A shiny, red 2014 Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid arrived in our work parking lot one afternoon, barely managing to squeeze into the front space. I hopped inside the behemoth, and the first thing I noticed was the comfortable seating and the ocean of space behind me. But when I pressed the push-button starter, out of the engine came the faintest whisper I had ever heard from a large car. I immediately knew it would be an interesting drive.
Such idiosyncrasies rarely exist in the automotive world. Generally, you can tell right away that a small, econobox will feel less powerful than a sports car, or that a larger car will feel heavier than a small one. In fact, there are very few hybrid, large crossovers on the market, so we felt we needed to examine this segment. After our drive, we felt that the Pathfinder Hybrid was well-behaved on the road and provided a smooth ride, but it missed the mark in a few key areas.
Model and Price
We were lucky enough to drive the top-of-the-line Platinum Premium model, which starts at a hefty $45,050 plus an $860 destination fee. The model is one step up from the ultra-lux Platinum model because it adds a $2,300 package that includes tri-zone entertainment system, a dual panoramic moonroofs, and auxiliary audio/video jacks in the rear.
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Safety and Key Features
The government has not yet released crash test ratings for the 2014 Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid. However, the 2013 Pathfinder scored four stars overall, including a four-star rating in front crash testing, five stars in side impacts, and four stars in rollovers. Front airbags protect occupants in the first row while side curtain airbags cover those in all three rows.
The Pathfinder Hybrid we drove came standard with two TV screens mounted on to the backs of the front seat head rests, paired with headphones and controller to keep rear seat passengers entertained. Other standard features include a navigation system with an eight-inch monitor, power liftgate, HomeLink universal transceiver, an eight-way power-adjustable driver seat with lumbar, and a Bose audio system.
Family Friendliness and Utility
If you can't fit it in a parking space, well at least you can fit tons of people in it. The Pathfinder Hybrid seats seven. The second row is particularly luxurious, featuring plenty of space for all sizes of people. While the third row provides good headroom, legroom is tight. But fortunately, there is no extra middle seat back there to make things more uncomfortable.
Getting inside the Pathfinder Hybrid is easy. The middle-row seats slide all the way forward to make room for people in the very back. Nissan's EZ flex seating allows the second and third rows to be easily folded into the ground to maximize space.
In terms of total cargo capacity, the Pathfinder Hybrid falls slightly below the Highlander Hybrid, its main competitor. With all the seats up, however, the Pathfinder Hybrid's cargo capacity exceeds that of the 2014 Highlander Hybrid, fitting two large duffel bags, 16.0 cubic feet with all of the seats upright versus the Toyota's 13.8. The Nissan also wins out over the hybrid Highlander in terms of passenger volume, 157.8 cubic feet versus 141.1. It should be noted that the standard Highlander can be had with eight-passenger seating; seven-passenger seating is standard on all hybrid models.
Comfort and Quality
With the top-of-the-line version, we were quite comfortable, particularly when sitting in the front seat. A few complaints came from the rear seats, but the DVD entertainment system and heated seat cushions quickly squelched that. All the leather-appointed seats were comfortable and each person who traveled in the Pathfinder had his or her own cup holder.
In terms of technology, we were overall pleased with the ease of use. Connecting a smartphone is easy and simple, as is using the radio. Maps in the navigation system looked a bit outdated, but we managed to get to our destination safely and reliably, and with little trouble.
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How it Drives
So far, we haven't mentioned anything truly negative about this hybrid family-lugger. That is largely because it is overall very comfortable and useful inside. However, when it comes to actually driving the car, we noticed some pertinent flaws.
First, we should note that the crossover is powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and a lithium-ion powered electric motor to produce a net 250 horsepower. But weighing around 4,700 pounds, the powertrain is not enough to provide adequate acceleration in this case. Passing on the highway was a bit challenging in this crossover, although it managed to provide car-like driving dynamics when turning and cornering.
A feature that is often paired with hybrid cars is regenerative braking, which captures energy when the driver stops and feeds it to the battery. In the case of the Pathfinder Hybrid, braking was very aggressive and sensitive to the touch. This may be acceptable if the light at the end of the tunnel was better fuel economy, but we found this wasn't true. Although the Pathfinder Hybrid is advertised at 25/28 mpg city/highway, we managed to get no better than 22 mpg during our week with the crossover. For those looking for better fuel economy, opt with the 27/28 mpg city/highway from the heavier, more powerful Highlander Hybrid.
We were spoiled rotten in the Platinum Premium model and enjoyed all the entertainment and comfort amenities it offered. But at $45,000, we don't think it is necessary. We also were questioning the value of the hybrid system. Based on the fuel economy we recorded, we suggest most buyers opting for the gas-powered model. Buyers who prioritize fuel economy may want to instead look at the Highlander Hybrid or a smaller crossover. Nevertheless, we found that the Pathfinder Hybrid was comfortable, reliable, and highly functional—all qualities we think should attract a wide array of families.
EPA City: 25 mpg
EPA Highway: 28 mpg
EPA Combined: 26 mpg
Cargo Space: 16.0 cubic feet
Child Seat Fitment, Second Row: Good
Child Seat Fitment, Third Row: Good
Estimated Combined Range: 507 miles
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: Average (2013 Pathfinder Platinum)
"The overall driving dynamic was pleasant and comfortable. It was quiet, even on the highway, and although not a luxury model, it still felt like it was a step up." -Megan Stewart, Associate Editor