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2013 Nissan Pathfinder Road Test

We like you, Pathfinder. Just...not in that way.

What It Is
Seven passenger family hauling, with a side order of bland.
Best Thing
We can't point to one single thing that's genuinely bad about the Pathfinder.
Worst Thing
We can't point to anything that makes us excited for it, either.
Snap Judgment
Sorry, Nissan. But the Pathfinder just got friend-zoned


The 2013 Nissan Pathfinder Platinum we recently drove presented us with a conundrum. Nobody who drove it could find fault with it. The Pathfinder--now a car-based crossover instead of a truck-based SUV--was comfortable and quiet on the road. It had plenty of room for seven, good cargo space, and all the features you'd expect for a $40,000-ish front-wheel drive family hauler.

Yet nobody on staff really fell in love with the Pathfinder, either. Granted, this isn't a passion-driven market segment, and few of the Pathfinder's competitors will have hearts racing. Yet even in this segment, usually a vehicle has something, either pro or con, that elicits an emotional reaction. Not so with the Pathfinder. In other words, we like it, but just as a friend.

That's right. We friend zoned the Pathfinder.

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The question is whether this is a good or a bad thing. Some would say that every vehicle should be filled with passion, but truth be known, there are a lot more people out there who would happily trade "passion" for quiet, comfort, and features. That's basically what the 2013 Nissan Pathfinder does: It offers a compelling package of features at a solid price that's right in the heart of the market. Is it exciting or fun? No. But it still ticks every must-have box on the modern crossover shopper's check list, and Nissan's clearly betting that for most people, that's more important.

What We Drove

While the base model Pathfinder S starts at a modest $29,495 (including the $845 destination charge), our test vehicle was an almost fully loaded front-wheel drive Platinum model, which costs $40,395. Not cheap, but with leather upholstery--including heated and cooled front seats, and heated second-row seats--navigation, Nissan's All-Around View parking assistant, Bluetooth and a high-end audio system, it's par for the course in this segment. Also par for the course is the Pathfinder's safety equipment: stability control, and multiple airbags all around give this family-friendly crossover a four-star overall rating from the government; the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety hasn't yet tested this vehicle.

The Commute

When they're off duty from family hauling, even big crossovers like the Pathfinder find themselves in freeway traffic in the mornings and evenings. If that sounds familiar, then you're going to find yourself with a lot to like in the Pathfinder.

Nissan pairs its 3.5-liter V-6 engine to a continuously variable automatic transmission, better known as a CVT. It wasn't long ago that CVTs were among our favorite things to hate, but Nissan deserves a lot of credit for advancing the technology to the point where we hardly even notice it anymore. The smooth flow of power from the V-6 just results in steady progress, with no shift shock. The V-6 sounds pretty good, so we don't even mind that the CVT holds it at high revs for extended periods of time when you drive it hard.

The V-6 engine packs 260 horsepower, which sounds like a lot until you ask it to lug around the Pathfinder's near-4,500 lb. curb weight. It's not slow, but it's not very quick either. Granted, family haulers don't need to haul butt, too, but the Pathfinder is definitely on the pokey side of the crossover class, which becomes noticeable when you have to floor it to get up to freeway speeds, or smash the gas to the floor to make a quick pass. That weight likely contributed to the Pathfinder's 19.1 mpg observed fuel economy in mixed driving, nearly 1 mpg less than the EPA's city rating.

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At least it's quiet though. This big Nissan goes about its business without fuss, quietly and controlled. The audio system sounds great, the suspension soaks up bumps big and small without complaint, and there are plenty of nooks and crannies for your day-to-day knickknacks. Plus, if you're an avid carpooler, even your third-row riders won't have much reason to complain. While not as comfortable as the second row, the third row is surprisingly accommodating, even for adults.

The Grocery Run

It shouldn't be a surprise that a vehicle the size of the Pathfinder is a good cargo hauler. With the third row of seats folded, it easily accommodated 20 of our grocery bags; that number dropped to a still impressive 16 with our Britax stroller taking up some of the room. With the third row up, figure about 10 bags of groceries or so. Plenty of space either way, although we do wish the power hatch either opened faster, or had a simple manual override. Also, while the underfloor storage compartment is handy, about a third of the space was taken up by the audio system's subwoofer in our Platinum-level test vehicle.

Now that it's no longer based on a truck, the Pathfinder is much lower to the ground, making it easier for little ones to climb in and out. The middle row seats slide far forward, making access to the third row even easier. Nissan makes a big deal about being able to slide the second row seats while and child seat is still mounted. While that's true, they don't slide quite as far forward and, obviously, you can't have your baby actually in the seat when you do it. LATCH points were relatively easy to access, and the second row's ability to slide fore and aft a bit made fitting even a bulky infant seat easy.

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Despite the Pathfinder's size--and make no mistake, this is a big vehicle--parking lot maneuverability is excellent, mainly because of Nissan's All Around View camera, which gives you a bird's eye view of the vehicle as you park. How? Cameras on the nose, under the mirrors, and in the usual backup position above the rear license plate. A computer makes it all line up and, boom, you can see just how evenly you're parked between the lines. In other words, no excuses for lousy parking.

The Weekend Fun

Over a fun-filled weekend that included a Lakers game at Staples Center, our 2013 Nissan Pathfinder showed exactly why these big crossovers are so popular. On the highway it was quiet and comfortable, with wind noise controlled around the mirrors and windows. The audio system was crisp and clear, and there was plenty of room for everyone to stretch out and relax.

From the driver's seat, this isn't a vehicle you'll grab the keys for to hit a twisty road. The steering was light and easy, but not fun-inspiring. That is to say, as far as fun is concerned, the Pathfinder is more of a means to an end, rather than the place to be itself. Of course, that's a criticism that can be leveled at just about any large, three-row passenger hauler, so at the very least the Pathfinder's in good company. If your travels do happen to take you to where the roads aren't quite so paved, you can at least rest assured that the Pathfinder hasn't totally abandoned its off-road roots. While it's no longer a body-on-frame truck--with a low-gear transfer case and all that off-road jazz--it does offer a couple of modes on its all-wheel drive system to help you get through soggy, slick, or sticky stuff. Just don't get too ambitious, or you'll wind up stuck anyhow.

Summary

Nissan's sales of the new Pathfinder have broken all kinds of records for the model, and it's easy to understand why. The 2013 Nissan Pathfinder just goes about its job without calling attention to itself, yet it doesn't make you happy to be done with it when you arrive. Without breaking very much new ground, or radically changing the game, the Pathfinder still impresses by the way it just goes about its business, quietly and effectively.

That sounds like a backhanded compliment, and maybe in a way it is. If you look to your vehicle to inspire you when you're behind the wheel, then the Pathfinder isn't going to do it. But then again, it's not supposed to. It's a family hauler, a stand-in for when Nissan's Quest minivan is just too--and apologies in advance for the cliché--soccer mom. With solid looks, a comfortable and quiet ride, and plenty of high-end features, the Pathfinder does everything at least well, even if it doesn't make you step back and say, "wow."

For the vast majority of shoppers in this segment, that means it's just about perfect.

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Spec Box

Price-as-tested:
Fuel Economy
EPA City: 20 mpg
EPA Highway: 26 mpg
EPA Combined: 22 mpg
Cargo Space: 20-plus behind second row; 10 behind third row Child Seat Fitment, Second Row: Excellent
Child Seat Fitment, Third Row: Good
Estimated Combined Range: 429 miles
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: Average

Notebook Quotes

"Driving felt like minivan. Big, soft, squishy, rolly--and comfortable. OK, maybe this thing isn't as stupid as I thought. The V-6 mileage was meh (19.1 hwy), and it wasn't particularly great at getting out of its own way, but it doesn't much need to." -Jason Davis, Associate Editor
"The Pathfinder Platinum has plenty of the amenities, few of the frills, and is priced right at the heart of the segment. This is one of the few crossovers I'm rooting for to do well. It deserves to sell in large numbers." -Jacob Brown, Associate Editor

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