Hot on the heels of the V6 petrol-powered Toyota Highlander review, Nissan offered Drive Life a top-spec Pathfinder to review.
The Highlander wasn’t outstanding, but it was a solid ride. Will the Pathfinder be overshadowed, or can it stand as a genuine alternative to buyers who would automatically flock to a Toyota?
Luckily, the dates for the Pathfinder coincided with an annual ski camp, which always involves taking a bunch of teenagers skiing at the mountain. With all seven seats full and a load of gear, this was going to be a great test of the Nissan’s capabilities as a family wagon.
The Pathfinder sits in-between the X-Trail and the larger Patrol. The most interesting thing of the range of Pathfinders? There are 4 models, and they are all powered by the same 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine. You read it right, no diesels at all for any Pathfinder. Funnily enough, it’s exactly the same scenario for all versions of the Highlander.
The range kicks off with the base model, the ST 2WD at $55,490, then moves on to the ST 4WD at $59,990. The ST-L 4WD comes in at $65,490 and the Ti 4WD model is priced at $69,990, our current test car.
Even the base ST model seems reasonably well equipped, with Hill Start Assist, 18” alloys, LED DRLs, auto headlights, an 8” touchscreen central display, an 8-way power driver’s seat, reversing camera, rear parking sensors, keyless entry and start, cruise control, manual lumbar adjust for the driver’s seat, and a tyre pressure monitoring system.
The ST-L then adds a tilt/slide front power sunroof, a panoramic moonroof for the rear seats, fog lights, heated door mirrors, SatNav, a 360-degree camera system, 4-way power adjustable steering wheel, 2-way electric lumbar adjust for the driver’s seat, leather trim, 4-way power adjustable passenger’s seat, heated front seats, and a 13-speaker Bose sound system.
Our test car was the top of the range Ti model, which adds yet more equipment, like 20” alloys, LED projector headlamps with auto-levelling, motion-activated power tailgate, remote engine start, heated and cooled front seats, 2-position memory settings (for the driver’s seat, steering wheel and door mirrors), a tri-zone entertainment system with screens in the headrests of the front seats, rear cross traffic alert, Hill Descent Control, and blind spot monitoring. For less than $15K over the base 2WD model, the AWD Ti is great value for all that extra equipment that you get.
The best thing I can say is the Pathfinder isn’t an offensive design; it doesn’t stand out like the CX-9 or even the Highlander, but it’s ok to look at. Our test car was finished in Caspian Blue, which really suited it. It’s a fairly high SUV, with a few passengers commenting that it was a high car to climb up into.
Looking back over the photos, it almost looks X-Trail-sized, but it’s longer, wider and taller than the Highlander or Skoda Kodiaq. It certainly towered over most cars in parking lots.
The Nissan family resemblance is definitely there, it looks very much like a mini-Patrol, especially at the front.
The exterior size of the Pathfinder is reflected on the inside – plenty of room here! Spacious in the front, plenty of shoulder and legroom in the middle, and more than acceptable in the 3rd row. The middle row can slide, which is handy and often used.
The centre of the dash is quite busy with lots of buttons for the central display, as well as using touch-screen buttons for some tasks. But it’s all logically laid out and a doddle to use.
Overall, the interior is bordering on luxurious, with those black leather seats catching your eye, and then the light from the front sunroof and rear moonroof casting lots of natural light in – if you have the blinds open. The rear blind is electrically operated, while the front one is manual. The front sunroof is a tilt/slide unit, which is always better.
The Drive – Friday night
It’s great that the Pathfinder has 453 litres of space with the 3rd row up, because we are going to use all that and then some. It may have only been 12 months since the last ski camp, but I had forgotten just how much ‘stuff’ teenagers (especially teenage girls) feel they need to take for two nights away from home.
Still, we piled it all in there, and more bags around feet. A slight change of people in cars meant I only have a car of 6 for the trip up, so that meant we could load up the large space between the middle row seats.
Nissan claims more than once that the Pathfinder has ‘7 adult-sized seats’. That’s a bold claim. After testing both the Skoda Kodiaq and Highlander recently, the 3rd row in both those cars were not adult-sized. The verdict by the end of the weekend was that while the Pathfinder’s 3rd row may not be ‘big’ adult-sized, they are more than usable, and fitted in teenagers for a long trip just fine. Brownie points for Nissan.
We hit the road at 4.30pm, aiming to beat the worst of the traffic. Yeah, right! Once we got to the motorway, we crawled along for quite a while, not quite bumper-to-bumper, but not free flowing either. This is where the Nissan’s adaptive cruise control played a big part. I found it much easier to concentrate on traffic around me than having to constantly watch the car in front. The speed you have it set at is shown in the driver’s display, which is always welcome and still sometimes missing from some cars we test.
Then the sporadic rain started, and this is where I was shocked to find this top-range Pathfinder, at $70,000, doesn’t have auto wipers. Old-school intermittent is where it’s at with the Nissan, so it was down to intermittent wipers off and on, adjusting the speed up and down. Not the end of the world, but at $70K you would expect this. Funnily enough, last year I took a top-spec Kia Carnival on the same ski trip, and it too didn’t have auto wipers. Someone needs to remind Nissan it’s 2017. On that reminder, you could add that a pedal park brake is totally old-school now (the Highlander was the same for the park brake).
Still, that V6 hummed along nicely, making that engine noise that only V6 petrol motor makes. Smooth, quiet, reasonably powerful. Performance wasn’t earth-shattering, but we were pretty loaded up with gear and people.
Wind noise is very low in the Pathfinder, and while there is some tyre roar on certain surfaces, it’s a smooth and quiet ride on the whole.
Another chink in the Pathfinder’s armour was a lack of a digital speedo. With such a smooth engine and quietness, it’s easy for that speed to creep up. You might think, well since it’s got adaptive cruise control, who cares? But this is where I was shocked to find that the adaptive cruise doesn’t slow you down a hill – unless there’s a car in front. This could really catch drivers out. I see Rob Clubley found the same thing when he tested the Nissan X-Trail recently. This is a big black mark against the Pathfinder.
On the plus side of things, voice speed camera alerts are given which is great, and the heated front seats were a huge bonus once we headed north to the coldness. I like how there is a single dial for the heated/cooled seats – turn it one way for cooling, and the other way for heat. Simple.
When then hit a few twisty bits. While it’s nice to have light steering, it didn’t help on those twisty bits. Not a lot of steering feedback, and a reasonable amount of body roll saw me taking it gently. The seats too didn’t help here. They are super-comfortable on a long trip, but there’s not a lot of side-support. It’s no corner carver, and forces the driver to concentrate to keep it smooth around the bends.
We finally arrived at Raurimu – the seats proved themselves, with little discomfort, even for those in the 3rd row. The driver’s seat has electrically adjustable lumbar support. It’s only 2-way so you can’t move it up and down your back, but still a nice feature on a long trip.
Saturday – ski time
Time to head up the mountain, and the weather is even worse than last year. Since we didn’t ski last year –the weather was so bad – we make a decision to go anyway, and brave it out. Luckily someone else had a ute with all the ski gear in it, so we pile in the Pathfinder and head towards Whakapapa. Again the heated front seats come to play, although there’s a fight over who gets to ride shotgun to get the heated seat on that side.
The Pathfinder takes the mountain road in its stride. I’ve got to say I was really apprehensive about taking a petrol V6 on this trip, almost dreading the fuel bill and a lack of torque. But it wasn’t many times so far that I thought I’d rather have a diesel. The Pathfinder has Nissan’s auto-4WD system. You can turn the dial to force it to 2WD, but I left the knob in auto-4WD the whole time to let it do its thing. One of the driver’s displays will show you how much driver is being sent to the front or rear wheels, if you wanted to know.
Once we got to the car park, it was time to unload backpacks and other stuff from the boot, and I was reminded how nice it was to have a power tailgate. Yes, first world problems, but they do make life easier.
Was it cold as hell on the mountain? Totally! Wet through, freezing cold. Still we lasted until the mid afternoon before calling it quits, and a group decision saw us all heading to Tokaanu to the natural hot pools.
It wasn’t long before tired teenagers all crashed out for that 45-minute drive, so it felt like it was just the Pathfinder and me driving. I’ll be honest right now and say I wasn’t expecting much from the Pathfinder. I thought it would rate on the ‘just ok’ meter, but I was enjoying this car so far. Sure, the lack of braking down on a hill when using adaptive cruise is a major downfall for the car, but it’s roomy, easy to drive, and comfortable.
On the cruise back to Raurimu after the pools (which were packed – everyone had the same idea as us!), 6 teenagers decided it was time to test out the audio system more fully. The Ti model has a bass speaker system where the spare might be, and yes, it works quite well – at all volumes. One gotcha with the audio system though are the steering wheel controls. The track up/down button is back to front; to go up a track, you push the button down, and vice versa. It’s annoying and just plain weird. Also, so the track change button is an up/down motion, but the volume up button is a left/right motion. It’s all back to front, and the buttons are a totally different shape. This needs work to make it function properly.
The quality of the audio though is pretty good; not top of the range, but good overall. Bass and treble is excellent, but mid-range does feel a bit lacking. Still, my teenage passengers were happy and that’s all I was aiming for.
Even though the bass speaker is under the floor, you do get a space-saver spare and a tyre pump, so sort of the best of both worlds there.
Sunday – home time
Time to pack up and head home, via rock climbing and mini golf in National Park. Once thing I hadn’t noticed was the high load height on the Pathfinder; something to keep in mind. It’s pretty high. Still, we got as much as we could get in there, and the ute driver took the spillover stuff. I’m back to 6 passengers now, so we have a full car for the return trip.
While backing out our accommodation (if you can call it that – at $5/night, it’s pretty basic!), the 360-degree camera came into its own. These are so handy. But then, the teenager in the passenger’s seat discovered you can put your hand under the mirror and have it show on the display, which caused lots of laughing and ongoing testing of this ‘feature’. You have been warned. It works the same on the driver’s side, by the way. Feel free to test it out.
We decided that for the return trip, it was time to test out the tri-zone media system; the Pathfinder Ti has displays in the headrests of the front seats, and you can also show the same movie on the central front display. We connected up an iPhone via USB to the rear port, and tested it out. Didn’t work. So we then grabbed a DVD from a (the?) gas station in National Park, with me having visions of watching Princess Diaries over and over and over. But it was the wrong region! So that was a bit of a fail, more failing of planning on my part to not check out the region it needed before we could play a DVD. When it does work, you do get a pair of wireless headphones that live in the centre cubby, so if only two are watching you aren’t forced to listen as well.
As the sun went down on the return trip, another welcome feature was discovered; the Pathfinder’s sun visors have extensions that can come out more than four inches. This was perfect to block the sun from the driver’s eyes when the sun visors couldn’t do it.
After a few hours driving, I remember we had a 4-way power-adjustable steering wheel, so dropped it down some to give a bit more comfort. Interestingly while the Ti has Blind Spot Monitoring, the warning isn’t on the glass of the mirror – it’s on the inside of the car, on a piece of plastic that juts out from the mirror. So it’s there, but it’s not as obvious as looking in the mirror itself and seeing the warning icon glow. I’m not sure of Nissan’s reasoning around having it there, but it doesn’t work as well as ‘normal’ BSM.
Once peace came again as teenagers crashed out in the back seats, I had some thoughts on the Ti; it rides very well – although we were loaded up. But even without a load, it’s a smooth riding SUV. Performance with 7 people and gear? Better than you would expect for a heavy petrol SUV. Sure, up some steep hills you could feel the petrol coursing through to the engine (ouch) but on the whole it was more than adequate for the trip. Brakes are good to excellent – the pedal is a bit soft but braking feel is good and the car stops well, even loaded up.
I’ve got mixed feelings on the CVT used in the Pathfinder. It was better than some, sometimes.
Other times it whirred and whirred and you felt like you weren’t really making progress. At other times it changed up and down like a ‘normal’ auto trans. I think (hope) CVTs have had their day – the driving experience isn’t the same, and with 6-9 speed automatics, you get the best of both worlds.
I ended up covering over 1,200kms in the Pathfinder. I thought I would be at the pumps constantly, filling up that 73-litre tank. Nissan claims a combined average of 10.1litres/100km, and I got exactly that. Mind you, most of my time was spent on the open road, but I felt with the amount of weight we were hauling everywhere, that was a more than reasonable figure.
The Pathfinder wastes the competition in the cargo capacity stakes, at least with the 3rd row folded flat.
|Brand/Model||Engine||Power/Torque||Boot space, 3rd row down, litres||Fuel L/100km||Price – High to Low|
|Ford Everest Trend AWD||3.2-litre, 5-cylinder, diesel turbo||143kw/470Nm||1050||8.5||$75,990|
|Isuzu MU-X AWD||3.0-litre, 4-cylinder, turbo diesel||130Kw/430Nm||878||7.9||$65,990|
|Toyota Highlander GXL AWD||3.5-litre, petrol V6||218Kw/350Nm||813||9.5||$61,490|
|Nissan Pathfinder Ti AWD||3.5-litre, petrol V6||202Kw/340Nm||1354||10.1||$59,990|
|Mazda CX-9 GSX AWD||2.5-litre, 4-cylinder, petrol turbo||170Kw/420Nm||810||8.8||$55,495|
|Holden Captiva LTZ AWD||3.0-litre, petrol V6||190Kw/288Nm||465||10.1||$54,990|
|Mitsubishi Outlander VRX AWD||2.4-litre, 4-cylinder petrol||126Kw/224Nm||n/a||7.2||$54,490|
|Skoda Kodiaq Style AWD||1.4-litre, 4-cylinder, petrol turbo||132Kw/320Nm||630||7.4||$54,290|
|Kia Sorento LX 2WD||3.0-litre, petrol V6||199Kw/318Nm||605||9.9||$49,990|
The Pros and Cons
What do we think of it?
The ‘Pros’ list above is almost identical to the Highlander I had on test a few weeks ago…is it better than the Highlander? Hard call that, as they are both so very similar. This is one of those times when it’s going to come down to brand preference, or maybe some sort of pricing special deal.
The Pathfinder Ti is better equipped, but cheaper than the Highlander.
So, bottom line: is the Pathfinder a genuine alternative to the Highlander, or any others on the comparison table? Without driving it, the Pathfinder wouldn’t even have been on my radar – but after 1,200kms, it definitely is. Well worth a drive and 100% a contender if you are looking at a Highlander.
|Vehicle Type||Large, selectable 4WD, 7-seater SUV|
|Tested as Price||$69,990|
|Engine||3.5-litre, V6 petrol DOHC|
|Kerb Weight, Kg||2,070|
|Length x Width x Height, mm||5042x1960x1768|
|Cargo Capacity, litres||453/1354/2260|
|Fuel Tank, litres||73|
|Fuel Economy||Manufacturer’s rating, combined: 10.1 L/100Km
Real World: 10.1 L/100Km
|ANCAP Safety Ratings||5 Star|
|Warranty||3 years, unlimited kilometres
Roadside Assistance – 3 years