Nissan's Pathfinder started life as a truck-based SUV, then went to unibody construction in a subsequent generation, becoming a crossover before there were crossovers. That generation was followed by a truck-based model, which gained a little off-road cred. With the 2013 Nissan Pathfinder the pendulum swings back to a crossover design, striving to retain its backcountry capability while adding all the comforts of a minivan. With the Platinum Premium package, Nissan even throws in a rear-seat entertainment system.
What Nissan really attempts with the Pathfinder is to be all things to all people. This effort is, for the most part, successful.
The Pathfinder offers three-row seating, with a middle row that slides forward to allow easy rear-seat access, making it a capable people carrier. Middle-row and rear seats all fold down mostly flat, creating a good amount of cargo space for those weekend IKEA runs. The aforementioned rear-seat entertainment system keeps the kiddies quiet on road trips, while Nissan packs the dashboard with its standard kit of cabin electronics for navigation, audio, and phone. More ambitiously, the Pathfinder boasts a four-wheel-drive system featuring differential-locking capability.
Although the Pathfinder is equipped with a continuously variable transmission, Nissan rates its towing capacity at 5,000 pounds, more than enough to pull a Sea Ray 21 Jet speedboat.
The front seating area of the Pathfinder reads more like a minivan, with beige leather power-adjustable seats and a rounded dashboard, than an SUV. The driving position is not particularly high, making access easy. The interior design highlights softness and comfort more than rugged utility.
Old, familiar electronics
Greeting me in the center dashboard was an old friend, Nissan's stock navigation system. I have always found Nissan's cabin electronics interface to be very usable, with its odd combination of a touch screen and dial controller. The dial, with directional buttons mounted on top, works very well for zipping through onscreen menus. When it comes time to use the onscreen keyboard, I go to the direct input of the touch screen.
The Pathfinder has a hard drive for navigation map storage, making screen inputs and map refresh quick. The maps also show traffic flow and include rendered building images in downtown areas. Route guidance, with its graphics and voice prompts, was easy to follow. Using voice recognition to enter addresses proved tedious, as I had to enter each part separately. I found I could enter addresses more quickly using the dial and touch screen.
Included in the points-of-interest database were Zagat-rated restaurants, a nice addition, but the system did not show me the nearest restaurants, instead making me scroll through a long list of cities.
The Pathfinder also pulls in a weather forecast with this system, delivered through its satellite radio channel, but there is no app integration of any sort.
In the Pathfinder, Nissan restricts this navigation system to the Platinum trim. You can't get it on S, SV, or SL models, not even as an option. And with navigation comes other niceties such as Bluetooth audio streaming.
A Bluetooth phone system, however, comes standard in all but the lowest trim. In the Pathfinder Platinum, that system featured an onscreen interface giving access to my paired phone's contact list and a second contact list saved to the car. The phone system allowed dial-by-name through voice command.
All Pathfinders use the same drivetrain, based on a garden-variety 3.5-liter V-6 and the previously mentioned continuously variable transmission (CVT). The engine's output, at 260 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque, sounds unremarkable. Nissan almost seems to deemphasize the engine, hiding the tailpipe behind the rear fascia under the Pathfinder.
Given Nissan's excellent CVT, the engine can afford to be average. CVTs use a set of bands and spools to constantly find the optimum drive ratio between engine and wheels. Nissan has been refining this one for many years, and the work shows.
As I drove over freeways, city streets, and narrow highways, the CVT ensured that I always had available power on tap. The Pathfinder accelerated smoothly, with no gear dumps. When I needed to pick up speed fast, the CVT readily dropped to a lower drive ratio, pulling more power from the engine. There were never any of those flat spots you get with fixed gears, never any waiting for the engine to catch up with a new gear ratio.
The CVT also gave the Pathfinder a very easy driving character. Rather than with an engaged driving experience, the Pathfinder honors its crossover status with get-in-and-go drivability. Although I did have to wait a few moment for the navigation system to boot up before I could enter an address.
An electrohydraulic boost system attempts to give the steering easy turning capability at low speeds while maintaining the kind of feel to which decades of drivers are accustomed. I found the steering to be reasonably precise, with just enough play in the wheel for comfortable long-range cruising.