What’s in a name? That question comes to mind as regards the 2013 Nissan Pathfinder. As you may recall, the Pathfinder has long been Nissan’s rugged, body-on-frame sport utility vehicle for those who have a family, not the rugged, body-on-frame sport utility vehicle for those who are wont to bust out with a loud “Woo-hoo!” after an epic snowboard run in some difficult-to-reach locale. That one is the Xterra.
But times change, even if names don’t necessarily do, and the Pathfinder has become something less rugged as it has given up its body-on-frame structure yet it doesn’t compromise the family capability, as there is seating for seven (although those who ride in the third row—which, it must be noted, is not entirely difficult to access—would probably be better off if they’re under seven, as it is a bit on the tight side in the aft). A quick word vis-à-vis the notion of a unibody being less rugged than a body-on-frame vehicle. The Nissan Titan pickup has a body on a frame. It is designed to take a severe beating with whatever builders, farmers, contractors, and whoever else can throw at it. So without going down the road of “You can construct a unibody structure that would do the same,” suffice it to say that if Nissan figured it could build hard-core pickups without the frame (and they are by no means alone in this approach because every full-size pickup out there has a frame), they would. Frames are for trucks. Unibodies are for cars. . .or crossover utility vehicles. Or even sport utility vehicles.*
To wit: the 2013 Nissan Pathfinder.
The name remains the same, but this is the Pathfinder, Extreme Makeover Edition.
Just look at the front and the rear.
I’ll bet that if you hadn’t already read to this point you wouldn’t guess that this is a vehicle that can handily tow 5,000 pounds, a vehicle with a 260-hp engine under the hood, a vehicle that has an EPA interior volume of 157.8-cubic feet.
A word about the engine is in order, because it says a whole lot about this vehicle. It is a 3.5-liter V6. The last generation had a 4.0-liter V6. One might think that you’d be giving a whole lot up along with that 0.5 liter, right? But guess what: the 4.0-liter produces 266 hp. Clever powertrain engineering, that. Torque? Again a bit of a reduction: 240 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm vs. 288 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm.
And while talking powertrain, it needs to be pointed out that whereas the 2012 has a five-speed automatic, the 2013 has an Xtronic CVT—a continuously variable transmission.
What does that get you? How about a 30% improvement in fuel efficiency?
(The 2WD model can get 20 mpg city, 26 mpg highway, and 22 mpg combined.)
It is not entirely fair to contribute all of that fuel efficiency to the powertrain because there is another contributing factor, again pointing to some damn good engineering: mass reduction. For the 2012 model, the lightest comes in at 4,428 pounds and the heaviest 4,935 pounds. For the 2013 Pathfinder, the lightest (a 2WD model with S trim) is 4,149 pounds and the heaviest (4WD Platinum) is 4,471 pounds. Less mass is better.
In addition to which, the designers and engineers went to work at making the vehicle more aerodynamic: it has a 0.34 coefficient of drag, with is a 13% improvement compared to its predecessor.
Presumably, someone interested in a vehicle with three rows is someone who has a use for three rows. Maybe it was once the case where you’d get the third row “just-in-case,” but those days are probably right back there with $3.00/gallon gas. So the Pathfinder’s second row seating is designed with what is called “EZ Flex,” which, thanks to a clever folding of the bottom seat cushion, allows 5.5 inches of second row travel, which provides suitable space for real people to get in the back. In addition to which, on the way to seven passengers there is likely to be a child in the household, so there is “LATCH AND GLIDE” for the 60/40 spilt second row that allows a child safety seat to remain in place on the passenger curb side of the vehicle while the other side of the seat splits and moves forward. Simply: the child seat doesn’t need to be removed. Clever.
And while we’re on the subject of seating, the third row seat backs (it is a 50/50 split) reclines, thereby adding a bit of comfort to an area in a vehicle that typically has more in common with a variant on Spanish Inquisition (“You’ll stay back there until you stop talking!”) than contentment.
So, it is a Pathfinder, yes. But a Pathfinder where the paths—yes, yes, there is 4WD availability, including 4WD Lock—are more likely to be paved than rock-strewn, potholed than tree-limb-covered. A Pathfinder for now.
*Even the Jeep Grand Cherokee has unibody construction.
Engine: 3.5-liter, DOHC V6
Material: Aluminum block and heads
Horsepower: 260 @ 6,400 rpm
Torque: 240 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm
Transmission: continuously variable
Wheelbase: 114.2 in.
Length: 197.2 in.
Width: 77.2 in.
Height: 69.6 in.
Curb weight: 4,345 lb.
Base MSRP : $36,070 (destination: $780)
EPA: 19/25/21 city/highway/combined mpg