Ca­pa­ble fam­ily mover in­tro­duces Nis­san’s all-new hy­brid sys­tem

Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - AUTOS - By John LeBlanc

NASHVILLE, TENN. — While the rest of the auto in­dus­try was rac­ing to catch up to ri­val Toy­ota’s in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar gaso­line-elec­tric hy­brids, Ja­pan’s Nis­san stub­bornly stuck by its non-hy­brid fuel-econ­omy strat­egy, tout­ing the fuel-sav­ing ben­e­fits of its con­tin­u­ously vari­able au­to­matic trans­mis­sion (CVT) tech­nol­ogy and forg­ing ahead with its all-elec­tric Leaf.

But now, af­ter the de­par­ture of Nis­san’s only hy­brid ve­hi­cle (the pre­vi­ous Al­tima Hy­brid that used a Toy­ota-li­censed sys­tem), the au­tomaker is in­tro­duc­ing its all-new, in-house-de­signed gas-elec­tric pow­er­train in the 2014 Pathfinder mid-sized crossover.

Be­fore it even­tu­ally ends up as an op­tion in Nis­san’s Al­tima and Mu­rano, and In­finiti’s QX60, Nis­san’s so-called PUREDRIVE hy­brid sys­tem is now avail­able in the 2014 Pathfinder Hy­brid as an al­ter­na­tive to the gas V6. And in­stead of copy­ing Toy­ota’s hy­brid ways, Nis­san’s hy­brid sys­tem adds a few engineering tricks.

For starters, PUREDRIVE mar­ries a 2.5-litre, four-cylin­der gas en­gine with a 15-kilo­watt elec­tric mo­tor that’s sandwiched be­tween the en­gine and con­tin­u­ously vari­able au­to­matic trans­mis­sion. Noth­ing out of the or­di­nary there. But to help achieve sim­i­lar power and torque rat­ings as the 3.5L six-cylin­der gas Pathfinder, the Hy­brid’s gas-four gets a su­per­charger, and what Nis­san calls its In­tel­li­gent Dual Clutch Sys­tem, a one mo­tor/two clutch par­al­lel sys­tem that man­ages power from both the elec­tric mo­tor and the gas en­gine for max­i­mum ef­fi­ciency.

The re­sult is a Pathfinder Hy­brid that of­fers only 10 fewer horse­power than the V6’s 260 rat­ing, and 243 pound-feet of torque (three more than the gas model.) Ac­cel­er­a­tion from rest to 100 km/h for the Hy­brid and V6 Pathfind­ers are both in the un­der-seven-sec­onds range. But with a rat­ing of 7.8 L/100 km in the city, com­pared to 10.9 for the V6, the Hy­brid has an ad­van­tage in aroundtown fuel econ­omy.

That said, PUREDRIVE isn’t de­signed to be driven on elec­tric power alone. There would be in­stances at con­tin­u­ous high­way speeds where the Pathfinder’s In­tel­li­gent Dual Clutch Sys­tem would dis­en­gage the gas mo­tor and the e-mo­tor would power the wheels, but the Nis­san hy­brid can’t be driven away from a stop­light un­der e-power alone, un­like the Toy­ota High­lander Hy­brid, which scores a bet­ter 6.6 L/100 km city es­ti­mate.

Like most hy­brids, the fuel sav­ings at high­way speeds are less-im­pres­sive. The Pathfinder Hy­brid is rated at 7.1 L/100 km on the free­way, while the gas model is rated at 7.8. (The ri­val Toy­ota High­lander Hy­brid is a bit higher, at 7.3.)

Ex­ter­nally, there’s lit­tle to let your neigh­bours know you’re try­ing to save the planet and get your kids to hockey prac­tice on time when driv­ing the hy­brid Pathfinder. A smat­ter­ing of “Nis­san PUREDRIVE Hy­brid” badges and LED tail lights are about all they’ll no­tice. While in­side, you can watch a graphic via the crossover’s cen­tral in- for­ma­tion screen that shows the flow of en­ergy be­tween the gas en­gine, bat­tery pack and re­gen­er­a­tive brak­ing sys­tem.

Other than th­ese de­tails, the Hy­brid re­mains a Pathfinder through­out. That means three rows of seats for up to seven, with ac­cess to the third row helped by a clever sec­ond-row seat that tips up and slides for­ward even with a child seat in place. And un­like some hy­brid sedans, you don’t lose any cargo space in the Pathfinder Hy­brid model be­cause the e-mo­tor is pow­ered by a lithium-ion bat­tery pack tucked un­der the crossover’s third row of seats.

Hy­brid or V6, the Pathfinder is best for fam­i­lies who need a mini­van but want an SUV. As such, the Hy­brid’s driv­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics can best be de­scribed as be­nign.

Dur­ing my one-day me­dia drive, I man­aged to get out of Nashville proper and make my way to the Natchez Trace Park­way, a scenic drive that starts just out­side of Nashville and ends over 700 km away south in Natchez, Louisiana. Typ­i­cal of a fam­ily hol­i­day drive, I cruised along in the 80-to-100 km/h range, an en­vi­ron­ment that is com­fort­able for the Pathfinder Hy­brid.

How­ever, when driv­ing out of and back into down­town Nashville in more stop-and-go traf­fic, it was ev­i­dent Nis­san’s new hy­brid sys­tem lacks some re­fine­ment. Pulling away from stop­lights, the Pathfinder Hy­brid’s throt­tle re­sponse is lack­lus­tre un­less you re­ally dip into it, fol­lowed by a whine from the su­per­charger. And like some early Toy­ota hy­brids, the Nis­san’s re­gen­er­a­tive brak­ing sys­tem is es­pe­cially grabby

Back at the ho­tel, the ve­hi­cle’s trip com­puter said my Pathfinder Hy­brid sipped fuel at a rate of 8.9 L/100 km. Not bad, but if you’re pinch­ing pen­nies, know that the Hy­brid de­mands a $4,000 pre­mium over com­pa­ra­bly trimmed Pathfinder V6 ver­sions. The Pathfinder SV 4WD Hy­brid comes in at $40,808, while the fully loaded Plat­inum/Pre­mium Pack­age 4WD Hy­brid model rings in at $50,758.

The 2014 Nis­san Pathfinder Hy­brid costs con­sid­er­ably less to get into than the $45,090-to-$54,140 Toy­ota High­lander Hy­brid, but you’ll need to drive far­ther than the Natchez Trace to make up the dif­fer­ence in fuel sav­ings.

A few “Nis­san PUREDRIVE Hy­brid” badges and LED tail lights are the only idi­ca­tions that this Pathfinder is a hy­brid.

A graphic via the cen­tral in­for­ma­tion screen shows the flow of en­ergy be­tween the

gas en­gine, bat­tery pack and re­gen­er­a­tive brak­ing sys­tem.

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