G. Chambers Williams

Nissan’s Pathfinder crossover has room for seven, great styling, lots of technology

Nissan's popular Pathfinder SUV is a refined, family friendly crossover utility vehicle that comes with a 260-horsepower V-6 engine and a continuously variable automatic transmission.
Nissan's popular Pathfinder SUV is a refined, family friendly crossover utility vehicle that comes with a 260-horsepower V-6 engine and a continuously variable automatic transmission. Wieck

In its newest form, the popular Nissan Pathfinder has transitioned from a truck-style SUV into a modern crossover utility vehicle, but still featuring the versatility of its previous generations.

One of the best sport utilities on the market is now better than ever, and with its seven-passenger seating and carlike amenities, it’s one of the best new family vehicles available.

Nissan briefly offered a hybrid version of the Pathfinder, introduced for 2014, but that model has now been discontinued. The automaker blamed low gasoline prices for a lack of consumer interest in the hybrid. There still is a hybrid version of the Pathfinder’s Infiniti QX60 clone, however.

Current Pathfinder prices begin at $29,780 (plus $900 freight) for the base S version with two-wheel drive, and run as high as $43,250 for the top Platinum model with four-wheel drive.

The least-expensive four-wheel-drive model is the S, starting at $31,470. Other models include the SV ($33,140, 2WD; $34,830, 4WD); SL ($36,210, 2WD; $37,900, 4WD); and the Platinum 2WD ($41,560).

Our tester for this report was the 2015 SV model with all-wheel drive. With the base price of $34,830 and just one option — carpeted floor mats for $210 — our Pathfinder’s total sticker was $35,940, including freight.

The Pathfinder was to be the first in a line of new hybrid models from Nissan. Also planned were hybrid versions of the Rogue compact crossover, as well as the redesigned Murano midsize crossover and the Altima sedan. So far, though, there has been no sign of hybrids in any of these vehicles, probably because gasoline is still under $2 a gallon for most of us.

For now, under the hood of all Pathfinders is a 3.5-liter V-6 engine with 260 horsepower and 240 foot-pounds of torque, connected to a continuously variable automatic transmission. With this powertrain, the vehicle can tow trailers weighing up to 5,000 pounds.

EPA ratings for the front-drive Pathfinder are 20 mpg city/27 highway/23 combined; and 19/26/22 for the four-wheel drive model.

During my weeklong test of the Pathfinder, driving a mix of freeways and country roads, I averaged about 23.2 mpg in the all-wheel-drive model.

Some of the time I had three adults in the vehicle, and there was plenty of power, even on hills and freeway on-ramps.

The transmission shifted seamlessly, and the ride was smoother – and quieter – than that of the truck-style previous-generation Pathfinder. This is a much-more-carlike vehicle — not only in ride comfort, but in handling, as well.

With the switch to the crossover design, Nissan was able to cut about 500 pounds off the vehicle’s weight with the remake, which helped improve handling and fuel economy.

The “intuitive” four-wheel drive is designed to help keep the vehicle on track on curvy roads – wet, dry or dirt/gravel – and on snow, too. It’s the only all-wheel-drive crossover in its class that has three driver-selectable modes – two-wheel drive only; automatic four-wheel drive; and locked four-wheel drive.

The exterior features a wide chrome grille, aerodynamic headlights, chrome door handles, recessed windshield wipers, and larger taillights.

To help with the vehicle’s overall aerodynamics, the Pathfinder has front and rear spoilers, rear tire deflectors and rear suspension fairings. It has a 0.34 coefficient of drag — a 13 percent improvement from the previous model, Nissan says.

Among the options are a dual panoramic moon roof that extends all the way to the third row; three rows of leather seats; heated and cooled front seats and heated second-row seats; heated steering wheel; power tilt-and-telescopic steering column; keyless entry with pushbutton start; and a 13-speaker Bose audio system. We also had three-zone automatic climate control on our Platinum model.

All seating positions are suitable for adults, unlike many crossovers whose third row is intended for children or very small adults. Getting into and out of the rear and middle seats is made easier by large rear-door openings.

Nissan’s EZ Flex seating system allows the second-row seat to slide forward up to 5.5 inches, and to tilt, as well, for easy access to the third row. The middle seat has a 60/40 split feature that allows a child-safety seat to remain in place on the curb side while the other side is moved forward to let the rear passengers in or out.

With the third seat in place, there is 16 cubic feet of cargo space behind it. It has a 50/50 split-folding design, so either side, or both sides, can be folded down to increase cargo capacity. We loaded some luggage in the back, folding down half of the third seat, but leaving the other half ready for a passenger.

Both the second and third rows can be folded down to create a completely flat load floor from the tailgate to the back of the front seats. This arrangement gives nearly 80 cubic feet of cargo space. The tailgate, which flips up, was manually operated on our test vehicle, but higher trim levels offer a power liftgate.

There is also a small storage area under the rear cargo floor, providing a good place to hide valuables when the vehicle is parked.

Among standard features on our SV tester were an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat and four-way manual front passenger seat; leather-wrapped steering wheel with illuminated switches; leather shifter; the Nissan intelligent key with pushbutton start; an AM/FM/XM/CD audio system with MP3 playback, six speakers and a seven-inch color monitor; three-zone automatic climate control; Bluetooth hands-free phone system and audio streaming; auto-dimming rearview mirror with universal garage/gate opener; a rearview monitor and backup sonar system; four 12-volt power outlets; heated outside mirrors; roof rails; and fog lights.

The vehicle also has a tire-pressure monitoring system with Nissan’s Easy Fill Tire Alert, which beeps the horn when a tire being filled with air reaches its proper inflation level.

Roof-mounted side-curtain air bags with rollover sensors are standard for all three rows of seats. Also included are antilock disc brakes, electronic stability control and traction control.

The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at chambers@star-telegram.com.

2015-16 Nissan Pathfinder

The package: Large, five-door, seven-passenger, V-6 powered, front- or all-wheel-drive crossover utility vehicle.

Highlights: Completely redesigned for 2013, the Pathfinder evolved into a crossover utility vehicle with unibody construction. It has plenty of power and lots of standard and optional features.

Negatives: Can get pricey when options packages are added.

Engines: 3.5-liter V-6.

Transmission: Continuously variable automatic.

Power/torque: 260HP/240 foot-pounds.

Length: 197.2 inches.

Curb weight range: 4,149-4,471 pounds.

Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock.

Cargo volume: 16 cubic feet (behind third seat); 79.8 cubic feet (second and third row seats folded down).

Towing capacity: 5,000 pounds.

Side air bags: Front seat-mounted; roof-mounted side-curtain for all rows.

Electronic stability control: Standard.

Fuel capacity/type: 19.5 gallons/unleaded regular.

EPA fuel economy: 20 city/27 highway/23 combined (front drive); 19/26/22 (AWD).

Major competitors: Chevrolet Traverse, Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia, Ford Explorer, Ford Flex, Dodge Durango, Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, Acura MDX.

Base price range (late 2015): $29,780-$43,250, plus $900 freight (gasoline); $35,810-$46,100 (hybrid).

Price as tested: $35,940, including freight and options (SV AWD gasoline-only model).

On the Road rating: 9.3 (of a possible 10).

Prices shown are manufacturer’s suggested retail; actual selling price may vary.