- 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.
2014 Nissan Pathfinder
The 2014 Nissan Pathfinder is more curvaceous and less straight-edged than in the past.
In its second year, the 2014 Nissan Pathfinder fits seamlessly into the new Nissan styling idiom of softly flowing lines and large chrome grille surrounds. In appearance, it's more of a long, tall wagon than the slab-sided tough truck it was up through 2012. And it's relatively graceful for a long utility vehicle with three rows of seats--a vehicle type that's not always an easy job to keep coherent.
The stance is swept back, with a fairly long hood and a steeply raked windshield. Its metamorphosis into a family-focused crossover with seven seats already seems entirely natural. But it will be sold in more than 70 countries, and it's obviously a Nissan product when you stack it up against the Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Explorer, Toyota Highlander, and Honda Pilot it competes with in the U.S. The side accents, upswept third window, and chrome-trimmed grille all echo the themes found in passenger cars, the smaller, higher-volume Nissan crossovers--including the fresh-for-2014 Rogue--and even the truly large Armada SUV.
Those contour lines appear to "flow" up around the fenders in the front, then dip below the window line, and flare again to arch up over the wheel wells at the rear. The aggressive creases on the hood and over the front wheel wells actually start at the thick chrome bars on either side of the grille, giving the Pathfinder a bolder look than the same effect on some of Nissan's smaller sedans. It gives the Pathfinder "pop," as the fashion shows say. The only missing element would be either high-intensity discharge headlamps or LED running lights.
Inside, the 2014 Pathfinder is sadly less distinctive. The hard, smooth, textured plastic surfaces of the interior will no doubt clean easily and prove durable. But a glossier dashboard top surface meets semi-matte, soft-touch door panel material in a way that just doesn't feel quite right--and catches the driver's eye time and again. While buyers can choose from several paint colors, there are just two interior tones: the inevitable Charcoal, and then the lighter Almond.
2014 Nissan Pathfinder
As a large crossover, the 2014 Nissan Pathfinder handles acceptably, but it's still a big vehicle--and the hybrid doesn't run in all-electric mode.
The 2014 Nissan Pathfinder is squarely in the sweet spot of the mid-size crossover world: a large three-row vehicle that can carry seven people, with car-like ride and handling, optimized for use on suburban pavement and--to a lesser degree--curvy back roads and muddy athletic fields or graveled parking lots.
The standard powertrain in all Pathfinders is the familiar Nissan 3.5-liter V-6, which appears in products from the 370Z sports car to the Maxima sedan. In this use, it's rated at 260 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque, with updates to reduce friction and provide maximum power on regular gasoline. It's paired to Nissan's familiar Xtronic continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), now driven by a chain rather than a belt. It has a wider range between the lowest and highest ratios, which improves acceleration and lowers engine speed during highway cruising. But responsiveness can suffer, and the Pathfinder sometimes has quite a delay as the engine speed spools up to deliver more power if it's been loafing along at low revs.
New this year is a second powertrain option, the Pathfinder Hybrid. This pairs a supercharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with a 15-kilowatt (22-hp) electric motor sandwiched between the engine and a modified version of the CVT, with a clutch on either end. The combination of engine and motor is rated at 250 hp, just 10 hp shy of the V-6 output.
The hybrid Pathfinder suffers from the same transmission lag, and occasionally feels underpowered. But its oddest feature is that the engine start-stop function appears not to work--at least in our prototype Pathfinder Hybrid--when the air conditioning is on, presumably so the engine can keep the compressor running. It's a problem Ford fixed on its Escape Hybrid back in 2009, but to keep costs down, Nissan hasn't fitted electric air conditioning. That means that in hot weather, the hybrid system forgoes the fuel-saving benefits of shutting down the engine when the car has stopped.
With a small single electric motor in a large, heavy vehicle, the Pathfinder Hybrid also has no ability to propel itself on electricity alone. Like Honda's mild-hybrid IMA system, the electric motor is strictly there to help out a smaller gasoline engine. Nissan says the hybrid model will be much closer in price to the gasoline version than in competing products--presumably meaning the Highlander Hybrid--but we wonder whether buyers will expect "hybrid" to mean some ability for all-electric running.
With either powertrain, the Pathfinder droves more like a softly sprung sedan than a large utility vehicle--and it's easy to forget how much metal is following behind you. It's lighter than some competitors, so there's less sense of heft behind the wheel. We did notice some torque steer in front-wheel-drive models, but not in the all-wheel-drive versions, which send most of the power to the front wheels until it's needed in back for traction or stability. The driver can select a 2WD mode for front-wheel drive only, maximizing fuel efficiency, or a 4WD Lock mode to distribute power equally front and rear (the system still modulates power delivery side to side).
The response of the Pathfinder's hydraulic-electric power steering is quick, it's well-weighted, and it has decent on-center feel. Throw the Pathfinder quickly back and forth on choppy roads, and you'll get better control than some more inept competitors (the last generation of Toyota Highlander stands out there). The one drawback is that the low-rolling-resistance tires fitted to most models don't offer nearly as much grip as you'd expect from the well-controlled body. The problem occurs with both the standard 18-inch and optional 20-inch wheels.
The optional tow package gives the V-6 Pathfinder towing capability up to 5,000 pounds, or 3,500 for the Hybrid, with different programming for the CVT when the loads on the transmission are heavier. Most family buyers will never test the limits of the Pathfinder's all-wheel drive; while the crossover has less ground clearance than, say, a Subaru Outback, it handles rutted surfaces with assurance.
2014 Nissan Pathfinder
Comfort & Quality
The 2014 Nissan Pathfinder is smooth, quiet, and loaded with family-friendly features; it seats up to seven, but the second row isn't all that comfortable.
The 2014 Nissan Pathfinder has been ruthlessly designed with the needs of traveling families or groups uppermost in mind. it's comfortable, flexible, and spacious. Despite the visually long hood, the cabin is longer than those of several competitors--including the Ford Explorer and Honda Pilot--and it actually has three usable rows of seats.
The front seats are comfortable, offer good back support, and the driver has a wide adjustment range. There's little side bolstering, but they proved comfortable on long highway trips. The Pathfinder isn't a vehicle that really rewards a driver who tosses it around hilly roads, either, so the front seats are fine.
The second-row seats proved slightly disappointing. There's plenty of space, and the ability to slide 5.5 inches back and forth is a real bonus. But full-size adults may squirm and fidget trying to get comfortable. The back seat is short, flat, and somewhat van-like, as well as sitting quite low to the floor. That demands a leaning-back, legs-splayed seating position that doesn't bode well for comfort on long road trips. Headroom is more than adequate, so the less-than-perfect back seat is likely due to its ability to fold surprisingly far forward for third-row access.
The most impressive feature--for families, anyhow--will be that the second row can be slid and folded forward enough to permit third-row access while a "Latch and Glide" child seat remains installed in the middle row. (Yes, you have to take the child out first.)
The third row is also low to the floor, and like most such installations, really suited for kids, without enormous amounts of headroom. The third-row seat back does adjust for rake, though, and overall the Pathfinder does as good a job of any three-row in trading off the incompatible goals of space, comfort, and access for all eight positions.
For family miscellany, the Pathfinder comes equipped with various bins, map pockets on the backs of the front seats, and a pair of large trays in the center console. The three bottle holders in each rear door panel may be a new record, along with cupholders on each side of the third row, and four altogether up front: two in the console, plus one in each door.
Cargo space totals 79.8 cubic feet with both the second and third rows folded forward. But with all seats up, there's only 16 cubic feet--not that much, and barely enough for a family grocery run.
Travelers with find the Pathfinder's ride smooth and refined, even on long trips. Nissan worked hard on eliminating secondary vibrations and reducing noise, so minor road coarseness is far less intrusive than in some competitors--and the same goes for wind noise as well. Despite the CVT, the engine drone is tolerable under most circumstances (though still not quite as pleasant as Subaru's CVT, still our favorite among all makers).
2014 Nissan Pathfinder
The 2014 Nissan Pathfinder doesn't get the highest safety ratings, and it lacks some increasingly common electronic safety systems.
The 2014 Nissan Pathfinder earns good but not spectacular ratings for crash safety, and it's missing a few optional features that are increasingly common in competing vehicles.
Specifically, an imperfect array of test results in federal ratings, along with an incomplete set of Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) tests, keep the Pathfinder from doing better than an '8' on our scale at this time.
Nissan's seven-seat mid-size crossover is rated at five out of five stars overall by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), including excellent five-star ratings for side impact and all its subcategories. It earns four-star ratings for frontal impact and rollover, however. The overall rating is one star higher than the Pathfinder earned in 2013, the first model year of its latest design.
The IIHS has only partially rated the new Pathfinder, giving it the highest rating of "Good" for moderate-overlap front crash and side crash safety.
The predictable list of safety features for a new passenger vehicle shows up on the Pathfinder, including six standard airbags, with the side-curtain airbags offering a rollover sensor and covering outboard positions in all three rows. Then there's stability control, a traction control system, four-wheel disc anti-lock brakes, and Brake Assist. A useful feature unique to Nissans is the standard Easy Fill Tire Alert, which sounds the horn when you've inflated the tires to the recommended pressure.
A rearview camera and rear sonar parking sensors are standard are most versions of the Pathfinder, but the multi-view camera system--which displays a 360-degree view of the car's surroundings--is only included on the top Platinum trim level. That system can make a big difference, whether you're backing out of a crowded driveway or navigating a narrow alley.
The missing features on the Pathfinder--neither standard nor optional--include active-safety systems like blind-spot warning and lane-departure warning, plus traction assists for more rugged off-road use, such as hill descent control. They're far from standard on all competitors, but they're increasingly common.
2014 Nissan Pathfinder
The 2014 Nissan Pathfinder has lots of useful features, although its technology interface is only middle of the pack.
Nissan offers the 2014 Pathfinder crossover in four different trim levels--S, SV, SL, and Platinum--each of which offers the buyer a choice of front-wheel or all-wheel drive (a $1,600 upgrade). The new Pathfinder Hybrid model is offered in SV, SL, and Platinum trims, which lets shoppers choose the hybrid option without having to buy a fully-loaded model to get it, as so many other manufacturers require.
The base Pathfinder S costs less than the base Honda Pilot, Ford Explorer, and Chevrolet Traverse, Nissan says, and costs less than all but the Pilot at the top end of the lineup. Every Pathfinder comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, a six-speaker sound system with six-disc changer, tri-zone climate control system, and an Advanced Drive Assist trip-computer display.
Move up one level to the SV, and Nissan adds a 7-inch color monitor with RearView monitor and Rear Sonar, intelligent key entry and start, roof rails, and--importantly--Bluetooth pairing for hands-free connectivity to mobile devices.
A hint of luxury starts to appear at the SL level, including leather upholstery for all seats, and heaters for the front and middle rows, a power liftgate, and remote engine start. The SL Premium package, for $2,650 extra, adds Bose 13-speaker premium audio, a dual panorama moonroof, and trailer-tow prep--which can be specified separately on other models for $400. Or the new-for-2014 SL Tech package includes a higher-resolution 8-inch in-dash display. Nissan's navigation system wraps in XM NavTraffic and NavWeather functions, a Zagat Restaurant Guide, voice recognition, and Bluetooth streaming audio.
Top of the heap is the Pathfinder Platinum. That gives you the trailer-towing package standard, cooling for the front seats, navigation, the Bose audio system, and the Around View Monitor, along with the navigation system, Bluetooth, and voice recognition as standard.
Options include an entertainment system that lets you play separate programming in three zones: DVDs, games, or photos displayed separately on each of the two 7-inch rear screens and for the front passenger compartment. There's also a cargo package, kick plates illuminated from the back, and other minor appearance and trim accessories.
Unfortunately, the integration of some of the infotainment systems just isn't as good as in Ford's (sometimes problematic) MyFord Touch system. The Pathfinder's center dashboard displays, either the standard screen or the high-res navigation screen, appear to be touchscreens--but they're not, relying instead on a rotary controller and various buttons below the display.
Nor are safety systems like adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning, and lane-departure warning systems offered at any trim level. Nonetheless, if you ignore those omissions, the Pathfinder's four trim levels let buyers pick and chose among Nissan's much-touted “premium features for all passengers"--and the high-end models are loaded with most features available in the segment.
Pricing for the 2014 Nissan Pathfinder S starts at $28,700 with front-wheel drive, and soars to $41,200 for an all-wheel-drive Pathfinder Platinum. All prices will have a mandatory delivery fee added. Nissan will announce prices for the Pathfinder Hybrid closer to its autumn on-sale date.
2014 Nissan Pathfinder
The 2014 Nissan Pathfinder is the most fuel-efficient three-row mid-size crossover with a V-6; the Hybrid model boosts that to 26 mpg combined.
There are two versions of the 2014 Nissan Pathfinder that offer quite different fuel economy. The standard V-6 model is rated at 22 mpg combined (20 mpg city, 26 mpg highway) with front-wheel drive, but specifying all-wheel drive knocks that down to 21 mpg combined (19 mpg city, 25 mpg highway).
Nissan says that's a best-in-class figure for three-row V-6 mid-size crossovers. Among mid-size crossovers with a third seat overall, only one does better, both with front-wheel drive: the base Ford Explorer, fitted with a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder engine, at 23 mpg combined (20 mpg city, 28 mpg highway). Ratings have not yet been issued, however, for the redesigned 2014 Toyota Highlander and Highlander Hybrid.
The other alternative is the Pathfinder Hybrid, new this year, which is projected to earn ratings of 26 mpg combined (25 mpg city, 27 mpg highway). That's more than a 20-percent increase, but it comes at a price: the Pathfinder Hybrid can feel underpowered in some circumstances.
The hybrid Pathfinder still gets a lower fuel-economy rating than last year's Toyota Highlander Hybrid, which comes standard with all-wheel drive (the Nissan hybrid can be ordered either way). Moreover, the Pathfinder Hybrid has virtually no ability to run in all-electric mode as the Highlander does; the electric motor is just there to assist the gasoline engine. On the other hand, the price increase will likely be much lower than for Toyota's mid-size crossover. Last year's Highlander Hybrid, a high-end model, started at around $40,000--which will get you a fairly fully loaded Pathfinder.
Other contenders, conceivably, would include the version of the Mercedes-Benz GL 350 BlueTEC diesel, which has all-wheel drive standard and is rated at 22 mpg combined (19 mpg city, 26 mpg highway) against the V-6 Pathfinder. Or the five-seat Lexus RX 450h hybrid crossover could be compared to the Pathfinder Hybrid; it's rated at 30 mpg combined with front-wheel drive, or 29 mpg with all-wheel drive.