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Designers have recognized that real people ride in third row. It is no longer a penalty box.

Nissan Pathfinder blazes new trail

Nissan is following a new trail in the utility jungle with its 2013 Pathfinder, the fourth generation of the mid-size SUV.

The company has a lot riding on the rejuvenated line-up which brings a return to unibody construction.

Tim Franklin, Nissan Canada’s product planning chief, describes the new ute as “the next generation SUV.”

He says sales of the previous body-on-frame Pathfinder had dropped drastically as the midsize segment shifted away from towing and off-road strength and the 2013 model is designed to bring it into line with customer wants.

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If that customer wants comfort, six full size people can ride in comfort (there’s a seventh spot in the middle of the second row but…). The front seats are heated and cooled while the 60/40 split folding second row is heated. No heat for the 50/50 split third row, but heater ducts and audio speakers extend into the area. It’s also easy to get into because the second row moves 5.5 inches fore and aft and has a Latch and Glide system that allows access to the third row with a child safety seat securely in place on the curb side second row seat.

Designers have recognized that real people ride in third row. It is no longer a penalty box.

Second and third row seats fold flat to produce a large cargo space accessed by a power liftgate. There’s a hidden under-floor storage bin in the rear as well.

A heated steering wheel puts warmth in the ideal nine-and-three hand-position.

If technology is the key, besides all the usual power equipment, the Around View monitor provides a virtual 360-degree image of the area around the vehicle. Other standards include hands-free phone system, tri-zone climate control (yep, third row riders get to set their own), iPod integration and tri-zone entertainment system. The tire pressure monitor is available with individual tire pressure display and Easy Fill Tire Alert that eliminates the need to carry a tire gauge.

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The instrument panel includes Advanced Drive-Assist display in the centre of the instrument cluster while a large multifunction centre IT display is just above the centre stack. That display also provides the optional navigation display and rearview monitor.

My test vehicle with the premium option package brings a rear seat entertainment system with video screens implanted in the front seat headrests. Audiophiles will love the 13-speaker BOSE premium system.

After a day and a couple of hundred km in a top-of-the-line Platinum 4WD model with premium package, I can see where the new design has much more refined highway manners than the previous model. It’s bigger, too.

Under the hood is a 260-horsepower 3.5-litre V6 – just six horsepower less than the previous 4.0L engine. The new engine is hooked up to the latest generation of Nissan’s CVT transmission (the first CVT in the segment). Power gets to the wheels through the optional intuitive 4WD system which allows the driver to select 2WD, 4WD or Auto with the turn of a knob on the centre console.

It’s all very civilized whether you’re on the level or on a long, steep grade – until you jump hard into the throttle and the CVT noise becomes prominent. Thankfully there’s enough torque in the engine to keep that annoying “motorboat” sound to a minimum.

I’m not a huge fan of CVTs, but I’m pretty sure the average driver will never notice it’s there and it does have the advantage of contributing to excellent fuel economy figures.

On the highway, Pathfinder makes its way quietly and smoothly while the suspension (independent strut with solid stabilizer bar up front and multi-link rear with hollow tube stabilizer) easily soaks up any humps or hollows.

Passage is so civilized I have to wonder if Pathfinder with all its changes and amenities is still a path finder in a trail-blazing sense. That remains to be seen because our drive route sticks to rain-soaked pavement – no off road.

Fact file

2013 Nissan Pathfinder

MSRP: $45,198

Freight/PDI: $1,720

Notable options: Premium Pkg. ($3,100) with dual panorama sun roof, tri-zone entertainment system with front seat headrest-mounted screens.

Configuration: front engine/ four-wheel drive

Engine/transmission: 3.5L V6 / continuously variable

Horsepower/Torque: 260 hp/ 240 lb.-ft.

Fuel economy ratings: 10.8 L/100km city; 7.9 L/100km hwy

Warranties: 3 years/60,000 km (basic); 5 years/ 100,000 km (powertrain)

Competitors: Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander

Strengths: economy; space; ride

Weaknesses: noisy CVT

Report Card (out of 5):

Value for $: 3.5 – A lot of bang for the buck

Styling: 3.5 – Nice proportions, but it’s still a SUV

Comfort: 4.0 – excellent seats in all positions; good ride

Performance: 3.5 – Most drivers probably wouldn’t notice the CVT, but…

Overall: 3.5 – Wins on interior styling but I longed for a 6-speed AT

First Look: 2013 Nissan Pathfinder
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