BUYERS GUIDE - SOFT-ROADERS
The post-2014 Nissan Pathfinder is now a definite softroader, with a monocoque body and no low range gearing. It also comes with V6 petrol power and a continuously variable transmission, making it, in effect, a seven-seat Murano. We won’t test future models, because they’re too soft for bush work.
The 2014 Pathfinder is 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’s a virtual long-wheelbase, seven-seat Murano.
The 2014 model is designed and built in the USA, so there’s 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 carries Nissan’s trademark badge and vee-shaped, chromed bars, separating a black mesh grille from over-sized headlight housings. The overall impression is one of styling neatness and an ability not to offend anyone, or get out of date prematurely.
However, ground clearance is a scary 165mm and the underslung spare wheel is an undersized temporary job that looks 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.
If evaluated as a people mover the new Pathfinder ticks all the boxes, with one of the most flexible seating layouts in the market. The rears fold flat into the cargo floor, have a recline action and can accommodate two adults; the second row seats split-fold and tilt-slide to allow easy access to the rears and there’s a slide and recline function for the second-row seats.
As well, there are 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 is that when fitted to the second row, a child’s seat doesn’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.
Oddly, though, a satnav system isn’t even optional on the base model and came standard only on the Ti. There are several 20-grand cars that come with satnav.
Also, a power-operated tailgate was available only on the 70-grand Ti model, yet the 50-grand RAV4 has 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.
Nissan made the decision to proceed with continuously variable transmissions (CVTs) some years ago and the 2014 Pathfinder is fitted with the latest development of Nissan’s Xtronic CVT. A CVT has ‘stepless’ gearing within upper and lower limits.
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 is at its smallest and the output pulley is 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 don’t think the Pathfinder has any future as a fire-trail touring machine.
We think the new Pathfinder is a gamble for Nissan in this market, because it’s a very civilised but expensive vehicle that departs from the model-name’s previous identity.