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Quick Spin: 2013 Nissan Pathfinder – In defense of the CUV

Kamil Kaluski May 13, 2013 Featured, Nissan Reviews, Quick Spin 83 Comments

2012 Nissan pathfinder front 34

For 2013, Nissan introduced the Pathfinder, a vehicle designed along with the Infiniti JX, which I liked a lot. Surprisingly, Jeff liked the Pathfinder, yet he wasn’t too crazy about the JX35, which confused me. Redusernab readers complained that Nissan turned a proper body-on-frame 4×4 into vehicle for someone who does not want a minivan, or a CUV. Yes, they did and they did that because that is what sells – body-on-frame SUVs and minivans simply do not sell as well as the Highlanders, MDXs, X5s, and Pilots.

For those that do want an off-road capable body-on-frame SUV, Nissan has the Xterra. They offer a minivan too, in form of the Nissan Quest. They have the big Armada too, in case you need to tow a house, so they got all the bases covered.

Let’s start off with the fact that Redusernab readers are right; many people, including me, won’t buy a minivan even if they are more practical and less expensive. That’s because suburban moms drive minivans and no one wants to be a suburban mom. SUVs, in theory, are driven by hip adventure-loving people – and that’s a fact! Every SUV buyer wants to be a hip adventure person, which is why they buy SUVs. This is the same reason why people buy the Nissan GT-R – they want to be that guy with the GT-R, even if their driving limits don’t exceed the capabilities of the Nissan Cube.

2012 Nissan pathfinder cargo area

Let’s be real now and give into the fact that no one is going off-road. Add to that the fact that body-on-frame SUVs are heavier, less efficient, drive like trucks, and have less interior space. Additionally, SUV buyers want the space, the high driving position, convenience, and that extra bit of traction (and the over-confidence that goes with it) of all-wheel-drive. They want good gas mileage and car-like driving characteristics, too.

The sum of all of these translates into cross-over SUVs, or CUVs. They’re dime-a-dozen, every manufacturer offers one or three, and everyone seems to be buying one or three. They are the modern replacements of Country Squires and Voyagers of decades past. Accept this and live with it – they’re family cars, and they’re here to stay.

2012 Nissan pathfinder rear seats

Now that we have determined the purpose of vehicles such as this new Pathfinder, let’s determine what separates the good one from the not-so-good ones:

  • Rear seat, width and leg-room: this is where rear-facing kid seats go and lack of room will impede the front passenger space. Sometimes kids bring their friends along, can three kid seats easily fit side-by-side?
  • Rear doors: the shape and size of the door opening allows you to remove a sleeping 30-pound toddler without waking him/her up and/or breaking your back? Will you bang your head on the door frame when buckling the kiddos into their seats?
  • Third row: third row can be written off as a kid or mother-in-law space only. It therefore does not need to be super comfortable but it needs to be there and must be easily accessible from both sides of the car.
  • Trunk space: kids come with an unbelievable amount of crap; fancy strollers are great, but they’re big. Road trips include playpens. There will be boxes of girl-scout cookies, little bicycles, sleds, and all kinds of crap. A trip to the grocery store will fill up most cargo vans. Let’s not even mention holidays. With kids, one can’t have enough truck space.
  • Interior: cup-holders – kids always drink something. They snack a lot too, and yes, they will eat in your car, too. They carry stuffed animals, blankets, and iPads. Add tissues, napkins, and wipes. There will be random forks, rocks, crayons, and other crap you did not know existed. All of that has to go somewhere.
  • Sanity: This is where you come in. How easy is it to open doors or the hatch. How quickly can you input the destination into the GPS? Can the rear of the vehicle be warm while keeping the driver comfortable?

2012 Nissan pathfinder top view camera

These are all first world problems, but those are the problems that a well-designed modern family vehicle should address. Forget about being an enthusiast, this is about keeping your kids and spouse happy.

I approach all new family cars with all of this in mind. I take my enthusiast hat off and I realize that whatever I (we) buy has to keep my non-enthusiast wife happy, and make her life easier. With that said, I have not seen another vehicle which would satisfy all of the above requirements as good as the new Pathfinder.

I have not driven each and every single vehicle out there but I do look for these things at car shows, friends’ car, or rentals. Right now, if someone asks me what is my favorite new 3-row/7-passanger family vehicle, that answer is the Pathfinder. It offers all of the above, good looks, and a good value. On a fully loaded version it even offers all the features of the Infiniti JX35, which begs the question, why buy the pricier Infiniti?


  • Devin

    At this point, aren't CUVs more suburban mom than actual minivans? I mean, if I got someone pregnant, I'd be looking at Mazda 5s, Kia Rondos and Chevy Orlandos before I looked at a CUV.

    • Maymar

      Err, pretty much, especially of the 3-seat variety. But then if you're embarassed to be seen as a parent, what does that say about how you feel about your kids.

      And that's what sort of really bothers me about CUVs – the minivan market is dwindling, wagons are still an oddity, but if you want 95 flavours of useless land manatee, have at it! Nissan alone makes four crossovers and two SUVs, on the car side they've got one forgotten van and the Cube which isn't so much a Versa wagon, as the box the Versa wagon came in (but I'm thankful for what little we get). Because I'm at work and posting on my phone, I can't be bothered to look it up, but is there a manufacturer outside of Mazda that doesn't offer more CUVs than wagons/vans?

      I figure the only way to burst the CUV bubble is to just drop that term, ape R Lee Ermey in The Watch, and refer to them all as fucking minivans.

      • Granted… but please realize that car companies are in it to make the cars that people want to buy, because you know, that makes money n' stuff.

        • Devin

          Yeah, but since you brought up the image thing it still needs to be questioned. CUVs definitely the most suburban housewife car you can get right now, and manufacturers had better be looking for the next big thing for when their kids grow up and are petrified of CUVs because they don't want to turn into their mother – that did kill the minivan, after all.

          • "…CUVs definitely the most suburban housewife car you can get right now…"

            Yes, but that stigma has not yet become apparent among suburban housewives themselves. Once it does, they'll stop biting the bait, and auto makers have to come out with crossover-maxi-coupe-roadster-truckvertibles or something like that to stay ahead of the "I'm a typical suburban mom but I want to convince myself I'm not as boring as all those other boring suburban moms" syndrome.

        • Maymar

          I'm all too familiar with the need to make money (I have been in more Lexus RXs than I care to think about), so I don't exactly unleash my ire on the manufacturers. On the other hand, we absolutely need to shame the lowest common denominator for their poor taste in, well, damn well near everything. The cars they drive are the relevant factor here.

          Even if you feel the questionable need to use a Pathfinder as your default family hauler recommendation, throw in some backhanded shame, ie; "yeah, the Pathfinder's pretty much a minivan, so it's perfect for you!" Something like that, keep plugging away at making these malaisey monstrosities uncool.

          • There was a time when people said the exact same things about minivans.

            • FuzzyPlushroom

              These aren't quite as practical, though – no sliding doors, and often more difficult third-row access and reduced economy. Vans of all sizes, with sliding doors and high roofs, are the epitome of practicality, however uncool they may be.

              Honestly, wagons and CUVs are compromises, but what wagons lose with their lower roofs, they gain in sleekness and handling prowess (at least, all other things being equal). What does the Pathfinder have that makes it inherently superior to a minivan in climates that rarely see snow?

              • Maymar

                I think even in snowy climates, the Pathfinder's advantage is questionable – we both live in snowy climes and haven't owned a single AWD car between us (to say nothing of the currently available AWD Sienna, and Chrysler's previously available AWD vans, killed off by the sensible notion that more of their customers benefited from stowable seats than power to the rear wheels). And there's the ground clearance issue, I suppose, because a majority of our population live in the Back 40.

                Oh wait…

                • FuzzyPlushroom

                  I will say that I respect the shit out of the capabilities of the (old-style) Outback I've extensively driven, but there's no weather I've had to drive in that good tires, a few inches of clearance, and preferably a manual gearbox haven't taken care of. Only when I was lacking at least one of those things (cough, 745T) did I ever have trouble.

              • As a guy who traded his beloved minivan ('99 Odyssey) on a CUV ('10 Saturn Outlook), the one thing it does that the van didn't is tow. Not tow-anything towing, but tow-a-decent-pop-up-camper towing. My Odyssey towed our large-ish pop up but clearly wasn't happy about it. The Outlook tugs it along just fine, almost like it wasn't there.

                Sure, I could have gotten a Tahoe to do the same thing, but I'd have gained no more space and lost driveability and MPG. My big Saturn CUV gets OK mileage and doesn't compromise too much in space.

                The fact that it looks better too is a bonus, but if I could get a minivan that'd tow 5K lbs, I'd take it in a heart beat.

            • Devin

              And they'll say it about whatever replaces CUV as the suburban bus of the day. Personally I don't take issue with the existence of CUVs, I just don't think it can be argued that they're the choice of cool parents anymore. I suspect that a backlash is imminent.

              I mean, the Quest actually looks a lot cooler and more adventurous than the Pathfinder now, what with its boxy shape and wrap around glass.

              Of course, I personally think that the compact MPVs should be the next hip child transport, and Canada seems to be embracing them, but they haven't caught on south of the border.

            • Maymar

              [youtube ZgMEPk6fvpg youtube]

    • calzonegolem

      IMO You need more than two children before a minivan is really necessary. Also, my mom drove zs8's and my dad drove trucks and they had 3 children.

      • Devin

        I'm working under the assumption that my sperm is extra potent.

        • calzonegolem

          Better safe than sorry.

  • My wife and I just went on a fishing trip with a couple we are close friends with. They showed up driving a brand-new Pathfinder. They are thrilled with it. I had a chance to look it over and we rode in the back seat to dinner one night. Overall, I saw nothing I disliked.

    Not everyone is a driving enthusiast, and the Pathfinder makes for very practical and comfortable transportation.

    • Shocking, but that's what most people want, and not a brown turbo-diesel, RWD, manual, station wagon.

      • Absolutely. Some of us want orange turbodiesel RWD manual wagons.

        • Alff,

          Did you get my e-mail RE: the museum?

          • Yep! Just sent you a reply. Thanks for thinking of me.

        • calzonegolem

          I'd like a blue AWD turbodiesel manual wagon.

          • I'd like a purple, FWD, 2-stroke, variomatic shooting brake.

            Just because.

            • calzonegolem

              Yes, can you bring me back one also?

            • skitter

              I'll have a five-door fastback, dark red (not medium), manual, with a side of black wheels and a side of silver wheels.

              • ˏ♂ˊ mzs zsm msz esq

                <img src="; width="500"> You too, sigh…

                • Dean Bigglesworth

                  Shot one of these at Classic Motorshow too.. 😉
                  <img src="; </img>

              • Well, you can get a Skoda Superb with a manual, and that red looks pretty dark…don't know about black wheels, but silver are there. Hey, I'll give you Tire Rack's number and you can knock yourself out with aftermarket stuff.

                <img src="; width="500">

            • "…purple, FWD, 2-stroke, variomatic shooting brake."

              <img src=";


              • You are waaaay off. That's blue.

                • I thought you'd call me out for posting one without side glass as a brake/break:

                  <img src="; width="400">

                  Clearly it's a fourgonnette tolée instead.

            • FuzzyPlushroom

              Make mine a manual.

              *crosses arms*

            • Vairship

              It's a 2 cylinder 4-stroke, but I'm pretty sure you'd be able to get it in purple: <img src="; width="600">
              DAF 44, source: wikipedia

              • Meh. FAF is way better.

                • Vairship

                  Are we starting this again? The FAF is clearly inferior: no Variomatic and not even a shooting break!

                  • I beg your pardon?

                    <img src=";

                    • Vairship

                      It's still about a thousand gears short.

  • Ugh.

    Today, I am most people. Live with it.
    Tomorrow is another day, where I'll raise questions but won't beg for them.

    And then, in a very annoying way, I'll answer the question I just… raised.

  • skitter

    Minivans can be great. The current generation rental-Caravan has near-as-makes-no-difference 300hp. And it shows in the brakes, which have decent feel and power if you stand on them, but otherwise shake like an earthquake. But the biggest problem is the powered sliding doors and tailgates. They protest shifter position and automatic door locks, and can't be simply opened and closed. So there's an opening for the conventionally ported CUV. Many really aren't that much taller, wider, longer or heavier than today's swollen 'compact' cars. The thing that's silly about them is the off-road, ground clearancy pretensions. I hope that will fade away soon enough, R-class style.

    • Those power doors are the bane of my existence, as they are failure prone but now that my wife has had them, she can't live without them. That means I have to get out my trusty soldering iron every few months.

      • calzonegolem

        I'm thinking vacuum activated doors.

        • Just so long as they fail-safe to the open position should they lose vacuum.

          • Especially at freeway speeds.

            • calzonegolem

              Complementary car cleaning (r)

            • Why not? Rockin' those sliders!

              <img src="; width="500">

              • FuzzyPlushroom

                If I had a minivan for whatever reason, I'd drive around like that. You bet.

        • Vairship

          clearly they should be hydraulic – like a 600 Grosser.

          • Dean Bigglesworth

            I've photographed a lot of relevant cars recently, it seems…
            <img src="; </img>

            • Vairship

              And it has plenty of room for child seats, a giant trunk for diapers… clearly this is the perfect CUV replacement!

  • I am guessing that you also refuse to split the infinitive in any case and insist on universal application of the Oxford comma.

    Language, grammar and idiomatic usage are decidedly fluid. Once the majority of people (or even a cohesive subset of users) agree to a variation in the rules of meaning, a de facto change in meaning has indeed already occurred. Even people who disapprove of "begs the question" in place of "prompts the question" can readily and accurately interpret the speaker's intended meaning. Nowadays, we must accept that a usage that is different, separate and even incongruous with its original meaning within philosophical thought has been fairly widely adopted.

    Thus it actually does mean what most people think it means, simply by virtue that that is what most people understand it to mean.

    Or does my argument beg the question?

    • Yes.

    • Alcology

      Can you please stop it with these posts and keep it car relevant rather than attacking commenters? Yes, I see that you were replying to a specific post. That post is now self-censored. I understand that you might have had issue with it, but I'm tired of your personal attacks and they don't belong here. I am calling you out specifically for this behavior.

      As for the rest of us, let's do our best to police ourselves and stay relevant. I like it here. We like it here.

      • Wow, I did not realize that anybody perceived me as being a particularly ill-humored or uncivil commenter. I've never intended to attack anybody personally, and I am sincerely surprised you took it as such. I will sincerely watch my manner more closely.

        • Alcology

          Thanks. The "all in good fun" is fun as long as it doesn't target anyone. I'm guilty of this too. Better to laugh with than at.

  • Another consideration – towing capacity. You and Junior's shifter karts aren't going to get to the track on their own, and it's tough to find a hitch for a BMW ZHP. Gotta take mom's car.

    • I refuse to believe it's ever all that tough to find a hitch.

      <img src="; width="500">

      • For someone who specializes in finding the last examples extant of obscure vehicles, it's not. For my ZHP driving and karting buddy Todd, it apparently is.

        • ˏ♂ˊ mzs zsm msz esq

          Wow ZHP is a thing.

          • Apparently it has many of the M car's features, including suspension, but not the drivetrain.

        • Feel free to use that photo if you think you can pressure Todd into tracking down a hitch. Tell him it's what all the cool kids are doing….

          • It worked. He took one look at your rig and decided he'd better find one, lest that become his future. Thanks.

            • Always happy to teach by example, if not lead by example.

  • SSurfer321

    When the F**K will American consumers learn that YOU CANNOT HAVE HUGE FUEL EFFICIENT FAMILY HAULERS?!
    More Mass = Less Fuel Efficiency
    And, NO, it won't tow your boat.

    Maybe, instead of needing to take your child's entire bedroom with you for a quick trip to the mall, throw a diaper bag in the trunk and call it well enough.


    • There is now a hybrid verion of the Nissan Pathfinder.
      Really. 🙂

      • SSurfer321

        I'm probably in the minority on this, but hybrids make sense in BIG VEHICLES. Your puny econobox doesn't need to be a hybrid. They're relatively fuel efficient due to the low mass.

        • Nope, I agree… I tot the GM Tahoes and full-size pickup trucks with hybrid powertrains were a smart, in theory at least.
          Increase the fuel economy of your worst performing vehicles.

          I also think that cop-cars, ambulances, and taxis should be hybrids as they have a lot of idle time and/or traffic…. and the most usage – they're always running.

          • ˏ♂ˊ mzs zsm msz esq

            An Escalade hybrid pulled up to me on Sat, I wasn't even mad.

            • I saw a Mary Kay Escalade hybrid today That lady must sell a lot of eyeliner.

        • Yep, this.

    • ptschett

      I was getting plausible near-30 MPG at 60 MPH in 55 zones in a late-model Pentastar-powered Caravan a few weeks ago, hauling me & 5 other engineers to our section's monthly SAE meeting/factory tour. The whole trip I averaged 23 MPG, including 250 miles of Interstate at 80 MPH and a few WOT acceleration runs. Considering that my personal best single-tank record in my Challenger is 26 MPG, the van got good fuel economy as far as I'm concerned.

  • CherokeeOwner

    Ever since I really got into cars, I never hated CUVs. I understood their purpose, and there were even a few that I wouldn't mind owning, such as the Outback.

    That said though, if you pick a SUV or a CUV over a minivan because you don't want people to think your a bermuda-shorts-black-socks-and-sandals-wearing suburban house-wife/husband with no life outside of your kids, that's not going to help. Everyone knows you're a suburbanite with kids; the ground clearance, plastic body cladding and AWD your car has is not going to make up for it. Tell those judgmental bitches to go fuck themselves and buy a damn minivan. As long as you don't drive like a blind dumb-ass and pay attention, the rest of us will like you.

    Also, you can pull 3600 lbs. with a Grand Caravan. That's enough for a motorcycle, a pair of jet-skis, a snowmobile, a fishing boat or a lightweight camper. And you can haul 4×8 sheets of whatever inside with the seats down. Just to let you know.

    • justgregit

      I couldn't agree more. And if you take the seats out of the back, you can fit more in the back of a van than a lot of pickup trucks.

      If anything, when I see a CUV/SUV I think suburban mom. When I see a van I usually assume its a cool practical dad who wants the ability to take the seats out and drive the lawnmower up into the back of it if he needs to bring it to get repaired.

      Also, with the seats out you can put the motorcycle in the back.

    • Minivan > CUV.

  • Plecostomus

    Why buy the Infiniti instead of the Pathfinder?

    Easy answer: The Infiniti Cheesewheel.

  • mallthus

    I know people like to badmouth CUVs as "tall wagons", etc.

    Truth is though, a modern CUV has more room than most modern wagons and is easier to enter and exit. Why is that important?

    Car seats.

    When I was a kid, seating capacity was limited by how many kids could physically fit in the back, seating and seat belts be damned.

    Now (thankfully) we put kids in car seats until they're almost in middle school. That means that every single young'un needs a seat and the younger ones need more room than that, given the size of their seats usually precludes use of the middle seat. Then Mom/Dad need to be able to lean in and buckle the kid(s) up.

    When my oldest was 1, we tried switching to a Jetta Sportwagon. I still have places on the back of my head permanently dented from whacking my head on the roof of that Jetta while buckling him in. Never again would I consider putting a car seated child in a regular car.

    Truth is, we now have a body on frame 2009 Pathfinder and love it. But…we use it in ways that it makes sense. We tow (thank you V8 power!) and we spend a considerable amount of time on unpaved roads. If we didn't tow and didn't drive dirt trails, we'd drive a CUV. And because we don't need those capabilities all the time, we also have a Mini Cooper S.

    • ˏ♂ˊ mzs zsm msz esq

      I can dig it, I had three kids (two in car seats) with a Golf sometimes. It sort of sucked, but it also sort of felt awesome.

    • FuzzyPlushroom

      The folks I live with have a not-quite-two-year-old and a Grand Marquis… but they're short, like make-a-good-armrest-for-your-six-foot-correspondent short. Probably also lucky.

  • I'd like to claim I pretty much started the diesel wagon rant sometime around 2005. (Emphasis on "like to").

    Two kids later, I'm over it. Crossovers hold a ton more stuff than any similar wagon would, and most importantly fit rear-facing car seats better. As they lose any SUV pretensions (see newest Escape), they're actually driving decently. You're not going to take your mom car to the track, so just bite the bullet and get the mom car that works best.

    Two kids and under, your options are nearly infinite. With 3 kids, it's basically minivan, full-size van (remember those?), 3-row SUV, or nothing.

    • joshuman

      I agree. Once you pass the two kid mark, you do need something bigger than a Volvo V70. I liked our old V70 it but we out grew it. We also outgrew the XC90 which is a direct competitor with the Pathfinder. The third row just wasn't useful enough. For an active family of six, the huge Suburban does the trick.

      • Oldest of 4 kids, I am.

        We went OG Chrysler minivan –> Ford Econoline –> 3/4 ton Suburban.

        That suburban was the best car my family ever owned. Did everything, needed nothing, showed almost no wear despite towing boats all summer and heading to the mountains all winter.

  • pwned88

    I actually DO need my SUVs. My 2-door sports car gets me the MPG and the nice driving.

    The SUV hauls the trailers, excessive camping equipment, and navigates the 800 feet of snow that randomly drops and beaches my car 10 feet out of the driveway.

    I don't want or need a cross-over. But I'm the 2 vehicles for 1 person dude that all the environmentalists scowl at.

    • Oddly enough, a vehicle for every purpose is probably more environmentally friendly. Commute in your Smart or diesel Golf, go to the track in a sports car and only use the big beast truck when you need it.

      Sounds a lot better than using an X5M for everything.

  • BobWellington

    I personally don't like the concept of a CUV, but my mom got her 2011 Explorer because she likes the looks and style of it (among other things). A minivan just isn't her style. It really has nothing to do with how people perceive her. However, she's not your average mom.

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