Pathfinder leaves bush behind

PAUL OWEN
Last updated 13:34 06/02/2014
Nissan Pathfinder.
Fairfax NZ

NEW NISSAN: It's a Pathfinder, Jim: But not as we know it, Captain.

Nissan Pathfinder.
Fairfax NZ
A PLEASANT PLACE TO BE: Convincing leather and a logical driving environment.

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Forget everything you know, and probably admire, about Nissan Pathfinders.

AT A GLANCE
Drivetrain: Transverse, front-mounted adaptive all-wheel-drive with CVT transmission.
Output: 3498cc DOHC V6 producing 190kW at 6000rpm, 325Nm at 4000rpm. Performance: Maximum speed 180kmh, 0-100kmh N/A, 10.2L/100km, 240g CO2/ km.
Chassis: Front MacPherson struts, rear independent multilink. Electro-mechanical power steering. Vented disc brakes front and rear. 18-inch alloy rims with 235/65 tyres.
Dimensions: L 5008mm, H 1767mm, W 1960mm, W/base 2900mm, Fuel 73L, Weight 2025kg.
Pricing: From $54,990 to $65,990
About the only thing shared by the latest, much more urbane version with its Navara ute-based predecessor is the model name. There's not even the option of a diesel engine with the latest version, and Nissan NZ might even commit total blasphemy according to any off-road enthusiast's "bible" by importing a petrol-electric hybrid version later in 2014. That'll make the urbanisation of the Pathfinder almost total, to the chagrin of the many 4WD club members who drive older Pathfinders because they're rugged, trail-proof, and as simple-to-suss-out as the plotline of a Barry Crump novel.

So forget Thompson's track in the Kaimais or competing in the annual Coast-to-Coast 4WD rally in the South Island, the path most likely to be travelled by the latest middleweight Nissan SUV is more likely to lead to the shopping mall or the end of the school run.

The 2014 Pathfinder trades all the bush-ready hardware of previous models for a versatile seven-seat interior, a new emphasis on infotainment and Bluetooth communications, and increased on-road refinement that mirrors that of the popular five-seat Murano. Powered by the same 3.5litre V6 as the latter, and driving a similarly controversial CVT gearbox, the new Pathfinder is virtually the Murano given a wheelbase stretch and a roomier, more versatile interior, plus exterior and interior styling that is likely to prove a lot more accessible to more people.

Like the Murano, the new Pathfinder is aimed squarely at the US market, where the mania for SUVs began and continues unabated today. For the new Pathfinder is so American in flavour that Nissan decided to go the whole hog and make it at a plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. This has both benefits and drawbacks for New Zealand consumers. On the plus side, the leather seats of the top Ti model look, feel, and smell like the genuine leather they're made from, instead of hides that have been so sanitised and de-odourised that the interior designer might as well have resorted to using synthetic upholstery instead.

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There's also plenty of good ol' Southern USA value on display in the new Pathfinder.

You know that it's built in the land of all-you-can-eat smorgasboards and hormone- enriched steaks that cover entire dinner plates when you tote up all its features and look at the prices.

All seven seats are roomy and adult-friendly, there are two air-conditioning units serving the interior, and the baubles include a 7" colour touch-screen interface, voice recognition, tyre-pressure monitoring, reversing camera and panoramic roof glass (Ti only)

At $54,990 for the front-drive Pathfinder ST, $59,990 for the all- paw ST, and $65,990 for the 4WD-only Ti, you're immediately aware that the new Pathfinder has other versatile, roomy, and affordable seven-seat SUVs like the Dodge Journey to compete with in its state-of-origin.

Among the downsides are that some of the controls are a bit of a stretch from the driver following an incomplete conversion of the Pathfinder's interior to right-hand-drive - notably the audio volume knob, and the handiest of an entire platoon of cup-holders. The graphics displayed on the Nissan's touch-screen also appear low-res, and any attempt to by-pass the use of secondary controls via the voice-recognition system appears to run into translation issues. Perhaps the VR system only recognises English with a Confederate twang. It certainly doesn't respond to anyone it suspects is a Yank.

Nissan's 3.5-litre V6 delivers 190kW and 325Nm in a refined and amusing fashion. The CVT also impresses, mostly by doing a convincing impression of a conventional automatic gearbox as engine revs seem to bear more relation to forward progress than when driving other CVTs. Four-paw Pathfinders activate drive to the rear wheels when the front tyres lose traction when the "auto" mode is selected, but can be locked into either driving the front wheels only, or a 50-50 front-to- rear torque distribution when the occasion warrants - like accessing the skifield on a snow-covered road.

The 2014 Pathfinder provides improved overtaking abilities coupled to a cornering dynamic that is sportier than that of most middleweight SUVs. The caveat is that it is cut to American tastes; the steering feels over-assisted and numb, the suspension targets the speed humps in a franchised food store's drive-through lane to some detriment of its performance on potholes, and you'll never need all the cupholders that the interior provides unless all the members of your family prefer to drink with both hands.

So be sure to hum Sweet Home Alabama should you take the latest Pathfinder for a test drive.

Nissan Pathfinder

- © Fairfax NZ News

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