---- — Car companies like to look for class-leading advantages for their vehicles. That means comparing their models apples-to-apples with similar, competing models of the same general type – similar size, price, body style and so on. Hold a mid-size sedan up to other mid-size sedans and, if yours leads the pack in any measurable way, well then, that best-in-class capability is something to brag about.
Nissan earned a lot of bragging rights when it re-introduced its Pathfinder sport-utility wagon one year ago. The 2013 Nissan Pathfinder was a fully remade, fourth-generation version of the SUV that had joined the company’s lineup in 1986, more than 25 years earlier. Pathfinder is a three-row, seven-passenger wagon with a starting list price of $29,710 for a two-wheel-drive version. Four-wheel drive adds $1,600.
Carrying its improvements into the 2014 model that is now being introduced, Pathfinder finds its best-in-class superlatives still unchallenged.
According to Nissan, which quotes assessments made by respected independent vehicle raters, the Pathfinder has the best fuel-economy rating among middle-size sport-utility vehicles, with the two-wheel drive version earning government fuel-use estimates of 20 miles-per-gallon in city driving and 26 mpg on the highway (ratings drop one mpg with four-wheel-drive Pathfinders). It has best-in-class passenger space, including best-in-class front head room and leg room. The 2014 Pathfinder leads the class in towing capacity, with an ability to pull 5,000 pounds.
As a not-so-little side note, Nissan also mentions some exclusive features not available in competing sport-utilities. They include its three-level power system on all-wheel-drive models. The set-up lets drivers select full-time front drive for optimum fuel economy, full-time four-wheel drive when roads are at their worst, or automatic monitoring that balances power between front and rear wheels according to conditions.
The Pathfinder is also the only model in its class with a third-row seat that reclines. It’s the only model with a 360-degree monitor that, like a back-up camera, helps you park and alerts you to hazards around the vehicle. Called the Around View Monitor, the Nissan exclusive comes with the top level, Pathfinder Platinum, which lists at $44,495 for an all-wheel-drive version.
For most drivers, the Pathfinder’s lead in fuel economy tops its list of stand-out qualities, said Bret Chavaree, co-owner and manager of Salem Nissan in Salem, N.H.
“Its best-in-class gas mileage is a huge deal to people,” he said.
Another favorite feature is the backward- and forward-sliding second-row seats with a capability that Nissan calls “latch and glide,” he added. The feature makes it easy to move the second seat on the driver’s side out of the way of passengers climbing into the third row, while a child or infant’s seat attached on the passenger side can remain undisturbed.
“The latch-and-glide technology is a big thing for families, because kids can easily get into the back,” emphasized Chavaree, who shares management of Salem Nissan with his co-owning partner Dan Forget.
Pathfinder’s seven spaces and its cargo room – with both second- and third-row seats folding flat to admit extra-bulky loads – make families the primary buyers of the sport-utility, Chavaree said.
“The majority of people who buy it are in their 30s and 40s, up to their 50s, with kids,” he said.
Those buyers now are much more plentiful too. At Salem Nissan, the new, fourth-generation Pathfinder is selling at about twice the rate of the version it replaced, according to the manager. On the national level, Nissan reports that the Pathfinder sales currently run nearly 200 percent higher than at this time last year.
While it retains the leadership qualities it picked up when the new version was introduced last autumn, this year’s 2014 Pathfinder also gains a new, hybrid-drive option. The dual, gas/electric powered Pathfinder Hybrid offers a 24 percent improvement in fuel economy over the standard version, with a rating of 25 mpg city and 27 mpg highway. It is priced about $3,000 more than a traditionally powered, gas-only fueled Pathfinder.
Significantly, the hybrid version doesn’t sacrifice much muscle to obtain its greater efficiency. Pathfinder Hybrid uses a four-cylinder gasoline engine that is supercharged to boost output. It shares power responsibility with an electric motor energized by a compact, lithium-ion battery. As a team, the gasoline and electric motors produce 250 horsepower and 243 lb.-ft. of torque. The V6 gasoline engine in the conventional Pathfinder produces 260 horsepower and 240 lb.-ft. of torque.
As another advantage, the gas/electric Pathfinder doesn’t sacrifice cabin space to make room for its extra power gear. Commonly hybrid versions of vehicles cut into usable space to accommodate batteries and related equipment. The compact battery in the Pathfinder Hybrid nests under the third-row seat without impinging. Second-row seats still slide, and latch-and-glide still operates.
Both hybrid and conventionally powered Pathfinders gain fuel-economy advantages from alterations introduced with the new model. One is the incorporation of a continuously-variable transmission (CVT), a type of automatic transmission that operates more economically by constantly adjusting to changing power demands, rather than making the step-by-step gear changes of a traditional transmission. Chavaree noted that the new CVT is another exclusive for Pathfinder in the middle-size SUV class.
Another major change is the use of what’s called unitized body construction, dispensing with a separate, heavy frame beneath the vehicle. That cuts pounds from the prior-generation, body-on-frame design, contributing substantially to better fuel economy.
Taken together, a lot of improvements have pushed the new Nissan Pathfinder to the head of its class.
Jeffrey Zygmont is an author of fiction and non-fiction books, and a long-time auto writer. Contact him at www.jeffreyzygmont.com.
2014 Nissan Pathfinder Vehicle type: 4-door, 7-passenger, 2- and 4-wheel-drive mid-size SUV Price range: $29,710 to $44,495 (plus options) Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles basic warranty; 5 years/60,000 miles powertrain warranty; 5 years/unlimited miles corrosion warranty Engine: 3.5-liter V6 Power: 260 horsepower at 6,400 rpm; 240 lb.-ft. torque at 4,400 rpm Transmission: continuously variable automatic Fuel economy: 19 mpg city; 25 mpg highway (with 4-wheel drive) Wheelbase: 114 inches Length: 197 inches Width: 77 inches Height: 70 inches Weight: 2,334 pounds Fuel capacity: 19.5 gallons Turning circle: 38.7 feet