G. Chambers Williams

Nissan’s family-oriented 2016 Pathfinder offers a roomy interior, lots of technology

Totally redesigned just two years ago, the 2016 Nissan Pathfinder once again offers exceptional levels of versatility, fuel efficiency and full-size comfort for seven passengers. Pathfinder is available in two- and four-wheel drive. The vehicle is shown here in the Cayenne Red exterior color.
Totally redesigned just two years ago, the 2016 Nissan Pathfinder once again offers exceptional levels of versatility, fuel efficiency and full-size comfort for seven passengers. Pathfinder is available in two- and four-wheel drive. The vehicle is shown here in the Cayenne Red exterior color. Nissan

Arguably one of the best family haulers on the market, the Nissan Pathfinder midsize crossover returns for 2016 with the same great styling, roomy interior, and long list of standard or available technology.

The seven-passenger Pathfinder plays in an increasingly crowded market segment that includes such stalwarts as the Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot. But it can hold its own against these crossovers, and even outshines them in some areas.

Since a complete redesign three years ago that changed the Pathfinder from a truck-based sport utility to a car-based crossover, its sales have steadily climbed, and it’s now one of the most-popular Nissan models.

There was even a hybrid version on the market for a year or so, beginning with the 2014 model, but it has since been discontinued for lack of consumer interest. Hybrids of any kind are a hard sell right now because of the continuing low gasoline prices.

Of course, there is still an Infiniti version of the Pathfinder available in both gasoline-only and hybrid versions – the QX60. Those vehicles come off of the same assembly line as the Pathfinder, at the Nissan factory near Nashville, Tenn.

For 2016, 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.

Other two-wheel-drive models are the SV ($33,100); SL ($36,360); and Platinum ($41,560).

Four-wheel drive is offered across the line, beginning with the S model ($31,470). Others include the SV ($34,790); and SL ($38,050).

We tested the 2016 SL four-wheel-drive for this report. It had the $ was the 2015 SV model with all-wheel drive. With the base price of $38,050 two options — the SL Premium Package ($3,330) and carpeted floor mats ($210) —our Pathfinder's total sticker price was $42,475, including freight.

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, or CVT. 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 we tested.

During our test, I averaged about 23.7 mpg, with about a 50-50 mix of neighborhood and highway driving. Part of the time we had four adults and a young teenager in the vehicle, and there was still sufficient power, even on hills and uphill freeway ramps.

The CVT shifted seamlessly, and the both the transmission and engine noise were kept to a minimum by the Pathfinder’s sound-insulating materials.

Our ride – even on some gravel and dirt state park forest roads — was smooth and quiet, much more so than that of the previous-generation (2010) Pathfinder that I own, which has a body-on-frame arrangement like a truck. The 2016 model is much more carlike, not only in ride comfort, but in handling, as well.

This generation is lighter, as well. With the switch to the crossover design, Nissan cut about 500 pounds off the Pathfinder, which helped improve handling and fuel economy.

The Pathfinder’s “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.

Unlike our previous-generation Pathfinder, though, the new model does not offer a two-speed transfer case for low-range gearing, a necessity for serious off-road trail driving on mud, sand and steep hills.

Pathfinder’s stylish exterior features a wide chrome grille, aerodynamic headlights, chrome door handles, recessed windshield wipers, and large taillights. To help with aerodynamics, there are front and rear spoilers, rear tire deflectors, and rear suspension fairings.

The Pathfinder 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 SL model.

Unlike many crossovers in this class, all seating positions are suitable for adults, even in the third row. 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.

When the third seat is in place, there is 16 cubic feet of cargo space. It has a 50/50 split-folding design, so either side, or both sides, can be folded down to increase cargo capacity. At one point, we loaded some DIY supplies in the back, folding down half of the third seat, but leaving the other half for our teen-age passenger.

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.

Pathfinder’s tailgate flips up in one piece, and on our SL model, it was power-operated, using a button on the key fob, a button on the dash, or a button on the outside of the gate. Another button inside the bottom edge of the liftgate can be pressed to close it.

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

Among other standard features on the SL are the leather seats; an eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat and four-way power front passenger seat; heated leather-wrapped steering wheel with illuminated switches; leather shifter; Nissan intelligent key with pushbutton start; an AM/FM/XM/CD audio system with MP3 playback, six speakers and a seven-inch color monitor; and three-zone automatic climate control.

Also included on the SL are a 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, and a 120-volt outlet; heated outside mirrors; roof rails; fog lights; driver’s seat and outside mirror memory; satellite radio; and welcome lighting.

Our SL Premium Package brought a 13-speaker Bose premium audio/navigation system, Sirius NavTraffic and NavWeather, eight-inch color monitor, Around View monitor (gives a bird’s-eye view of the vehicle exterior and surroundings on the video screen); the panoramic moon roof; and a tow-hitch receiver with wiring harness.

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.

To view the full article and car summary, visit www.star-telegram.com/cars. The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at chambers@star-telegram.com.

2016 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, Mazda CX-9, Acura MDX.

Base price range: $29,780-$43,250, plus $900 freight.

Price as tested: $42,475, including freight and options (SL 4WD with SL Premium Package).

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

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