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Nissan Pathfinder

Middle East Launch
Dubai, UAE

What we liked

>> Comfort, refinement

>> Improved performance, economy

>> Value for money

Not so much

>> Less offroad ability than before

>> Bland, generic styling

>> No full-size spare

The SUV market has clearly changed. Once the stamping ground of utilitarian truck-like chariots designed primarily to go off-road, now the genre is almost entirely populated by car-based wagons made mainly to transport their occupants in comfort and refinement.

Such has been the comprehensive shift in buyer tastes and needs that even former stalwarts like the larger Nissan Patrol, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Mitsubishi Pajero have ditched their predecessors’ robust body-on-frame construction in favour of a more refined car-based monocoque chassis.

Given this overwhelming trend - which sees only the Toyota Prado, Mitsubishi Challenger, Holden Colorado 7 and Ford’s upcoming Ranger-based wagon soldier on as hard-core SUVs in a sea of seven-seat crossovers like the Toyota Kluger, Holden Captiva and Ford’s homegrown Territory - it’s hardly surprising Nissan’s fourth-generation Pathfinder has gone the same way.

A quick glance at the new Pathie is sufficient to glean the transition the medium-large SUV has made in its latest iteration. Gone are the bluff, boxy lines of its forerunner, replaced by a tapered, rounded profile that makes it blend in with the likes of the Hyundai Veracruz and Mazda CX-9. In fact, if it weren’t for the badges on the nose and tail, there’s no way you’d guess this was a Pathfinder… or even a Nissan.

If you’re a Pathfinder loyalist, you may lament the fact the vehicle has gone all soft and touchy-feely. However, Nissan execs are quick to address this observation, saying the brand’s line-up still caters to buyers seeking off-road ability via offerings such as the Patrol Y61 and (in markets such as the Middle East) the Xterra, which have retained their tough-as-nails ladder-frame chassis.

The new Pathfinder, on the other hand, is designed to grab a bigger slice of the burgeoning market for urban-jungle-dwelling seven-seat wagons. It goes on sale here in the fourth quarter of this year, and Nissan Australia spokesman Peter Fadeyev says local pricing and spec levels will be announced closer to the launch date.

The emphasis in the new Pathie is on comfort, refinement and interior packaging tailored to the needs of families with kids, prams and various odds and ends to tote around town.

Hence features such as ‘EZ Flex’ seating with ‘Latch and Glide’, which allows the second-row seat to be moved forward with a child seat still attached. The second-row seat can also be moved fore and aft, depending on the size of the occupants.

Even though it’s grown externally (the new Pathfinder is around 125mm longer and 100m wider than before), the switch to a monocoque construction has helped trim over 200kg from its kerb weight, helping slash fuel consumption by 30 per cent vis-à-vis its predecessor.

There’s also been a revamp in the drivetrain department, as the old 4.0-litre V6 and five-speed auto has been usurped by a 3.5-litre unit hooked up to Nissan’s latest-gen Xtronic CVT (continuously variable transmission).

Despite the engine displacing 500cc less than before, Nissan claims performance is sharper and a 0-100km/h split around the eight-second mark is certainly competitive against its rivals.

The drive program at the Pathfinder’s regional launch reflected the vehicle’s intended market positioning, with dusty gravel tracks being the roughest terrain encountered.

The Pathfinder is offered in front- and all-wheel drive formats, and the latter comes with a selectable ALL-MODE 4x4 system with 2WD, Auto and 4WD Lock modes.

However, our convoy steered well clear of sand dunes, wadis (localese for river beds) and rocks, so we can’t comment too much on the Nissan’s all-terrain abilities – but again, if an off-roader is what you want, then the Patrol Y61 is what you should be looking at.

Where the new Pathfinder’s strengths lie is in the ease with which it trundles around town and eats up freeway miles. It sits in relative silence at 140km/h on the highway, with both wind and road noise well suppressed.

The Pathfinder doesn’t feel as rock-solid at high speeds as, say, a VW Touareg, but it’s stable enough to inspire confidence. There’s a reasonable amount of bodyroll and understeer if you throw it at corners with enthusiasm, but no more so than you’d get in the majority of its competitors.

The 3.5 V6 goes about its business unobtrusively, and the CVT is also a smooth and efficient unit. Unlike some car-makers that offer CVT transmissions, Nissan doesn’t try to mask its configuration with artificially superimposed ‘ratios’ to mimic the feeling you’d get in a conventional automatic.

Even at wide-open throttle, the engine doesn’t drone unpleasantly at redline as do some CVTs. Instead, the transmission allows the revs to climb, and then adjusts the transmission ratio to keep the engine spinning in the sweet spot.

Unlike the Infiniti JX, with which the car shares most of its mechanicals, the Pathfinder’s CVT uses a steel chain-link pulley instead of a belt, endowing it with a towing capacity of 2270kg, whereas the former is limited to 1590kg. Quite handy if you have a large boat to haul.

The cabin is well finished, so much so that the top-spec model has an interior worthy of an Infiniti, with its attractive layout and good quality trim materials placing it a notch above the vast majority of its opposition.

Nissan claims best-in-class levels of interior space and the available equipment list includes tri-zone air-con, around-view monitor (provides a bird’s-eye view of the car), eight-inch touch-screen sat-nav, leather upholstery, heated and cooled front seats, a power adjustable driver’s seat and steering wheel and a powered tailgate.

Curiously though, pushing the button on the tailgate didn’t seem to achieve much (at least on the vehicle we tested), but it worked fine via the remote keyfob.

A glaring omission is the lack of a proper spare wheel, the Pathfinder instead making do with a space-saver (at least in the Middle East), which is not ideal if you get a flat in the middle of nowhere.

Purists may be disappointed the new Pathfinder doesn’t offer the genuine off-road ability of the outgoing model, but Nissan has obviously done its market research and concluded an urban-friendly SUV is what most buyers in this segment want.

Given that this is the case, we’d have to conclude the Pathfinder satisfactorily fulfils its design brief. It may not be a benchmark-setter in any aspect, but its keen pricing (it starts under $30K in the Middle East) means it’s a lot of car for the money.

Nissan Pathfinder Facts
Engine: 3.5-litre V6
Power: 194kW at 6400rpm
Torque: 325Nm at 4400rpm
Transmission: CVT
Length: 5009mm
Width: 1961mm
Height: 1768mm
Wheelbase: 2901mm
Kerb weight: 1950kg
Approach angle: 14.7 degrees
Departure angle: 22.3 degrees
Ground clearance: 165mm
0-100km/h: 8.0sec (est)
Top speed km/h: 210km/h (est)

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Nissan Pathfinder: First Drive -
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