Nissan officials readily admit they’re one of the last automakers to offer a three-row crossover; it’s something Honda and Toyota have peddled since the early 2000s. Through September, droves of Costco-hauling suburbanites have edged three-row midsize and large crossovers north of 660,000 sales, accounting for roughly one in every 16 new vehicles sold. Every major automaker offers one except Volkswagen and that may soon change.
Nissan’s solution: Reimagine the aging Pathfinder — a truck-based SUV with EPA combined city/highway ratings as low as 14 mpg — into something that competes squarely with the Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander. It hits dealerships late this month with a starting price at just over $29,000.
I drove front- and all-wheel-drive versions of the new Pathfinder at a media preview in Northern California this week.
It boasts handsome styling, commendable gas mileage and decent, if imperfect, drivability. Odd packaging leaves certain trim levels with subpar tech features, but the Pathfinder has a few strengths that should get the attention of family shoppers.
Nissan swapped the old Pathfinder’s truck-suited drivetrains — a 4.0-liter V-6 or 5.6-liter V-8, each with a five-speed automatic — for its familiar 3.5-liter V-6 and continuously variable automatic transmission. The duo provided enough oomph for my drive route’s rapid elevation changes, but the so-called “next-gen” CVT’s penchant to hunker back into lower revs makes for some lag when you dig into the gas for passing maneuvers. Still, once the transmission kicks up to higher revs, the V-6 moves out, if not as stoutly as a V-6 Toyota Highlander or Chevrolet Traverse. Fans of the old V-8 Pathfinder will find little comparison for passing power or towing capacity, which drops to a crossover-competitive 5,000 pounds from the last Pathfinder’s trucklike 7,000-pound rating. But Nissan says buyers cared much more about gas mileage. With the national average price of a gallon of regular gasoline hovering above $3.75, we can’t argue.
To that end, Nissan removed hundreds of pounds — 279 to 464, comparing equivalent V-6 trims — in the redesign. That’s atypical in a segment where weight gains are the norm — even when SUVs move to car-based platforms (see the Dodge Durango or Ford Explorer). The sum of Nissan’s parts delivers an excellent EPA-estimated 20/26 mpg city/highway (22 mpg combined) in front-drive Pathfinders, and all-wheel-drive versions get 19/25 mpg (21 mpg combined). Both figures edge out the major competition by 1 to 2 mpg, though one Explorer variant — the front-drive, turbocharged four-cylinder EcoBoost engine (20/28 mpg) — has Nissan beat.