First drive: 2013 Nissan Pathfinder in the UAE
The Nissan Pathfinder has never had a consistent heritage. The first one arrived in 1986 as a 3-door compact 4×4 on a body-on-frame pickup chassis. The 5-door version only arrived in 1990, still a compact. The second-generation model in 1996 moved up to the midsize category with a unibody frame as well as independent suspension, and people complained that it lost its heritage. In 2006, the third-generation moved back to a body-on-frame construction, retained its independent suspension and grew in size to accommodate a cramped 3rd-row seat, and people complained again that it lost its heritage. Now the 2013 model has gone back to a unibody, ditching its offroad credentials to become a proper three-row crossover to compete with other crossover SUVs that sell better. And people are again complaining that it’s lost its heritage. What heritage?
While we’ve never been in support of SUVs losing their offroad capabilities, the business case for the new Pathfinder is hard to argue against. The Ford Explorer has gone ahead and led the way, giving offroaders the finger and becoming a sales success as a result. And Nissan has the benefit of offering real offroaders like the Nissan Xterra and the Nissan Patrol on either end of the market, or even the Armada, so it didn’t make sense to keep the compromised old Pathfinder around. They needed a big crossover to tap an unexplored market, and they chose to use the Pathfinder name, instead of just killing it off.
After an adventurous sea-plane ride as part of the launch event, we landed in Khor Fakkan waters in time to see our press cars ready on the beach. The plan was to drive up to Musandam, and then drive back all the way to Dubai.
An interesting factoid is that the American-built 2013 Nissan Pathfinder is a direct reskinned relative of the recently-launched Infiniti JX35. But there are key differences. Aside from the conservatively-handsome exterior styling, the interior looks almost the same as the one in the Infiniti. It’s only when you start touching stuff that things seem a bit off.
The leathery-looking dash on the Pathfinder is entirely hard-plastic. At least it looks good, and there’s soft-touch padding on the upper front doors, as well as padded inserts and armrests on all doors.
Space inside is excellent, with a second-row seat that can either be set for limo-like legroom, or slid forward to give the third-row occupants more breathing room. The third row offers just about enough space for adults, and the seat-back can even be reclined, although this leaves precious-little cargo room, which is cavernous once the third row is folded flat.
The tech is more than enough, at least on the top model. You get everything from a touchscreen navigation setup to a top-view four-camera parking system. Of course, when you go for the base model, you lose some of it, as it doesn’t even come with fog-lamps, although you still get to have the standard 3-zone a/c, hard-drive and smart-key start. It’s also relatively cheap, even compared to the Americans.
The Pathfinder is powered by a 254 hp 3.5-litre V6, with either front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive. The engine is mated to a new-generation CVT automatic, apparently newer than the one even in its Infiniti cousin. While it still makes the engine wail at full throttle, it isn’t really noticeable in casual city driving, and it keeps the revs very low on the highway.
Power is adequate, for the most part, though you’ll never feel a rush of acceleration when you suddenly pound on the pedal. The engine is decently muffled, at least as well as the Infiniti, as is wind/road noise. The Pathfinder rides smoothly enough with only the occasional shunt on rough surfaces, even with 20-inch alloys, so we assume the base model with 18-inchers will be even more buttery.
The Pathfinder handles corners like a tall car, which is a good thing. In the moderate-speed driving we did, we never felt any real body roll on small roundabouts and such. The driving position is great, as is visibility, with pillars that aren’t as thick as the ones on the Ford Explorer.
The steering is light, but not overly so, and even offers the tiniest bit of feel. Even the brake pedal is linear, with acceptable stopping power. There really is nothing to complain about in this comfortable family cruiser, at least in terms of drive.
We took the Pathfinder on gravel as well, on the treacherous uphill-downhill mountain-road entrance to the Zighy Bay resort in Musandam, Oman for lunch. The Nissan managed the steep stone/gravel inclines just fine with the all-wheel-drive set to “auto”, while the downhills were managed more with the brake-pedal rather than engine-braking, as the CVT’s “L” mode only makes a minor difference. It has neither the low-range gearing nor the ground clearance for actual dune-bashing.
As people continue to clamour for minivans that look like 4x4s, with no intention to go offroad, the Pathfinder is guaranteed to see a boost in sales. It does everything we expected it to do, and more. Pick the 4WD model, and you’ll even manage to hang out on beaches and mild wadis without issues. It wasn’t the best of offroaders in its last iteration anyway, and a very poor people-carrier as well, so a shift in focus to become an uncompromising comfort-cruiser is the best path to take for the Pathfinder, even if enthusiasts like us will never agree.