2015 Nissan Pathfinder

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One of the few holes left in the current car market is the one for a full-sized/three-row people-carrier that’s available with all-wheel-drive but which is neither a minivan nor an SUV … and which you can buy for just under (or maybe a little over) $30k.'15 Pathfinder lead

It’s a hole the Nissan Pathfinder is trying to fill.

WHAT IT IS

The Pathfinder is a full-size crossover SUV.

It’ll take seven people in three rows, like a minivan. But it doesn’t look like one – and (unlike almost all of the minivans left on the market) you can buy it with AWD.

A fairly rugged AWD system, too.

One with a “lock” feature that maintains a 50-50 power split, front to rear. This gives the Pathfinder notched-up tenacity in poor weather vs. the lighter duty all-wheel-drive systems in other crossovers that just see-saw the power between the front and rear wheels. The Pathfinder’s system can also be driver-toggled from “2WD” (front wheel drive) to all-wheel-drive.

Nissan labels this  “4WD” – which sounds manlier but amounts to the same thing.

The system comes with Hill Descent Control, too.'15 Pathfinder interior 1

Base price is $29,510 for the FWD S trim; adding the optional all-wheel-drive system bumps this up to $31,200.

A top-of-the-line Platinum trim with AWD (and lots of other stuff, including a 20-inch wheel/tire package and the ability to tack on – for a bit more coin – a dual-DVD flatscreen entertainment system) stickers for $43,100.

The Pathfinder’s most functionally and otherwise similar competition is the also three-row/full-size Mazda CX-9, which starts at $29,985 for the base FWD Sport trim and which you can also add AWD to for just over $31k ($31,575 to be precise).

You might also want to look at the GMC Acadia, which is a little bigger (and pricier) but generally similar in layout. It starts at $33,975 for the base FWD version ($35,975 w/AWD) and tops out at $47,690 for an AWD-equipped Denali.

WHAT’S NEW'15 Pathfinder 4WD button

Nissan has added Hill Descent Control to all AWD-equipped Pathfinders and tailored the operation of the standard (in all Pathfinders) continuously variable (CVT) automatic transmission to more closely mimic the operation of a conventional automatic. Though a CVT transmission does not have individual gears – and so, does not upshift or downshift like a conventional automatic – it can be programmed to feel as though it does.

And that’s what Nissan has done.   

You can also get a blind spot warning system and rear cross-traffic alert (both are standard in SL and Platinum Pathfinders).

WHAT’S GOOD'15 Pathfinder road 2

A minivan in function but not appearance… with more functionality than any minivan offers.

SUV-esque towing capability (5,000 lbs.)

Better gas mileage than its main rivals.

More first and second row room than rivals.

Go easy on the options and it’s a relatively affordable family-mobile.

WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD

Not as strong (or as quick) as the Mazda CX-9.

Much less cargo room than GMC Acadia.

Some potential buyers may prefer the operating characteristics of competitors’ traditional six-speed automatics over the “gearless” (though shift-mimicking) operation of the Nissan’ CVT automatic.

Gets pricey when optioned out.

UNDER THE HOOD'15 Pathfinder engine 1

All Pathfinder trims come standard with Nissan’s well-regarded 3.5 liter V6, which consistently scores well in long-term reliability consumer surveys. It is essentially the same engine used in the Z sports car, just not as large (the current Z’s version is  up to 3.7 liters now) nor as strong (the Pathfinder’s version makes 260 hp vs. 332 in the Z).

It’s paired with a CVT automatic, as described above. The CVT is a unique feature in this class, where conventional (geared) automatics are the rule.

The upside is the CVT is more efficient – hence the Pathfinder’s best-in-class EPA numbers: 20 city, 27 highway (19/26 for the AWD-equipped version) vs. 17 city, 24 highway for the FWD-equipped Mazda CX-9 (16/22 for AWD models). The FWD GMC Acadia rates the same (thirsty) 17/24 as the Toyota, but manages slightly better AWD numbers (16/23).'15 Pathfinder CVT

Regardless, the Nissan’s the clear winner at the pump – and much of the credit is due the CVT automatic.

But the Nissan’s performance – its acceleration – is a bit under par. Which is also a function of the CVT (which is, again, designed to be maximally efficient rather than the hot-box for the quickest 0-60 run).

FWD Pathfinders need about eight seconds to haul themselves to 60; the heavier AWD versions take a little longer.

This isn’t bad. (For perspective, a Prius hybrid is about two seconds slower.) It’s just not as good as the much quicker Mazda CX-9, which can get to 60 (FWD versions) in about 7.4 seconds.

Which isn’t surprising, given the Mazda’s horsepower advantage (3.7 liter V6, 273 hp).

On the other hand, the GMC Acadia – despite being the strongest-engined of the bunch (3.6 liters, 288 hp) is also the slowest of the bunch. Zero to 60 takes 8.5 seconds for the AWD version – which isn’t surprising given it’s the biggest (and heaviest) of the bunch. The 4,850 pound Acadia weighs an astounding 566 pounds more than the Nissan.

No wonder it’s slow – and thirsty!    

ON THE ROAD'15 Pathfinder road 3

The Pathfinder occupies the middle ground between the luxurious – but ponderous – GMC Acadia and the suppler/sportier Mazda CX-9.

One objective way to quantify this is by looking at these three rides’ turning circles. The Acadia is not cul-de-sac friendly. Cue Yoda voice… 40.4 feet it needs to come around. Stack that up against the Mazda – which only needs 37.4 feet.

But the Nissan’s not far behind: 38.7 feet.

And it’s shorter overall (197.2 inches vs. 200.6 for the Mazda) so it’s actually quite cul-de-sac (and shopping mall) friendly.

If it had another 20-30 hp under the hood – or maybe just a conventional six-speed automatic in lieu of the CVT – it’d be a much closer race. The Mazda’s number one-sportiest slot could easily be snatched away by an infusion of some more Z car DNA into the Pathfinder.'15 pathfinder road 4

The Pathfinder also strikes a balance between the Mazda and the GMC when it comes to Bad Weather Day bona fides. The Acadia and CX-9 both offer AWD (and the Acadia has more ground clearance, 7.6 inches vs. 7 for the Nissan) but neither can be locked so as to maintain a steady 50-50 power split between the front and rear wheels – which is what you want (what you need) for anything hairier than an already plowed (and paved) driveway.

The Mazda and GMC AWD systems simply auto-route the power from front to rear in varying ratios. The Pathfinder’s unique in having the “lock” mode – as well as being able to disengage the rear wheels entirely, so that all the engine’s output flows through the front wheels only. The advantage being better mileage (because less drivetrain drag) and also – likely – less wear and tear on the AWD system over time.'15 Pathfinder back-up camera

As mentioned earlier, Nissan has added another level of capability to its AWD system by adding Hill Descent Control, a feature that’s common in real-deal SUVs but exceedingly uncommon in crossover SUVs. When engaged, it uses throttle and transmission control (actuated and controlled by the vehicle’s computer) to provide an engine braking effect when descending steep grades. This keeps you from having to use (ride) the brakes, which lowers the chances of a skid and loss of control. It also keeps the brakes from getting too hot – and the pads from wearing out too soon.

Another  admirable quality of the Pathfinder’s (and to be fair, its rivals, too) is a smooth, composed and quiet ride. Crossovers do a much better job here than truck-based SUVs, which is one of the main reasons why crossover SUVs have become so popular while SUVs are returning to the niche they occupied before crossovers existed – and people had to pick either a car or a truck-based SUV.

And accept the plusses as well as the minuses of those differing layouts.

AT THE CURB'15 Pathfinder curb 1

It’s big – but not overwhelming.

For some sense of scale, it’s helpful to compare the Pathfinder with a full-size/three-row SUV. Like Nissan’s own Armada, for instance. Which is about a foot longer, stands eight inches taller and galumphs along on a Queen Mary-esque 123.3 inch wheelbase (vs. the Pathfinder’s 114.2 inch wheelbase). The Armada also weighs a pavement crunching 1,200 pounds more (yes, you read that right), has a nearly 41 foot turning circle and never gets out of the teens, mileage-wise.'15 Pathfinder interior 2

Yet the Pathfinder – lower to the ground, not nearly so top-heavy (or heavy, period) and vastly more maneuverable – has about the same (or more) passenger room in both its first and second rows. And its third row is more usable because (being based on a FWD layout) there is no huge hump in the floorpan for the rear axle underneath (as in the Armada), so passengers don’t have to sit, fetal-style, with their legs bunched up against their bellies.

This, in a nutshell, is why crossover SUVs are increasingly preferred over SUVs.

But how does the Nissan stack up to other (rival) crossovers? In some ways, better – and in some, not.

The Nissan has a roomier first and second row than the larger CX-9 (especially as regards the second row, where there’s 41.7 inches of legroom in the Pathfinder vs. 39.8 in the CX-9) and – very surprisingly – much more second row legroom than in the even larger GMC Acadia (36.8 inches, cramped for such a big ride).'15 Pathfinder cargo

But the Mazda and the GMC rebound with more cargo room, both behind the third row and overall. It’s 16 cubes with the third row up and 79.8 with the third and second row folded in the Pathfinder vs. 17.2 and 100.7 for the CX-9 and 24.1 and 116.1 for the GMC.

Still, the Nissan is by no means lacking in space. It just has less space than its two main rivals. If you don’t need the extra cargo room – but like having more generous people room, you may prefer the Nissan’s distribution over that of its rivals.

THE REST

A reader once suggested to me that vehicles like this would be great – or rather, better – if they had sliding doors like minivans do. Very true. But then, they’d be out of the closet – no longer able to operate on the down low.'15 Pathfinder tire pressure

And that’s why these two-third minivans/one-third SUVs do not have sliding doors – and never will.

They could – and should – have diesel engines, though.

The Pathfinder’s mileage is not bad. Indeed, it is better than the mileage delivered by its rivals and much better than the mileage you’d have to deal with if you bought something like the Armada.

But a diesel would give you mid-30s instead of low-mid 20s (on average). You can find such deliverance in higher-end crossovers like the Audi Q5. But they would make lot more sense in mid-priced and family-minded rides like the Pathfinder. People spending say $35k on a vehicle tend to care about fuel economy more than people who spend $50k on a vehicle. Yet – for the most part – diesels are offered in the $50k stuff rather than the $35k stuff.

It makes about as much sense as buying Ray Charles a really nice print for his birthday.'15 Pathfinder back-up camera

The “surround view” 360 degree camera Nissan offers as an option (standard in higher trims) is very cool. So also the tire pressure monitoring system – which not only tells you what the pressure is in each tire from behind the wheel, but also tells you when you reach the proper inflation pressure when you’re outside the car, air hose in hand. The Pathfinder’s horn beeps when you reach the appropriate PSI.

The LCD monitor/mouse input is self-explanatory and easy to operate while driving. You can order a dual-panel sunroof and even a 20-inch wheel/tire package (gnomesayin’?)   '15 Pathfinder last

On the other hand, wireless connectivity is a bit dated (Bluetooth isn’t standard and even in models that have it, it’s not as up to date as the systems available in rivals. There’s no voice to text function, for instance.  

Mostly, these are small gripes. 

THE BOTTOM LINE

If you need the room… but not too much room… and don’t want a minivan… but need AWD… but not the gas bills or the Herman Munster handling… well, Nissan’s singing your song!

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8 COMMENTS

  1. Didn’t the Pathfinder used to be a real SUV like a Toyota Four Runner? I thought they were direct competition. For all I know maybe Four Runners aren’t real SUV’s anymore either.

    • The 4Runner still is body-on-frame. The Pathfinder used to be, but is now unibody, like the Jeep Grand Cherokee.

      The internet wits are now calling it the “Mallfinder”.

  2. 2015 Nissan Pathfinder is IIHS Top Safety Pick.

    The same cannot be said for 2015 Mazda CX-9, which has multiple safety problems. Google the jalopnik article: “Watch This Absolutely Brutal Crash Test Of A Mazda CX-9”


    IIHS
    2015 Mazda CX-9
    Small Overlap = Poor
    Roof Strength = Marginal
    Head Restraints = Marginal

    IIHS
    2015 Honda Pilot
    Small Overlap = Poor

    Back to the 2015 Nissan Pathfinder, I am concerned about these new CVTs that they won’t hold up for long haul. And from what I have read, they are much more expensive to repair / replace than the traditional automatic transmissions. I would feel better about CVT’s if there was a 10 year / 100,000 powertrain warranty.

  3. I own a 2007 Nissan Frontier Truck that I think shares the same 6 cylinder engine as the car reviewed.
    Does the transmission cool through the radiator like the Frontier does? Are you aware that causes transmission failures?
    Does it have a history of dying before it reaches 120,000 miles?
    Does the service light and the seat airbag light come on constantly?
    Does the fuel gauge stop working between full and 20 miles and then again at about 150 miles on the trip odometer?
    Is it getting about 12-15 miles per gallon around town?
    Well all of the above are happening on a 2007 Frontier . . . So I dispute the idea that it has a good record of repair. If they are using the same design on the car reviewed I would personally never buy it.
    The local auto dealership is charging $90 an hour to repair these vehicles.
    If I had a challenge, I would like to know what five year old low mileage trucks are reliable? Because I am seeing a terrible number of both foreign and American companies with massive recall problems on their vehicles.
    Since I am still driving a 1997 Honda Accord with little or no maintenance other than oil changes I am rather spoiled. It is a 4 cylinder. We changed the compressor on the air conditioner just recently. But for 15 years I have had good luck.
    Since I still have an old 1985 Cab and a half 4 cylinder truck from Toyota with less than 126,000 on it I am spoiled again. The body is falling apart not the transmission or the engine. Got to change the starter soon before winter.
    Right now Nissan has a bad name with me.

    • Hi David,

      IIRC, your Frontier has a 4.0 liter V6 – the Pathfinder has a 3.5 liter V6.

      I need to dig back into my manuals to confirm or deny, but the 4 liter may be an entirely different engine.

      In any event, the Frontier and Pathfinder are different vehicles in terms of layout (RWD vs. FWD) which of course means a transaxle vs. a separate transmission and axle/… longitudinal vs. transverse mounting also affects how accessories (including radiator/cooling system) components mount relative to the engine. I don’t doubt that if the transmission cooling system is inadequate/marginal and the fluid runs hot it could – and probably will – lead to early transmission failure.

      I’m sorry you’ve had so many issues with your Frontier.

      I’ve had two of the older (compact) models and loved them to death. Neither ever gave me any major problems.

    • Hi, David. Just for curiosity, does your Yota have a 22R and a manual? I just found one and though I love the truck, I am really disappointed in the mileage. (I have the 22R and 5 spd 4×4). I figured it would do 22-25 being driven gently like I do with my beaters, but I’m seeing 15-19 MPG. Anyone else have insight? Can I expect better?

    • The bed rotted out on my Nissan and the sheetmetal was so thin you couldn’t mount things like fender flares which mine needed badly. It was nice enough new but every mile took an undue toll on it.

      Insult added to injury was the fact nobody every made aftermarket performance parts for it except shocks and Nissan never made a limited slip or locker for the differentials.

      I got in some bad mud covered in a foot or more of water one day but it was on a gravel road and got stuck. A guy who didn’t get in the worst of the mud pulled me out with his 2 wheel drive Chevy. It was embarrassing. Then I got stuck one day in some mud I should have been able to get through and would have with at least a rear LSD. I shed the belt and that was doubly embarrassing when a big old International service truck jerked me out with a jerk strap.

      Both times I went home and got in my Chevy and went back to those places and had no problem. The lack of LSD and thin sheetmetal as well as not being able to handle Texas heat ruined me on Japanese pickups. Toys wouldn’t handle the heat either and they’d give up head gaskets just like the Nissans.

      We inherited(at work)another ’05 Chevy 3/4 T 4WD pickup Ext. cab. Just like the one I drive it’s unstoppable. The speed limiter stops it at 100 but 3 of them will get there fast and freeze your butt out on the hottest day, something you value a great deal when you’re soaked with sweat.

      Unlike the Dodge that nothing works correctly on or doesn’t work at all when there are lights on in the dash for check this and that, the Chevy’s just keep on working fine, no cruise control problems because some other light(s) is on.

      I’ve noticed these pickups get some pretty good fuel mileage too when driven decently which is not often.

      Our 550 Dodge roustabout truck is a continual problem of everything. Damn headrests make you feel like you’re riding in a plane and can only see to the side. That leaves roadsignage abuse for front seat only for the most part but yesterday I got a hair and zipped down the window looking past two pillars and a head rest with a big old fat boy in front of that and nailed a Texas 163 sign. I like to think Shiner would have been proud of their Bock since it sounded like an explosion.

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