Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Nissan Pathfinder

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Overview

I’m so sorry, I made a mistake. Ahhh, the immortal words of one Basil Fawlty; and a point Nissan near as much admitted in returning the latest Pathfinder to its rugged roots.

It is not the rough-and-tumble ute-based four-wheel drive of yore. Instead, it’s an immensely capable vehicle that has been designed specifically to walk the line between its truck-like diesel-powered rivals, like the Ford Everest and Mitsubishi Pajero Sport, and concrete cruisers like the Hyundai Santa Fe and Toyota Kluger.

So, has Nissan found an ideal middle ground with its new generation ‘Pathy’?

We spent a couple of days with the new Nissan Pathfinder in Victoria’s stunning Strathbogie Ranges sampling the model on pockmarked B and C roads, crusty fire trails and with a trailer in tow to see just how broad the appeal of this three-row family hauler truly is.

But before we get to that, a few important details…

Nissan has priced the new American-sourced Pathfinder from $54,190 plus on-road costs, or a pineapple more than the entry point to the now-defunct previous generation range. Although dearer, it will compete with rivals such as the Hyundai Santa Fe (from $45,550 + ORC), Kia Sorento ($47,650 + ORC), Mazda CX-9 ($46,250 + ORC) and Toyota Kluger ($47,650 + ORC).

Full variant specifications and detailed pricing may be found here.

With seating for up to eight passengers – much like Hyundai’s Palisade – along with new technology and safety features and an entirely revised exterior design, Nissan says the Pathfinder marks a return to the model’s rugged roots without compromising on modern luxury or on-road comfort.

Powered by Nissan’s proven 202kW/340Nm VQ35DD 3.5-litre petrol V6 and paired to a nine-speed torque converter automatic transmission – with front- or all-wheel drive available – the Pathfinder is offered with Nissan’s Pro-Pilot semi-autonomous driving system on ST-L grades and above for the first time.

The new Pathfinder has passed muster with safety watchdog ANCAP, which handed down a full five-star crash-test rating, including one of the highest child occupant protection scores on the market at 93 per cent while adult occupant protection scored 86 per cent.

All-wheel drive models are offered with a new direct coupling 4WD system Nissan says allows torque transfer directly on the clutch pack using oil pressure, allowing for confident and immediate take-off in low-traction scenarios. The 4WD system offers driver selectable modes including Standard, Sport, Eco, Snow, Sand, Mud/Rut and Tow.

Braked towing capacity for the Pathfinder is listed at a useful 2700kg and is backed by a trailer stability program as part of the vehicle’s electronic stability control system.

The Pathfinder is further enhanced by Nissan’s new dual-pinion electric assisted steering setup it claims provides sporty and engaging feedback to the driver. The Pathfinder rides on a MacPherson strut (front) and independent multi-link (rear) suspension arrangement and is stopped by four-wheel disc brakes.

Driving Impressions

There’s a fine line between too rugged and too soft. Take any of the current crop of seven-seat SUVs down your nearest dirt road and you’ll soon find they’re no match for the job. By the same token, many of the ute-based and diesel powered three-row family haulers are too off-road focused for urban use, feeling truck-like – even overtly utilitarian – in urban environs.

Which means there was an obvious gap for a right-sized in-betweener. Enter the new Nissan Pathfinder…

Nissan has managed to tread the line between hard- and soft-core SUV with aplomb. The Pathfinder is a car one could comfortably live with through the week while still getting far enough off the beaten track to enjoy the sorts of activities Aussie SUV buyers love.

What’s more, Nissan appears to have tailored the Pathfinder to cater for both opportunities with a lot of thought. The vehicle is easy to get in and out of, well set-up for family use, spacious without being oversized, and yet agile enough to tackle even the poorest of backroads with total confidence.

Putting the Pathfinder through its paces over sealed, pockmarked and unsealed roads we found the suspension set-up capable and composed. It takes a very rough series of craters to upset this SUV’s roadholding, and with communicative steering and a ripper view out, there’s really no excuse for ‘getting it wrong’.

The Pathfinder’s electronic nannies are wonderfully well metered and cooperate with the driver’s intentions at all times – which makes a refreshing change from some of the increasingly overbearing systems we’ve experienced elsewhere (GWM Haval, we’re looking at you). The interaction between the car and driver gives a feeling of confidence that we found very reassuring, even when towing.

Admittedly, Nissan Australia wasn’t keen to push the limits of the Pathfinder’s towing abilities on test. But an 800kg jet ski and trailer combination was more than most car companies provide and showed well how the model’s intelligent Tow mode adapted the throttle and transmission response to cater for the additional weight.

Flick the dial back to Normal and it’s obvious how much of a difference the setting makes when hauling uphill. The naturally aspirated V6 is kept humming in its sweet spot, using its torque to maintain pace without ‘hunting’ for a lower gear. It works exceptionally well and is a feature we’d be very keen to sample with a heavier trailer in tow.

Which brings us to Nissan’s petrol-only driveline. Nissan Australia said that the popularity of petrol power in the United States, Gulf regions and South Africa meant the venerable VQ35DD unit is the only one on offer – no hybrid, and no turbo-diesel.

But that isn’t altogether a bad thing. Even when pushed off-road and when towing in undulating terrain, the 3.5-litre V6 managed decent fuel economy (13.5 litres per 100km, as tested), while on freeway runs and in Eco mode performed at a very respectable level of 8.3L/100km.

Engine and mechanical noise are muted, and the level of tyre and wind noise acceptable over even the coarsest surfaces – and in blustery weather.

Of course, there’s a few cons to the Pathfinder’s many pros. For one, the space-saver spare probably isn’t ideal for those keen on exploring the SUV’s new-found abilities on the road less travelled, even if it is sensibly located under the cargo area floor (and not inside the boot as is often the case).

We also noted some distortion in the central area of the windscreen glass, perhaps suggesting the glass was annealed too quickly and showing ‘strain’ at the windscreen’s curve. It was an irregularity noted by quite a few scribes and in quite a few vehicles supplied for the launch – and something we’d find particularly bothersome if we’d just coughed up $80K for a top-spec Ti-L.

The only other issue noted was that the climate control seemed to struggle when asked to deliver excessive temperature variances between zones. The system accommodated requests for smaller differences (of a degree or two) in temperature very well but was less accommodating of larger variances (of five degrees or more).

Small niggles aside, the new Nissan Pathfinder feels like it has been built with Aussie buyers in mind.

The pragmatism of the cabin, its strong tech levels, and a drive that feels more in keeping with ‘our’ expectations of what an SUV should be means the Pathy now offers a rather unique set of selling points we think will very much work in its favour – and shows Nissan has well and truly learnt from its ‘mistake’.

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