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BUYERS GUIDE - SOFT-ROADERS

NISSAN PATHFINDER
Nissan has abandoned the 'real' 4WD medium-sized wagon market.

 

The post-2014 Nissan Pathfinder models – including the 2023 version –  were definite softroaders, with a monocoque body, temporary spare tyre and no low range gearing. They also came with V6 petrol power.

 

 

The 2023 Nissan Pathfinder went on sale in late 2022 and was based on the US-market, reinforced uni-body model that’s been available over there for some years.

 

 

Although the 2023 Nissan Pathfinder featured wide stance, blister fenders, shorter front overhang than the post-2014 model and ground clearance increased to a claimed 178mm, it remained a definite softroader, albeit at the top end of the ‘softie’ brigade.

The Pathfinder was powered by the latest version of the old DOHC, 24-valve, 3.5-litre, direct-injection, V6 petrol engine, matched to an all-new, nine-speed automatic transmission. Previous softroader Pathfinders had CVT transmissions.

The engine was happy to operate on 91-octane petrol or Opal fuel that’s readily available in the Outback.

In the USA, Nissan claimed a combined-cycle economy of 11.5L/100km, but our testing did better than that.

The 2023 Pathfinder 4WD models featured Nissan’s all-new Intelligent 4WD, with seven-position Drive and Terrain Mode Selector, but no low-range gearing.

 

 

The 4WD system featured direct coupling, with rapid torque transfer via a wet-clutch pack.  Mode selection – Standard, Sport, Eco, Snow, Sand, Mud/Rut and Tow – was displayed as a pop-up notification on the meter cluster.

Standard were eight-passenger capacity or optional second-row captain’s chairs, with no-tools-required, removable centre console.

 

 

Nissan’s second-row EZ FLEX, one-touch seating featured on the driver and passenger sides, and the seat pitched further forward, allowing easier third-row entry and exit. The 60/40 split-folding third-row seat provided flexibility for carrying passengers and cargo together.

A new infotainment system featured Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, wireless smartphone charging pad and Bose Premium Audio with up to 13 speakers. A digital, Intelligent Around View Monitor, with higher resolution and wider image viewing angle than the previous analog model, was available on some grades.

 

 

The Nissan Pathfinder arrived in Australia in three 4WD grades and all had a temporary spare wheel mounted under the cargo area.

The ST-L had a RRP of $59,990 and came with: Pro-Pilot semi-autonomous driving system with Lane Keep Assist and Traffic Jam Pilot; Around View monitor with moving-object detection; roof rails; LED fog lights and a powered tailgate.

The $67,990 Ti had a premium cabin, with leather-accented interior trim; seat heaters, wireless phone charging and a 12-speaker Bose audio system.

The top-shelf Ti-L had a RRP of $77,890 and had: wrap-around cabin ambient lighting; panoramic glass sunroof; 20-inch alloys; underbody protection; captain’s chairs in the second row (reverting seating capacity to seven); ventilated front seats and a smart rearview mirror with switchable digital imagery.

 

 

On and off road

 

 

Our testing took place in early May 2023 and the test vehicle was a Ti model. It had some luxury features above the ST-L model, but the ST-L was judged to be better value for money at sixty grand, rather than the Ti’s 67 grand. The ST-L had the same level of safety and driver-assist kit, but lacked leather trim, seat heaters and 12 speakers.

The upside of a monocoque, frameless body and 178mm ground clearance was much easier entry and exit than with a body-on-frame 4WD wagon. The Nissan third-row entry system, using a powered slide and fold second row seat, was excellent, allowing easy access for three small people to the third row.

With the eight seats upright, cargo space was very limited, but aided somewhat by a deep bin – made possible by the fitment of a ‘toy’ spare wheel. For long distance bush travel it would be necessary to compromise on seating and cargo space by packing a full-sized spare wheel and tyre, because you can’t run a temporary spare tyre over typical distances between remote area townships.

 

 

The driving position was very comfortable and adjustable, and our only complaint was over-bonnet vision on steep gradients.

Performance from the aged, but upgraded, petrol donk was very impressive and the automatic transmission worked seamlessly. The transfer from front wheel drive to four wheel drive was also seamless. The only time we could provoke a reaction was harsh acceleration on loose surfaces, while towing a camper tailer: the front tyres broke traction briefly, before the rear axle cut in and prevented wheelspin.

Ride and handling were excellent for a big vehicle and we judged that the Pathie had no on-road vices at all. The electronic driver-assist features worked well, with steering vibration indicating lane departure and only deliberate lane departure abuse provoked a dab from the automated braking system.

Driven carefully at speeds up to 80km/h and with only two people on board we saw fuel consumption drop to a very creditable 8.2L/100km. At 110km/h motorway speeds, fuel use increased to 9.8L/100km/h, which was still in diesel territory.

 

 

We coupled up a two-tonnes Vista cross-over camper trailer – appreciating the excellent reversing camera in the process – and economy went down to 13.5L/100km/h, which was pretty good, we reckoned and better than many diesels can manage.

The trailer had a ball weight of 185kg and the standard Pathfinder rear coils didn’t like that at all: complaining with noticeable squeaking and firm rear end ride. For towing anything with a heavy ball weight the Pathie needed a rear suspension upgrade – like every other coil-sprung wagon does.

Our off-roading was limited by tyre specification, ground clearance and underbody protection limitations to modest fire trails that the big wagon handled with ease.

The seven-position Drive and Terrain Mode system remained a mystery to us, with the only noticeable difference being lock-up of the 4WD system in the ‘mud ruts’ position, to a 50:50 front:rear torque distribution. A simple ‘4WD lock’ switch would do as well, we reckoned.

 

 

Our conclusion was that the 2023 Nissan Pathfinder was a softroader that could satisfy many families’ needs for a people mover and tow vehicle – preferably with towball weight around 110kg maximum.

Off-roading was possible, but care was needed on rocky trails. we’d risk a run on a beach with firm sand, but the lack of low-range gearing ruled it out for driving on the softer stuff.

Eighteen-inch wheels, shod with 255/60R18 tyres meant that there was bush-tougher rubber available – preferably in a slightly taller 245/65R18 size.

 

 

The first softroader Pathfinder was much softer

 

nissan pathfinder 2014 The 2014 Pathfinder was an unashamed softroader, with modest off-road capabilities, seating for up to seven adults, a temporary spare tyre and a tow rating of 2.7 tonnes. It was a virtual long-wheelbase, seven-seat Murano.

The 2014 model was designed and built in the USA, so there was no turbo-diesel, only the long-serving VQ35 V6 petrol donk whose predecessor first saw the light of day in the 2001 Pathfinder. Since then this engine has acquired state of the art injection and ignition, and variable valve timing, for current outputs of 190kW and 325Nm.

The front of the new Pathie carried Nissan’s trademark badge and vee-shaped, chromed bars, separating a black mesh grille from over-sized headlight housings. The overall impression was one of styling neatness and an ability not to offend anyone, or get out of date prematurely.

nissan pathfinder 2014 However, ground clearance was a scary 165mm and the underslung spare wheel was an undersized temporary job that looked like it was intended for the back end of an Enduro motorcycle.

It might be possible to squeeze a full-sized spare in its place, but it would hang down like the proverbials and ground clearance and departure angles would be even worse.

nissan pathfinder 2014 If evaluated as a people mover the Pathfinder ticked all the boxes, with one of the most flexible seating layouts in the market.

The rears folded flat into the cargo floor, had a recline action and could accommodate two adults; the second row seats split-folded and tilt-slid to allow easy access to the rears and there was a slide and recline function for the second-row seats.

As well, there were child seat restraints, plus the much more sensible and globally accepted Isofix child-seat retaining system that took way too long for approval in Australia. A bonus for the Pathfinder’s Isofix child seat system was that when fitted to the second row, a child’s seat didn’t restrict entry to the rear row.

Drive-away pricing at launch was between $48,600 and $70,400, but equipment levels were quite high. Even the base-model ST came with almost every electronic piece of kit you could think of, plus tyre pressure monitoring, tri-zone air-conditioning, four power outlets and power-adjustable driver’s seat.

nissan pathfinder 2014 Oddly, though, a satnav system wasn’t even optional on the base model and came  standard only on the Ti.

Also, a power-operated tailgate was available only on the 70-grand Ti model, yet the 50-grand RAV4 had one.

The Pathfinder lacked the Hyundai Santa Fe’s full-sized spare wheel and more powerful and economical turbo-diesel, yet the Hyundai Highlander was 20 grand cheaper.

On road

Nissan made the decision to proceed with continuously variable transmissions (CVTs) some years ago and the 2014 Pathfinder was fitted with the latest development of Nissan’s Xtronic CVT. A CVT has ‘stepless’ gearing within upper and lower limits.

nissan pathfinder 2014 The Xtronic CVT in the Pathfinder had a torque converter between the power pulley and the engine. The torque converter provided additional gearing multiplication at stall, so the Pathfinder could get away with a relatively high-geared 2.413:1 low ratio.

The overdrive ratio – achieved when the power pulley was at its smallest and the output pulley at its largest – was an unprecedented 0.383:1, so the Pathfinder had short-geared diffs with 5.577:1 reduction.

Economy, according to the vehicle’s fuel computer, ranged from 10.9L/100km to a best of 9.5L/100km.

The Pathfinder handled smooth and secondary-road bitumen with ease and was quite at home on dirt roads, but we were conscious of having only a toy spare wheel and took it easy over sharp stony road sections.

Prohibitive front end overhang kept the vehicle on formed surfaces and we didn’t think the Pathfinder had any future as a fire-trail touring machine.

We thought the move to make a softroader out of the well-respected Pathfinder brand was a gamble for Nissan in this market, because it was a very civilised but expensive vehicle that departed from the model-name’s previous identity.

The 2023 edition was more off-road capable, as you’ve read above.

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