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On a higher path: the 2013 Nissan Pathfinder

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On: Mon, Jun 10, 2013 at 1:09PM | By: Teddy Field

On a higher path: the 2013 Nissan Pathfinder

Once upon a time, people actually wanted some Sport with their Utility Vehicle. It's not that they were really going to venture far from the pavement. But knowing you could added to the 'invincible' image of owning an SUV. For automakers, this new segment was like manna from heaven. All they had to do was screw a wagon body to one of their existing truck chassis. No mufti-million dollar development project here. Just take a cheap truck frame and make it look tough... or luxurious. Such was the case with the first Nissan Pathfinder.

Originally, the Nissan Pathfinder was an 'exotic' Japanese off-road wagon, and it had some panache. First of all, it looked tough and purposeful. It was based on the Nissan Hardbody pickup, so it could actually back up its go-anywhere looks. And those hidden vertical rear door handles were a real conversation piece. Two decades later, gas is expensive, and people would rather go explore cyberspace on their smart phones. So automakers ditched the off-road bit, and started making car-based people haulers that looked like a rough & tumble SUV. Think truck-shaped minivans.

Customers loved these comfortable, efficient 'Crossovers'. And after the gas price hike of '08, they became the hottest thing in family transport. Most car makers abandoned fullsize SUVs and switched their focus to 7-8 seat crossovers. These were just as powerful and commodious, yet they were capable of returning far more than 12 mpg. Nissan had several crossovers in their catalog already, but their only 3-row non-minivan offerings were both body-on-frame SUVs, and neither got very good gas mileage. That was rectified for 2013, as Nissan finally neutered the legendary Pathfinder, making it into a faithful family pet.

The old Pathfinder used a ladder frame, a serious 4WD system (optional), 9-inches of ground clearance, and 28/24 degree approach/departure angles. Needless to say, it could easily take you to places that don't have 4G. The 2013 Nissan Pathfinder, on the other hand, has no ground clearance to speak of. And it'll probably bend a rim if you tried to climb a curb. The optional All-Mode 4x4 system is really just a FWD-biased AWD system with no low range and a brake-based limited-slip differential. There's a Lock mode to keep all 4 paws spinning, and you can set the system to Auto, where the computer will shift power around as it sees fit. This isn't meant to be an off-road setup, but it'll get you to work on a snowy day.

Since the 2013 Nissan Pathfinder is intended to be more of a 'MallFinder', the ride is smooth, and the handling is on the mushy side. You're not encouraged to push this CUV very hard. This is intended to be a family vehicle, and the suspension will let you know when you're 'acting irresponsibly'. That said, it never feels unwieldy, but it doesn't have that sharp feel that you'd expect from a Nissan. So if you want an entertaining drive, you'll probably want to check out the Mazda CX-9.

Under the hood, you'll find Nissan's superb VQ 3.5L V6, connected to an equally brilliant CVT transmission. In the 2013 Nissan Pathfinder, the VQ makes 260-hp / 240 lb-ft (ironically, the mechanically identical Infiniti JX35 makes 265-hp / 248 lb-ft), and the CVT helps this 7-seat crossover achieve nearly (depending on how you drive) 20 city/26 hwy/22 combined. The 4WD version returns an equally impressive 19/25/21.

On the inside, the 2013 Nissan Pathfinder shares plenty of DNA with the more expensive Infiniti JX. Much of the switchgear is shared between the two CUVs, which means you're treated to that precise 'click' when you use the controls. All of the materials and build quality are equally upscale, and the top-spec 2013 Nissan Pathfinder Platinum feels every bit as classy as the Infiniti. You can even option a glass roof, heated & cooled front seats, heated 2nd row seats, and Nissan's top-view camera system for easy parking. Plus, all models get a nicely rendered color multi-information display between the gauge dials.

Practical bits include a tilt/slide feature on the reclining/sliding second row. Using a simple lever on the side of the seatback will toss the seat forward for easy access to the third row, and the passenger-side seat can even be moved if you have a child seat attached. Honestly, the aft perch is best suited for teenagers, but you can fold both rows flat to reveal a cavernous 79 cu-ft of cargo room. And the 2013 Nissan Pathfinder will even tow a 5,000 lb trailer.

It might not be a macho off-roader anymore, but these type features are way more important to the new Pathfinder's demographic. The 2013 Nissan Pathfinder is a sign of the times, and Nissan wisely decided to keep this popular nameplate affixed to a vehicle that's actually relevant in the marketplace. And, besides, this is a very well rendered family wagon.

If you absolutely must go off road, you can still buy a Nissan Xterra.

2013 Nissan Pathfinder S 2WD - $28,650

2013 Nissan Pathfinder Platinum 4WD - $41,150

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