First Drive: 2013 Nissan Pathfinder reviews nissan first drives
2013 Nissan Pathfinder. Click image to enlarge
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Review and photos by Mike Schlee

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2013 Nissan Pathfinder

Calistoga, California – In the 1990s, SUVs were primarily of body-on-frame construction and focused on towing and off-road capability. Since then, consumer needs and wants have changed; the family utility market now demands unibody construction. This statement was made by Nissan during the recent vehicle launch for the all-new 2013 Nissan Pathfinder and was a lead-in as to why the Pathfinder is returning to unibody construction. That is right; the Pathfinder is not becoming a unibody vehicle, but rather returning to it. Remember the second generation Pathfinder from 1996 to 2004? It wasn’t a body-on-frame truck either, like the first and third generations were. The 2013 Pathfinder is, however, the first to feature a transversely mounted engine and front-wheel-drive option.

First Drive: 2013 Nissan Pathfinder reviews nissan first drives
First Drive: 2013 Nissan Pathfinder reviews nissan first drives
First Drive: 2013 Nissan Pathfinder reviews nissan first drives
2013 Nissan Pathfinder. Click image to enlarge

The change to unibody construction is the key element in transforming the Nissan Pathfinder to what Nissan calls a no-compromise utility vehicle. Their goal was to create a new family crossover that would combine efficiency, spaciousness and practicality while still retaining the Pathfinder’s all-terrain capabilities. Now, before rolling your eyes, Nissan is well aware that this new Pathfinder is not an off-road specialist. If your daily drive includes traversing mountain sides, Nissan will gladly sell you the Xterra or the Armada.

With the focus primarily on family hauling, the Pathfinder does without off-road gadgetry like hill descent control, low range gearing, and manually locking differentials. However, the Pathfinder does feature the option of All-Mode 4×4-i, which allows the driver to select between 2WD, Auto, or 4WD modes. In Auto mode, it runs the front wheels exclusively until there is slippage detected, and then the rears will automatically kick in. AWD lock makes it AWD all the time. A display in between the gauges show how much power is being sent fore and aft.

During our drive through Napa Valley in California, Nissan allowed us to summit a mound of earth that wasn’t quite a mountain, but was more than a hill. Using rudimentary ranch roads and cattle pathways, we were able to test the Pathfinder’s mild off-roading capabilities. Even at angles approaching 30 degrees on dry grass, the Pathfinder never stumbled and handled the course with ease. Later in the day, we were given the opportunity for some extra ‘free-time’ behind the wheel of the Pathfinder and I crisscrossed the small mountains of Napa a few times. I was able to locate a few one-lane, washboard-filled gravel logging roads and once again the Pathfinder was more than up to the task. Where it does begin to falter is on steeper descents as the lack of low-range gearing or hill descent control meant the brakes were heavily used and abused to keep speeds in check.

One of the main goals for the new Pathfinder, as seems to be the case with every new vehicle introduced these days, is to greatly increase efficiency. This has been achieved in several ways, but the most notable improvements come from a downsized engine, a continuously variable transmission (CVT), and weight savings of roughly 227 kg compared to the 2012 Pathfinder. This all adds up to official fuel efficiency ratings of 10.5 L/100 km city and 7.7 L/100 km highway for the front-wheel-drive models as well as 10.8 L/100 km city and 7.9 L/100 km highway for the four-wheel-drive models; a big improvement over the old 4WD Pathfinder’s rating of 14.9 L/100 km city and 10.2 L/100 km highway.

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