One minor complaint about the Pathfinder’s interior has to do with noise. Out and about it seems a little louder than other vehicles on the market, but it’s hardly a big deal. Automakers have practically exterminated wind and road noise over the last decade so hearing a tiny bit of it is actually unusual.
Seating accommodations are worthy of applause. The front chairs are comfortable and spacious; there’s even ample foot room, unlike the Ford Explorer’s front floors for instance, which are lumpier than a sack of Idaho Russets, and just about as cramped.
The second row is nearly as generous and relaxing. The seat backs recline as well as side fore and aft, but that’s not the limit of their abilities. The so-called “EZ Flex Seating System with LATCH AND GLIDE” allows the chairs to fold up like a yoga guru and slide out of the way, opening a generous pathway to the third-row.
Hauling all of those seats around is a 3.5-liter V6 engine. It delivers an inconspicuous 260 horsepower and 240 lb-ft of torque. Most of its competition puts out closer to 300 ponies but you won’t notice the difference. This powerplant is a member of Nissan’s world-famous VQ family which means it’s pretty smooth and snarls nicely when the throttle is cracked.
The engine is matched exclusively to a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). For everyday use this “gearbox” is fine; it moves the vehicle down the road with little drama. But get on the accelerator and it becomes a major letdown.
CVTs are typically paired with buzzing, malnourished four-cylinder engines, like the one in Nissan’s own Sentra. Thankfully the VQ is a tremendous powerplant and makes up for much the transmission’s objectionable behavior. Generally CVTs impart a slipping sensation and also tend to make engines moan and drone, especially under heavy acceleration.
All-wheel drive is optional – Nissan’s “ALL-MODE 4×4-i System.” It can be left in front-wheel mode for maximum efficiency; it has an automatic all-wheel-drive setting to tackle unexpected situations; and it even has a four-wheel-lock setting for maximum traction in severe conditions. This is all controlled by a simple knob located aft of the shift lever on the center console.
Nissan claims the 2013 Pathfinder offers more standard towing capability than any other vehicle in its class. Whether it’s a base model or the range-topping Platinum Premium they can all drag 5,000 pounds behind them with no need for an extra trailer-tow package.
Improved fuel economy is a major reason Nissan switched the Pathfinder from body-on-frame construction to a car-based architecture. The 2013 model is supposedly up to 30 percent more efficient than its predecessor.
The two-wheel-drive model can deliver 20 miles per gallon in the city and up to 26 on the highway, numbers that just 10 years ago compact cars had trouble achieving. The midlevel SL version provided to AutoGuide for evaluation was saddled with the extra weight and friction of all-wheel drive. Its economy scores are one MPG less on each cycle, but still pretty damn impressive. In heavy-footed driving we managed to beat the average by half a mile-per-gallon for a total of 21.5 MPG.
While CVTs may throw a sopping-wet comforter on the driving experience, they’re really good for fuel economy because, depending on conditions, they keep the engine spinning at its most efficient speed. And Nissan’s CVTs are probably the best in the business.
A color display is the center of attention in the Pathfinder’s interior but it’s a bit of a bait and switch, at least on lower-end models. It looks like a touch screen but probe it with a digit and nothing happens. Rather than human fingers it’s controlled by a smattering of buttons underneath screen as well as a large knob. After a week of testing the Pathfinder’s display was littered with greasy prints. I need to wash my hands more often…
The screen shows all kinds of functions from radio presets to the temperature of the air spit out by the climate-control system. It’s kind of overkill for such basic functions but a proper touch-based navigation system is standard on the high-end Platinum model.
COMPETITION: Read our review on the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe
The Bluetooth interface is one area of the Pathfinder’s cabin that is frustrating, like maddening, rip-your-hair-out-in-bloody-clumps aggravating. Counter intuitively it seems phones can only be paired by pressing the voice button on the steering wheel. On every other telematics system that comes to mind this same task is accomplished by diving into the settings menu on the display screen. I only discovered how to configure it up after pressing the “voice” button on the steering wheel by accident.
With that hurdle out of the way, pairing my phone was a cakewalk. All seemed right with the world but the Pathfinder had other ideas. I could accept incoming calls without issue, but attempting to voice dial by name was a complete, utter, total, abject failure, even after downloading my contacts. Not once did it work properly. Zero, nada, didn’t happen. Maybe my handset is not supported by the back end of Nissan’s infotainment system, or perhaps I was using it wrong, but still, it shouldn’t be this hard. From my experience other automakers do a much better job with telematics technology.
ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMINS
An entry-level Pathfinder will set you back about $29,500, including destination and delivery fees. That gets you a nicely equipped S model with front-wheel drive, power windows, cruise control and an in-cabin micro filter. The mid-range SL version we tested cost a hair more than $38,000 out the door, which is pretty reasonable by today’s standards for a well-appointed, three-row, seven-seat crossover.
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The 2013 Nissan Pathfinder is a great vehicle for families. It offers oodles of passenger comfort, a pleasant driving experience and great fuel economy. It’s also stylish and built for the long haul. It’s a great alternative to the Ford Explorer, Chevrolet Traverse or Toyota Highlander. Just like a caterpillar morphing into a butterfly Nissan has successfully taken the crude, truck-based Pathfinder and transformed it into something beautiful.