- Spacious interior
- Clever folding second row
- Composed, quiet ride
- Calm cabin
- Good MPG, low cost for hybrid
- Interior materials drab
- Far from a sportscar
- Base model missing Bluetooth
- Hybrid can't run electric-only
With a new hybrid model, the 2014 Nissan Pathfinder has the Toyota Highlander and its hybrid model in its sights.
The 2014 Nissan Pathfinder is a competitive package that's both well thought-out and attractive, with carefully calibrated features and trim levels that provide just what families who want a mid-size crossover really want. Among crossovers with three rows of seats for people and all their stuff, the Pathfinder--now in its second year--has quickly established itself in a new persona: the suburban family's seven-seat crossover utility vehicle. And it offers more flexibility and interior volume than some competitors in the mid-size utility category, including the Toyota Highlander, Ford Explorer, and Honda Pilot.
The curvaceous exterior lines do a good job of disguising the Pathfinder's height and bulk. Only close up to you realize how large it is, and the adjective "rakish" can fairly be applied even to this tall wagon. The same family design language used in the rest of the Nissan range will be familiar here.The Pathfinder leads with a bold chrome grille and heavily sculpted front fenders, and the accents on the rear fenders give it a hint of "shoulder line" that makes its overall look more fluid than many other tall wagons.
Inside the Pathfinder, there's some influence from the Infiniti luxury division, but the cabin still feels conservative due to a limited selection of just two colors and otherwise unremarkable fabrics and plastic surfaces. Behind the wheel, though, drivers will likely forget they're driving a seven-seat crossover utility vehicle. The Pathfinder has clearly been designed to prioritize elbow room and comfort for passengers. While it has the cross-section of its competitors, more or less, it's considerably longer than the Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, or Toyota Highlander--about the length of a Mazda CX-9. The bulk of the added metal goes into the cabin, which gives the Pathfinder not only two usable rows of seating, but a more accessible and useful third row than any of its competition.
The bench seat in the second row slides back and forth, giving more legroom if the third row is empty. It also has a complex sliding-and-folding mechanism for access to the back row that lets parents leave their child seats locked in place even while the seat partially collapses--truly a parent-friendly feature. That third row has short, flat, van-like cushions that sit surprisingly low. That's good for headroom for growing teens, but it's still marginal for an adult. That nonetheless actually makes it roomier than most third rows, which are really kids-only accommodations.
For the new model year, the standard 260-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine and continuously variable transmission (CVT)--last year's only powertrain option--gain a new alternative: a hybrid model that pairs supercharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with a 15-kilowatt (22-hp) electric motor sandwiched between engine and CVT, with a clutch on either end. Power output from the combined system is 250 hp, just 10 hp shy of the V-6 output.
The big news this year is that new hybrid model, the first in the Pathfinder's history, which puts the Toyota Highlander Hybrid squarely in the Pathfinder's cross-hairs, although we don't think Nissan's mild hybrid system is as satisfying as the full hybrid offered up by Toyota in its own seven-seat crossover. But today's reinvented Pathfinder offers front-wheel drive as standard, and happily sacrifices some of its previous towing and rough-terrain abilities for family-friendly comfort features that center it squarely in the mid-size utility vehicle segment.
The standard engine and CVT combination offers a wider range of engine-to-transmission ratios than the earlier Nissan units—and a sturdy chain instead of a belt—giving both strong, smooth acceleration and lower revs when cruising. It's all in the name of fuel economy, although we note that there's quite a delay for quick bursts of power for passing. This engine runs on standard gasoline.
Fuel efficiency of the new hybrid model is estimated at 26 mpg combined (25 mpg city, 27 mpg highway), and the Pathfinder Hybrid can be ordered with optional all-wheel drive. The lithium-ion battery pack fits under the rear deck, there's no compromise in storage space or packaging. It has the same 19.5-gallon gas tank as the V-6 Pathfinder, giving it a total range of more than 500 miles--or far longer than most families with small kids can travel before a rest stop is required.
Besides badges, the Pathfinder Hybrid model includes LED taillights and energy-flow diagrams on the car's information screen. Like all Pathfinder models fitted with all-wheel drive, it offers the ability to select among 2WD, automatic, or 4WD Lock modes. That 4WD Lock mode sends an equal power to the front and rear axles, with electronics managing side-to-side distribution for traction control. The 2WD model slightly increases gas mileage slightly when roads are completely dry and clear. Properly outfitted, the hybrid model's towing capacity is rated at 3,500 pounds, versus 5,000 pounds for the V-6 model.
Handling and cornering are more sedan-like than reminiscent of an SUV, and its heft is never apparent at the wheel. The Pathfinder is lighter than the full-size crossovers from General Motors, including the Chevrolet Traverse and Buick Enclave, and its hydraulic-electric steering is particularly well tuned for comfortable driving. However many passengers you have, the Pathfinder will give them a pleasant, smooth, refined ride. Nissan spent a lot of time tracking down and muffling road noise and coarseness through the suspension, and it shows, even at highway speeds.
Nissan has carefully crafted its options packages to reflect what families actually order. With the available Nissan Navigation System, you also get traffic information, Bluetooth streaming audio, and voice recognition. A tri-zone entertainment system that lets you play separate programming for each of the two seven-inch rear screens (DVD, gaming input, or photos), all while front-seat occupants can listen to their own programming.
The top-of-the-line Pathfinder Platinum, at a bottom-line price of about $42,000 for the all-wheel-drive model, will give you get the tow package, cooled front seats, the Bose audio system, navigation, and an Around View Monitor, all with a higher-resolution eight-inch WVGA display. Only the high-tech convenience features—like adaptive cruise control, or a blind-spot system—that are starting to jump from luxury brands down to the mainstream are missing from the Pathfinder.