On the path more travelled
Now Nissan’s big SUV is fit for family transport purposes
IT’S rare for a test car to spring a total surprise on me.
Yet the Nissan Pathfinder did just that, thanks to a ground-up overhaul that has transformed the seven-seater family hauler. Earlier Pathfinders were thinly disguised trucks. The body was an SUV, atop the working-class roots of the Navara ute — and even it was a fair stretch away from the class leaders.
Now it’s a genuine family wagon that’s roomy, comfortable, well equipped and pretty good value with a starting price just below $40,000. You can, of course, load it all the way to $65,090 if you want a Ti all-wheel drive with giant sunroof etc.
Then again, nobody is paying full price for anything short of the GT-R Godzilla in a Nissan showroom these days.
The new Pathfinder made an instant impact on me but it took the arrival of the latest Toyota Kluger, previously my personal benchmark in the price bracket, to bring it totally into focus.
Unlike the Pathfinder, the Kluger — despite a silly name that’s only used because Hyundai has the rights to Highlander in Australia — has always been comfy, refined and typically Toyota in the detailing.
For now, the Pathfinder has taken two steps forward and the Kluger has gone one step back. Despite extra cabin space and more versatility, the seven-seat Toyota drives and rides some way worse than the previous model.
But back to the Pathfinder. Because it deserves more than just grudging respect from a head-to-head assessment against the Kluger.
It’s a big bus with predictably American-centric styling, which means a chunky nose and a full-sized body that’s not intimidated in a world of Peterbilt-sized pick-ups that do everything from horse-hauling to Starbucks take-aways.
Inside, the Pathfinder is roomy, well laid-out, nicely finished and flexible. And that, at the end of the day, is what families need.
I like the basics but, not surprisingly, Nissan talks about tri-zone aircon and tri-zone entertainment — although one recent writer to Roadside Assist is questioning the virtues of this setup — and two choices of sunroof. Whatever.
The Pathfinder really won me when I hit the road. I expected a bucking, rodeo ride like the earlier models and plenty of noise and vibration.
What I got was a car, not a truck, that gets along very nicely thanks to its V6 power, with a smooth ride and commendably low noise levels.
It’s still not a Benz, but there is always the Murano for people who want an upscale Nissan without the third-row seats.
As usual, Nissan supplies me with a fully loaded Ti for my time with the Pathfinder and that gives me a slightly distorted view of the reality. But all the fruit in the world turns sour if the roots are bad, so I enjoy the infotainment trinkets and extra safety systems but keep my eye on the things that really matter.
That means split-folding for both back rows, up to 2259Lof storage with all seats folded flat, rear-view protection at all levels including a camera, and a towing capacity of 2.7 tonnes.
There is a choice between front and all-wheel drive but it hardly matters. Unless you’re towing or really want to give a bunch of kids a serious camping adventure, the front-drive Pathfinder is the one to have. And it’s the one that’s going to be waiting outside schools across Australia.
In this case, I am as happy in the Pathfinder as I was unhappy in the GT-R. This is a Nissan that under-promises, based on its history, and over-delivers. Not the other way around. Does it get The Tick? You betcha.