For 2013, Nissan introduced the Pathfinder, a vehicle designed along with the Infiniti JX, which I liked a lot. Surprisingly, Jeff liked the Pathfinder, yet he wasn’t too crazy about the JX35, which confused me. Hooniverse readers complained that Nissan turned a proper body-on-frame 4×4 into vehicle for someone who does not want a minivan, or a CUV. Yes, they did and they did that because that is what sells – body-on-frame SUVs and minivans simply do not sell as well as the Highlanders, MDXs, X5s, and Pilots.
For those that do want an off-road capable body-on-frame SUV, Nissan has the Xterra. They offer a minivan too, in form of the Nissan Quest. They have the big Armada too, in case you need to tow a house, so they got all the bases covered.
Let’s start off with the fact that Hooniverse readers are right; many people, including me, won’t buy a minivan even if they are more practical and less expensive. That’s because suburban moms drive minivans and no one wants to be a suburban mom. SUVs, in theory, are driven by hip adventure-loving people – and that’s a fact! Every SUV buyer wants to be a hip adventure person, which is why they buy SUVs. This is the same reason why people buy the Nissan GT-R – they want to be that guy with the GT-R, even if their driving limits don’t exceed the capabilities of the Nissan Cube.
Let’s be real now and give into the fact that no one is going off-road. Add to that the fact that body-on-frame SUVs are heavier, less efficient, drive like trucks, and have less interior space. Additionally, SUV buyers want the space, the high driving position, convenience, and that extra bit of traction (and the over-confidence that goes with it) of all-wheel-drive. They want good gas mileage and car-like driving characteristics, too.
The sum of all of these translates into cross-over SUVs, or CUVs. They’re dime-a-dozen, every manufacturer offers one or three, and everyone seems to be buying one or three. They are the modern replacements of Country Squires and Voyagers of decades past. Accept this and live with it – they’re family cars, and they’re here to stay.
Now that we have determined the purpose of vehicles such as this new Pathfinder, let’s determine what separates the good one from the not-so-good ones:
- Rear seat, width and leg-room: this is where rear-facing kid seats go and lack of room will impede the front passenger space. Sometimes kids bring their friends along, can three kid seats easily fit side-by-side?
- Rear doors: the shape and size of the door opening allows you to remove a sleeping 30-pound toddler without waking him/her up and/or breaking your back? Will you bang your head on the door frame when buckling the kiddos into their seats?
- Third row: third row can be written off as a kid or mother-in-law space only. It therefore does not need to be super comfortable but it needs to be there and must be easily accessible from both sides of the car.
- Trunk space: kids come with an unbelievable amount of crap; fancy strollers are great, but they’re big. Road trips include playpens. There will be boxes of girl-scout cookies, little bicycles, sleds, and all kinds of crap. A trip to the grocery store will fill up most cargo vans. Let’s not even mention holidays. With kids, one can’t have enough truck space.
- Interior: cup-holders – kids always drink something. They snack a lot too, and yes, they will eat in your car, too. They carry stuffed animals, blankets, and iPads. Add tissues, napkins, and wipes. There will be random forks, rocks, crayons, and other crap you did not know existed. All of that has to go somewhere.
- Sanity: This is where you come in. How easy is it to open doors or the hatch. How quickly can you input the destination into the GPS? Can the rear of the vehicle be warm while keeping the driver comfortable?
These are all first world problems, but those are the problems that a well-designed modern family vehicle should address. Forget about being an enthusiast, this is about keeping your kids and spouse happy.
I approach all new family cars with all of this in mind. I take my enthusiast hat off and I realize that whatever I (we) buy has to keep my non-enthusiast wife happy, and make her life easier. With that said, I have not seen another vehicle which would satisfy all of the above requirements as good as the new Pathfinder.
I have not driven each and every single vehicle out there but I do look for these things at car shows, friends’ car, or rentals. Right now, if someone asks me what is my favorite new 3-row/7-passanger family vehicle, that answer is the Pathfinder. It offers all of the above, good looks, and a good value. On a fully loaded version it even offers all the features of the Infiniti JX35, which begs the question, why buy the pricier Infiniti?