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First Drive: 2013 Nissan Pathfinder (Review)

2013_Nissan_Pathfinder_Review
The crossover segment keeps getting more and more crowded and with every major automaker vying for market share, the segment is hotter than ever. With the days of the large body-on-frame "rugged" SUV behind us, Nissan has completely revamped the 2013 Pathfinder with a new lighter unibody design that is more catlike than ever before. Will it woo away would be Explorer, Pilot and Highlander buyers? Read on to find out...

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The all-new 2013 Pathfinder marks the introduction of the fourth-generation Pathfinder. Although Nissan has made the switch to a unibody design, this isn't the first time for the Pathfinder. The first Pathfinder released in 1986 was a rugged truck based SUV, but when Nissan released the second-generation Pathfinder for the 1996 model year, the Pathfinder moved to a unibody platform. When it came time for the release of the third-generation 2005 Pathfinder, Nissan felt that buyers in the segment wanted a more rugged SUV, so the Pathfinder switched back to a body-on-frame design and even got an optional V8 engine. Since 2005 times have changed and buyers now place more of an emphasis on fuel economy, ride quality, roominess and all weather capability. Most buyers in this segment will never actually take their crossover off-road, so now we have an new Pathfinder that has given up a lot of the "rugged" feel and capability, but has gained a larger, more comfortable interior and a more fuel efficient powertrain.

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On the outside the previous Pathfinder's hard slab sides and angles have been replaced by a new body that is curvaceous and car like. The new exterior is also more aerodynamic than before, which also helps the Pathfinder's impressive fuel economy gains. Nissan says that the switch to a unibody platform has shaved 500 pounds off the Pathfinder's weight, but what's also impressive is that the 2013 Pathfinder is larger than the outgoing model. It's length has increased by 4.6 inches, width by 4.3 inches and its wheelbase is now 2.0 inches longer. The only dimension that has shrank is the Pathfinder's height, which is now three inches shorter. The larger exterior dimensions give the 2013 Pathfinder an interior that is one of the largest in its class.

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The 2013 Pathfinder has three rows of seats that provides room for up to seven passengers. According to Nissan, the new Pathfinder tops the segment with "best-in"class" passenger volume, front leg room and front head room. Passengers in the front two rows of seats will find the Pathfinder's interior comfortable and inviting. Taller passengers can fit in the third row, but for longer trips it would probably be a bit uncomfortable. One cool feature is the Easy Flex seating system. The system allows the second row to slide and fold up to 5.5 inches, which makes it easier for passengers to get in the third row. The Pathfinder also comes with Nissan's new Latch and Glide system that allows passengers to access the third row even with a car seat in place in the second row. Overall the Pathfinder's interior has a more premium feel than before, but doesn't have the tech focused "next-generation" feel that the Explorer provides.

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The Pathfinder's interior gets features like a dual panorama moonroof, tri-zone climate control system, heated and cooled front seats, heated second row seats, a heated steering wheel and a navigation system with an 8-inch screen. The Pathfinder also gets Nissan's all-around view monitor that uses four cameras to offer front, rear and side views. Unfortunately it doesn't work at full speed, and Nissan isn't equipping the Pathfinder with a blind-spot monitoring system at launch. One Nissan exec did confirm that it "could" be in the pipeline, but the fact that it's not included now, is a disappointment. The Pathfinder also isn't offered with new features like Lane Departure, a Forward Collision Warning system or Adaptive Cruise Control.

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Under the hood, the 2013 Pathfinder is only offered with one engine. The V8 engine is long gone, so buyers will have to be happy with the standard 3.5L V6. The 3.5L V6 generates 260 horsepower and 240 lb-ft. of torque. The V6 is mated to a standard CVT transmission, which helps the Pathfinder get up to 26 mpg on the highway (20 mpg city). With all-wheel-drive the Pathfinder gets up to 25 mpg on the highway, a 5 mpg improvement over the last Pathfinder. The new CVT uses a stronger drive chain instead of a traditional belt, which helps the Pathfinder tow up to 5,000 pounds. The standard Pathfinder sends its power to the front wheels, but the Pathfinder can be equipped with an all-wheel-drive system that offers three driving modes: 2WD, Auto and 4WD lock.

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On our drive through Napa, California the 2013 Pathfinder provided a comfortable ride and packed more than enough power. What was most impressive was even with full out acceleration on the back country roads, the new Pathfinder was averaging around 25 mpg. Of course we'd still prefer a traditional automatic transmission over a CVT, but the CVT in the Pathfinder was actually quite good compared to earlier systems. The annoying sounds that most CVTs provide were mostly muted in the Pathfinder. When the road got twisty the Pathfinder's steering and suspension were up to the task, with no excessive body roll or a completely numb steering feel. If you want a sporty driving experience, the Pathfinder will likely disappoint you, but based on most driver's expectations in this segment, the 2013 Pathfinder will satisfy them.

Nissan did provide a test loop that gave us a chance to test the Pathfinder's off-road capabilities. Thanks to the three-mode system, the Pathfinder is more than capable when the pavement ends. It's obviously not designed to compete with hardcore off-road vehicles since it only has 6.5 inches of ground clearance and lacks a handy Hill Decent Control system.

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Based on back to back drives with the new Pathfinder, Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander, the new Pathfinder is definitely at or near the top of its class. The Highlander and Pilot both felt old, with the Explorer being the Pathfinder's biggest competition. What puts the Pathfinder at the top of any crossover buyer's list? The 2013 Pathfinder's best-in-class interior volume, a higher MPG rating on the highway than any of its V6 competitors and a more stylish exterior should bring many buyers into Nissan showrooms. The 2013 Pathfinder starts at $28,270 for the base front-wheel-drive Pathfinder and goes all the way up to just over $44k for a fully loaded all-wheel-drive Pathfinder.

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