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First Drive Review: 2013 Nissan Pathfinder
A CUV that you should see

Jeff Glucker February 28, 2013 Featured, First Impressions, Nissan Reviews, Reviews 29 Comments

[Editor’s Note – My apologies to Nissan, this was originally supposed to run months ago but got lost in the shuffle. It was a First Drive, but we’ve decided to just call it a review, hence the strike-through above. — JG]

I hate oysters.

They’re a poor representation of what’s possible in the world of seafood. These lame mud scallops are slimy, sandy, salty, and the least inviting thing that can be plucked from the ocean and plopped onto a plate in front of my waiting maw. In the same vein (I guess?), I hate the Infiniti JX35. It’s the anti-Infiniti, as it’s not fun to drive, underpowered,  packs a CVT, and is only reminiscent of being of the same family thanks to a few swooping lines.

It’s odd then, that I find myself at the Hog Island Oyster Company in Tomales Bay, California. A plate of the freshest batch of slimy mud critters are staring me in the face… and I’m on thirds. These damn things are delicious. Fresh, clean, and, with a dash of the supplied minuet, they’re simply divine.

The vehicle that brought me here, well, I expected to hate that too. It’s the 2013 Nissan Pathfinder, which means it’s essentially a JX35 wearing slightly less swooptastic clothing and a smaller price tag. I wanted to hate the new Pathfinder for not being what I feel it should be; a rugged, body-on-frame, V8-optional sport utility vehicle. Instead, it’s a unibody powered by a V6 that’s mated to a CVT…

…and it’s nearly as tasty as the oysters.

How, you ask, can this seemingly neutered Nissan put a smile on my face? I’m chalking it up to careful attention to details. Basically, the engineering wizards set about adjusting the mechanical bits to suit the task at hand. This means that the 3.5-liter V6 engine is rated to produce 260 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque, returns over 20 miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving, and is rated to tow up to 5,000 pounds. That last bit is where a bit of the aforementioned engineering wizardry comes into play. You see, the new Pathfinder is equipped with the latest generation Xtronic CVT. You wouldn’t expect your standard CVT to be ready to handle hauling and towing duty, which is why Nissan stuffed it with a heavy duty drive chain to make sure it’s up to snuff. Not only that, but Nissan is building the best CVTs in the industry right now. Yes, I understand that’s like saying Bravo has the best reality television, but there’s something to be said for a CVT that gets the fuel efficiency act right while also providing a driving experience that’s not entirely numb.

Press the gas and the Pathfinder responds with surging forward momentum. It’s unexpected but welcome, and it happens smoothly to boot. That happens when you’re able to shed 500 pounds over the outgoing model.

2013 Nissan Pathfinder rear three quarter

From behind the wheel, the Pathfinder feels composed and comfortable. It’s a great highway cruiser thanks to the well-appointed front buckets, not completely numb steering, and available in-cabin amenities. The around-view monitoring system keeps you in check on the move, and the Bluetooth streaming audio keeps your ears and mind happy. Should the going get a little rough, this soft roader is available with an intelligent four-wheel-drive system. Keep the Pathfinder in 2WD while tooling around town, or set it into Auto and the system will monitor road conditions and send power to the necessary wheels. Additionally, you can put it directly into 4WD and keep it there.

Couple the available four-wheel-drive tech with the innovative seating system, and you have a vehicle that’s designed for families that like to get out there and enjoy themselves. This three-row actually has a third row that’s usable and accessible, imagine that! What a novel concept. This is achieved by a rather smart second row that flips, slides, and folds its way into a position that allows for proper ingress and egress. Not only that, but you can move the second row seat forward while a baby seat is still in place. Not the baby mind you, just the seat… otherwise you’ll have flattened baby face.

2013 Nissan Pathfinder second and third row

As sorted as the inside is, it seems many of you are going to take issue with the exterior of the 2013 Pathfinder. I’ve heard folks refer to it as a squashed SUV, a fat wagon, and a Super Legacy. Yes, it’s certainly far more wagon-esque compared to the last-generation Pathfinder. A close friend owns one, and I do love the brutishness of his now older Pathfinder. I wish this newer Pathfinder were a bit more slab sided, but I also think it’s prettier in person than in pictures. The nose is very clearly Nissan, and the large headlamps suit the face rather well. I’d say the Pathfinder suffers most in the profile view, but the front three-quarter happens to look rather handsome. I also appreciate the toned down language compared to the JX35, which looks like a wealthier Pathfinder that went in for one too many procedures at the local Nip/Tuck chop shop.

2013 Nissan Pathfinder interior details

So what do we actually have here? A surprisingly capable, comfortable, and well-equipped family hauler that can also haul some (not-too) heavy toys. Priced between $28,000 (Base S 2WD) and $41,000 (Platinum 4WD), it slots right into a segment filled with the rest of the lumbering beasts that roll through our highways and byways. The 2013 Nissan Pathfinder has a few tricks up its sleeve to help it stand out though, thanks to the adjustable four-wheel-drive system, efficient drivetrain, and slick seating system.

 I entered into my time with the Pathfinder expecting to dislike it. Instead, I’m leaving with a greater appreciation for what skilled engineers can accomplish. I still prefer a true sport utility vehicle or a real wagon, but the Nissan Pathfinder does a wonderful job of combining both ideals into one well thought-out package.

I’m also leaving with a surprising desire to seek out more fresh oysters… but I still prefer well-made sushi.

[Disclaimer: Nissan flew me up to the Bay Area and then we drove out to an amazing hotel in wine country. I had wonderful dinners, drank wonderful drinks, and finally ate oyster that didn’t taste like salty snot.]

[Images copyright 2013 Redusernab/Jeff Glucker]

  • Devin

    It's weird that Toyota is the only brand keeping their old SUV name in the offroady wheelhouse.

    • dukeisduke

      Toyota has both, really – the Highlander for unibody fans, and the 4Runner if you want BOF.

    • BobWellington

      Don't forget Nissan still makes the Xterra!

  • pj134

    But it still looks like the one of <100 girls in the world who actually look bad in yoga pants and has like cellulite or whatever it is showing through.

    EDIT: I think I'm saying it's way too lumpy in all the wrong places.

    • But if the girl Pathfinder is fun once you're inside, who cares?

  • MVEilenstein

    From the windshield back, I can definitely see the Legacy comparison. However, the people that are going to buy this are families with kids, and having a well-sorted back seat with sturdy hardware is what will make this car.

  • Acunamatata

    My wife drives a 03 Murano AWD we tow a 3200lb travel trailer every summer and I keep waiting for the CVT to break. Well its been 140K miles in and still running like new. Despite the reliability of the Murano my gear head mind still tells me its going to break while towing and I'm always looking for a replacement vehicle. We test drove this Murano XL……I mean Pathfinder and liked it but was disappointed when I learned it has a CVT. Can someone explain the chain in a CVT part for me? Any moment know i'm going to get a call that the Murano isn't moving. ( can just feel it! (I can't wait for the redesigned Xterra)

    • Traditional CVTs utilize a belt that runs between two pulley like units. This system alters the gear ratio as needed. The one in the Pathfinder swaps the belt for a chain drive, so it's stronger.

      Go play with this web tool for more CVT info …

      • Nice! I'm also fond of this demonstration:

        [ bH7qhmsB4fg ]

      • BobWellington

        I have a buggy that has that setup. It is a lot of fun. No where for me to really ride it, though. It's kind of nice having it because I get to work on it and learn about engines on a smaller scale. Cleaning the carb, rejetting, working on the CVT, adjusting the valves, etc. I don't get to do that on my Explorer.

  • It has gone downwards Bushmaster , Pathfinder to this Routecruiser

    Anyone remembers the Bushmaster?
    <img src=";

    • Devin

      Bushmaster also sounds like an ill marketed lady-region trimmer.

      • no trimmer needed in waxed country like ours.

        • POLAЯ

          Thank you! Thank you all for this wonderful contribution to the world! And there is so much more that Brazil brings, but can't talk now I must youporn.

          • Alcology

            Well that was a fun minute and a half.

      • dukeisduke

        Gasoline-powered, two-stroke? The trimmer, that is.

  • racer139

    I seen one of these last night at the grocery store. My first thought was that new pathfinder looks like somthing saab left behind, at least from the front. Nissan shoulda continued on with the traditional pathfinder and made this the next murano.Or as was already mentioned the murano XL.

  • "You wouldn’t expect your standard CVT to be ready to handle hauling and towing duty…."

    Well, no, not until after I added the trailer hitch.

    <img src="; width="450">

    • jeepjeff

      Concours d'LeMons still has your 2009 epic journey story on the main page. Going to try to top it?

      • All I'll say is that I'm considering various options, in part depending on whether this year's event ends up being a static display or, like last year, a tour.

        • jeepjeff

          Most excellent.

  • pwned88

    They've officially killed the pathfinder for me. This is a looooonnnngggg fall from the vehicle i learned to drive in:

    (1999.5 Pathfinder)

    <img src="; &lt;="" img="">

    edit: My mom's had the colour-matched bush bar on the front though

    • Jeff Glucker

      You know that the very first Pathfinder was a CUV, right?

      • jeepjeff

        The Pathfinder was launched in 1986, and based on the (small) Hardbody pickup, a body on frame truck platform. The 90s SUV bloat hadn't happened yet. They're around the same size as a Cherokee XJ, the archetypical SUV. The original Pathfinder (86-95) was an SUV.

        EDIT: Looking back, the Pathfinder generations have gone: BoF, Unibody, BoF, Unibody. So, around 2020, they should switch it back to BoF.

      • pwned88

        It's ok to make a product line better, not worse. IMO.

        Edit: And the first vehicle I owned personally was my '88 Cherokee, loved that sucker too.


      I have a 03 Pathfinder 4WD.

  • Bud Grayling

    Mom jeans required for all drivers.

  • Maymar

    Oh joy! Another minivan for people who don't know how to drive in winter, or can't own up to the fact they've procreated!

    No, I mean, I'm sure it's a pleasant enough vehicle, but like most crossovers, way too common, too heavy, and too wobbly, I'd have said Nissan had enough with the three they already had, but apparently not. If the Xterra goes mall cruiser, well, there's not a whole hell of a lot I can do (especially since I'm not about to buy any Nissan), but I'll be disappointed.

  • BobWellington

    I don't understand the need for the CVT when the Explorer with a 6-speed and a more powerful V6 gets the same fuel economy.



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