2013 Nissan Pathfinder review: Mixes SUV and minivan capabilities

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.

Piloting the 4,471-pound Pathfinder around a set of turns, I found it was able to maintain the speed limits without fuss, going well over the recommend speed posted on the big yellow signs. It was prone to understeer, not surprising given its bulk, but keeping the power up helped correct that problem.

The ride quality over smooth and rough roads proved comfortable, the fixed suspension and all-season rubber quickly damping out any rocking. Nissan did a good job of engineering this suspension for the variety of tasks people might give the Pathfinder.

Look around
The top tech feature I found when driving the Pathfinder was its surround-view camera system. When I put it in reverse, the main LCD switched to a rear view and a top-down view set side by side. It is a great comfort when maneuvering around concrete posts in a parking garage or rocks on a dirt road to see how close objects unfriendly to sheet metal are coming to the doors. Unfortunately, this camera system is the sole driver assistance feature, as Nissan does not make features such as adaptive cruise control, very useful on road trips, available in the Pathfinder.

2013 Nissan Pathfinder
The most interesting feature of the Pathfinder's electronics is this surround-view camera system. Josh Miller/CNET

The camera system could come in handy when making use of the Pathfinder's four-wheel drive, to help avoid banging up the sides on narrow dirt roads. A dial on the console let me switch on the fly between front-wheel and four-wheel drive, the latter being an automatic mode that shunts torque between front and rear axles as needed.

The main four-wheel-drive mode might come in handy in light snow, but when conditions get trickier, the Pathfinder offers the option of locking the center differential, which splits the power 50:50 between the front and rear axles.

Given the Pathfinder's 6.5-inch ground clearance, I wouldn't take it up even an intermediate-rated trail. The suspension doesn't seem capable of that level of articulation. But at a Nissan-sponsored event last year I took one on a trail drive that involved some steep climbing and a small fording, and it behaved admirably in those conditions.

2013 Nissan Pathfinder
The Pathfinder will do fine on dirt roads, but doesn't have the suspension for the serious stuff. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

The Pathfinder delivered my driving soundtrack through a 13-speaker Bose audio system, Nissan's perpetual audio partner. I was impressed with the well-balanced audio quality. The system sounded a little better than I had come to expect from Bose after listening to its systems in other cars. I wouldn't consider it serious audiophile quality, but it produces clear, distinct instrumentation.

Mostly, I relied on the Pathfinder's USB port as an audio source, either listening to music on a USB drive or plugging in my iPhone. The crossover offered a full music library interface on its screen for music from my iPhone and a similar one for music from the internal hard drive, but with a USB drive it only showed music in file and folder format.

Voice command was fairly limited for the audio system, for example not letting me request music by name.

The included rear-seat entertainment system featured two headrest monitors with headphones for each. This system let rear-seat passengers choose between the car's DVD player, a USB drive, or rear auxiliary inputs for a video source.

The EPA-rated fuel economy for the Pathfinder Platinum, with four-wheel drive, comes in at 19 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. In my driving, I never got above 20 mpg on the trip computer, and ended with an average of 19.3 mpg.

Third-row advantage
The 2013 Nissan Pathfinder doesn't excel in any particular area, but it does do quite well. I found the Jeep Grand Cherokee I reviewed previously a more comfortable, capable vehicle than the Pathfinder, but it costs a bit more and lacks the Pathfinder's third-row seating, which will be a requirement for some.

The CVT is the highlight of the drivetrain, delivering even power and helping fuel economy. Nissan isn't pushing its engine technology at the same pace as other automakers. The four-wheel-drive system, with its locking differential, could come in handy in some conditions.

I like the Pathfinder's cabin electronics, but they are becoming dated. Nissan has been offering the same suite for about five years, so I hope the company has some updates in the offing, especially some foray into app integration.

Tech specs
Model 2013 Nissan Pathfinder
Trim Platinum Premium 4WD
Power train 3.5-liter V-6 engine, continuously variable transmission
EPA fuel economy 19 mpg city/25 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 19.3 mpg
Navigation Optional hard drive-based with traffic
Bluetooth phone support Optional
Digital audio sources Onboard hard drive, Bluetooth streaming, iOS integration, USB drive, satellite radio, auxiliary input
Audio system Bose 13-speaker system
Driver aids Around-view camera
Base price $43,450
Price as tested $44,395

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    2013 Nissan Pathfinder

    Part Number: 101419313
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