Over the years we have seen a progression of changes in the SUV. They have morphed into a combination minivan, station wagon, four-wheel drive genre known as crossovers. On one side of the equation we see the beefing up of the species compared to the timid minivan. On another side of the we have seen a drastic emasculation of the SUV. The product of this witch’s brew is a vehicle that performs more like a minivan without the stigma, yet offers some of the traction and rugged qualities of an SUV.
Until the introduction of the all new Pathfinder, Nissan had been one of the hold outs. Keeping the Pathfinder based on a body-on-frame structure has given it near cult status. Hardened off-roaders, outdoors types and folks who just want the image of being a hearty adventurer continued to be loyal Pathfinder buyers.
According to the marketing types at car companies, the reality of the market is fewer and fewer buyers wanted this ruggedness. The truth of the matter was most owners wanted higher fuel economy rather than off-road capability. One factoid Nissan pointed out at the introduction of the all new 2013 Pathfinder was fewer and fewer SUV owners were venturing off road. The extent of their off-highway excursions were more of the ski resort parking lot variety.
Facing the reality of a declining market for body-on-frame vehicles and hedging their bets that very few diehard Pathfinder owners would discard Nissan and more loyalists would be gained than lost,
Nissan set their engineers and designers to developing a softer, gentler Pathfinder.
I recently spent a few days behind the wheel of this all new 2013 Pathfinder and I can tell you that what the SUV has given up in 4x4 capabilities it has gained in comfortable ride and fuel economy. That may or may not be enough to retain the owners of past Pathfinders but it will certainly bring new prospects to Nissan. At least to look. It remains to be seen if that translates to sales.
Powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 that produces a healthy 260 horsepower and 240 lb-ft. of torques the new Pathfinder proved responsive as I drove through city streets and ventured out through the Napa Valley Wine country. The gain in fuel economy will be one huge asset to the Pathfinder as fuel prices fluctuate between high and obscene.
Advances in fuel delivery systems in internal combustion engines have made huge increases in miles per gallon, some even bettering hybrids. The heavy use of lighter materials such as high strength steel, aluminum and plastic composites have contributed to these advancements. The new Pathfinder in two-wheel drive configuration is rated at 20 mpg in the city and 26 on the highway and in four-wheel drive dress it receives a 19 city and 25 highway rating.
Part of the move to make major improvements in fuel economy is the development of the Constantly Variable Transmission (CVT). Nissan has virtually invested their entire transmission development to the CVT and is committed to its advancement.
I however, am not so convinced this transmission design has reached its full potential. I certainly give nods to Nissan for its commitment as each new version of their CVT hits the streets it carries improvements, and those improvements show in the new Pathfinder.
Nissan and a few other manufacturers, who are outfitting vehicles with CVTs, feel as though there is little perceived difference between a conventional automatic transmission and a CVT. I, on the hand, have issues with the “motor boating" feel as the vehicle accelerates up to speed. Not having shift points as the vehicle progresses up from starts to highway speeds and vice versa on down shifts is not a comfortable feel.
Nissan gets credit for equipping the Pathfinder with a manual mode with its CVT, giving the driver a choice. While few owners seem to use manual mode, it is a major plus-factor to any automatic transmission of the twenty first century. Actually, to my mind it is an absolute must, as is steering wheel mounted paddle shifters.
As the 2013 Pathfinder becomes more docile a new four-wheel drive system has been developed. No longer does the Pathfinder have a heavy transfer case of old. Today, it is replaced with electronically controlled couplers that transfer the power from front to rear as the computer control senses a need. Under normal road conditions the power goes to the front wheels as it does with most passenger vehicles. When the computer senses any wheel slipping, it transfers up to 50 percent of power to the wheels with traction.
The Pathfinder has a respectable 6-inches of ground clearance and succeeded in gliding over the 5 1/2-inch high cow patties in the field where I did a little off-road testing. It also proved it is no longer a hardened four-wheeler. Along with the softening comes a towing capacity of 5000 pounds.
The complete Pathfinder redesign includes exterior styling that is more streamline and contemporary. It would be easy to say the Pathfinder is a softer looking machine but it is also more contemporary. The grille, front fenders and hood have a more drastically sloping contour than the previous version. The windshield has a greater angle as it flows into the roof line. The side character line flows from fender, running along the doors concluding at the rear taillights culminating with a softer look. This soft look melds into the rear tailgate as it carries softer lines with a large cargo opening.
The Pathfinder has gone through a metamorphosis that has softened it design as well as it temperament. While no longer a hardened wilderness concurring four-wheeler it offers more comfort for the active family. There is no doubt this will change the attraction for many, but that is exactly what Nissan was aiming for and the target they hit.