[Editor's Note – My apologies to Nissan, this was originally supposed to run months ago but got lost in the shuffle. It was a First Drive, but we've decided to just call it a review, hence the strike-through above. -- JG]
I hate oysters.
They’re a poor representation of what’s possible in the world of seafood. These lame mud scallops are slimy, sandy, salty, and the least inviting thing that can be plucked from the ocean and plopped onto a plate in front of my waiting maw. In the same vein (I guess?), I hate the Infiniti JX35. It’s the anti-Infiniti, as it’s not fun to drive, underpowered, packs a CVT, and is only reminiscent of being of the same family thanks to a few swooping lines.
It’s odd then, that I find myself at the Hog Island Oyster Company in Tomales Bay, California. A plate of the freshest batch of slimy mud critters are staring me in the face… and I’m on thirds. These damn things are delicious. Fresh, clean, and, with a dash of the supplied minuet, they’re simply divine.
The vehicle that brought me here, well, I expected to hate that too. It’s the 2013 Nissan Pathfinder, which means it’s essentially a JX35 wearing slightly less swooptastic clothing and a smaller price tag. I wanted to hate the new Pathfinder for not being what I feel it should be; a rugged, body-on-frame, V8-optional sport utility vehicle. Instead, it’s a unibody powered by a V6 that’s mated to a CVT…
…and it’s nearly as tasty as the oysters.
How, you ask, can this seemingly neutered Nissan put a smile on my face? I’m chalking it up to careful attention to details. Basically, the engineering wizards set about adjusting the mechanical bits to suit the task at hand. This means that the 3.5-liter V6 engine is rated to produce 260 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque, returns over 20 miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving, and is rated to tow up to 5,000 pounds. That last bit is where a bit of the aforementioned engineering wizardry comes into play. You see, the new Pathfinder is equipped with the latest generation Xtronic CVT. You wouldn’t expect your standard CVT to be ready to handle hauling and towing duty, which is why Nissan stuffed it with a heavy duty drive chain to make sure it’s up to snuff. Not only that, but Nissan is building the best CVTs in the industry right now. Yes, I understand that’s like saying Bravo has the best reality television, but there’s something to be said for a CVT that gets the fuel efficiency act right while also providing a driving experience that’s not entirely numb.
Press the gas and the Pathfinder responds with surging forward momentum. It’s unexpected but welcome, and it happens smoothly to boot. That happens when you’re able to shed 500 pounds over the outgoing model.
From behind the wheel, the Pathfinder feels composed and comfortable. It’s a great highway cruiser thanks to the well-appointed front buckets, not completely numb steering, and available in-cabin amenities. The around-view monitoring system keeps you in check on the move, and the Bluetooth streaming audio keeps your ears and mind happy. Should the going get a little rough, this soft roader is available with an intelligent four-wheel-drive system. Keep the Pathfinder in 2WD while tooling around town, or set it into Auto and the system will monitor road conditions and send power to the necessary wheels. Additionally, you can put it directly into 4WD and keep it there.
Couple the available four-wheel-drive tech with the innovative seating system, and you have a vehicle that’s designed for families that like to get out there and enjoy themselves. This three-row actually has a third row that’s usable and accessible, imagine that! What a novel concept. This is achieved by a rather smart second row that flips, slides, and folds its way into a position that allows for proper ingress and egress. Not only that, but you can move the second row seat forward while a baby seat is still in place. Not the baby mind you, just the seat… otherwise you’ll have flattened baby face.
As sorted as the inside is, it seems many of you are going to take issue with the exterior of the 2013 Pathfinder. I’ve heard folks refer to it as a squashed SUV, a fat wagon, and a Super Legacy. Yes, it’s certainly far more wagon-esque compared to the last-generation Pathfinder. A close friend owns one, and I do love the brutishness of his now older Pathfinder. I wish this newer Pathfinder were a bit more slab sided, but I also think it’s prettier in person than in pictures. The nose is very clearly Nissan, and the large headlamps suit the face rather well. I’d say the Pathfinder suffers most in the profile view, but the front three-quarter happens to look rather handsome. I also appreciate the toned down language compared to the JX35, which looks like a wealthier Pathfinder that went in for one too many procedures at the local Nip/Tuck chop shop.
So what do we actually have here? A surprisingly capable, comfortable, and well-equipped family hauler that can also haul some (not-too) heavy toys. Priced between $28,000 (Base S 2WD) and $41,000 (Platinum 4WD), it slots right into a segment filled with the rest of the lumbering beasts that roll through our highways and byways. The 2013 Nissan Pathfinder has a few tricks up its sleeve to help it stand out though, thanks to the adjustable four-wheel-drive system, efficient drivetrain, and slick seating system.
I entered into my time with the Pathfinder expecting to dislike it. Instead, I’m leaving with a greater appreciation for what skilled engineers can accomplish. I still prefer a true sport utility vehicle or a real wagon, but the Nissan Pathfinder does a wonderful job of combining both ideals into one well thought-out package.
I’m also leaving with a surprising desire to seek out more fresh oysters… but I still prefer well-made sushi.
[Disclaimer: Nissan flew me up to the Bay Area and then we drove out to an amazing hotel in wine country. I had wonderful dinners, drank wonderful drinks, and finally ate oyster that didn't taste like salty snot.]
[Images copyright 2013 Hooniverse/Jeff Glucker]