Back in the Paleozoic Era, families took road trips in station wagons, stopping and camping at provincial parks along the way to gaze at the feeding gorgonopsids.
Those Ford Country Squires and Rambler Classic 660 Cross Country stations wagons did not have four-wheel-drive and they had the squishy ride quality of an old saloon mattress. Load ’em up with tents and the camp kitchen and they sank, so you were in danger of rubbing the chrome off the bumpers.
Fast forward to today, an era of car-based SUVs. They sit tall and are capable of going into the wild because most are optional with all-wheel-drive. Not only that, rigs like the 2013 Nissan Pathfinder are as luxurious as the Lincolns and Cadillacs that roamed the earth during my youth, the Mesozoic Era.
The latest fourth-generation Pathfinder, completely renovated for the 2013 model year, is absolutely nothing like the original Pathfinder introduced a quarter century ago, though in concept it follows in the tire tracks of those 1950s and 1960s Fords and Ramblers. The original Pathfinder was a Wooly Mammoth in comparison to this 2013 Pathfinder; it seems that unrefined, primitive, unevolved.
This latest Pathfinder is just wooly – friendly and useful and comfortable and comforting. It is also massive (seating for seven) yet drives like a sedan and boasts 2,268-kilogram standard towing.
Best of all, it’s as affordable as any mid-size family car. The front-drive version starts at $29,998, the step to 4WD (four-wheel-drive) begins at $31,998 and a stuffed Pathfinder peaks at $42,098. That gets you multi-zone climate control, DVD audio, 13 speakers, leather upholstery, four 12-volt power outlets and more. Forget primitive, in other words.
Anyone looking to do road trips with the kids – even cabin runs to Whistler, B.C., or the vastly more imposing Georgian Peaks near Collingwood, Ont., must surely give the 2013 a look. You’d be crazy as a gigantopithecus not to.
Now I’m not arguing for the styling, the artistic take on the Pathfinder. No, not at all. It’s basic, totally recognizable as a hulking, car-based crossover. What stands out are the things Nissan coos are the main selling points: best-in-class fuel economy; best-in-class interior passenger volume, front headroom and front legroom; all the towing capacity you surely will ever need; and an interesting Around View Monitor that puts a visual reference on a screen for backing down a boat ramp or sliding into a tight parking space.
Alas, Nissan insists on using continuously variable transmissions (CVTs) to drive fuel economy. I still don’t think this is an ideal solution from an aesthetic perspective, though the V-6 engine (260 horsepower/240 lb-ft of torque) gets 7.7 litres/100 km on the highway and 10.5 litres/100 km in the city, using regular fuel. That’s the two-wheel drive model; the 4WD is rated at 7.9 highway/10.8 city. I’m sure the next generation, my son’s generation, will not care about how gear changes feel, but I do.
Nissan managed to maintain performance without upping the engine power for 2013 using a simple trick: the Pathfinder lost weight, as much as 227 kg in some cases versus the old pickup-style, body-on-frame rig. This Pathfinder is also more aerodynamic: a decent 0.34 drag coefficient.
There are also some niceties, such as the available Dual Panorama Moonroof. Here, the front panel opens, though the fixed rear glass extends to the third row. Those stuffed back there will praise the light.
At least third-row access is through some fairly large rear door openings and Nissan’s so-called EZ Flex Seating System. The latter delivers 14 cm of second-row seat travel to ease the gymnastics of climbing way back there. The second-row seat also splits 60/40 and the third is a 50/50-split-folding design. Praise the cargo flexibility.
Up front, Nissan is doing a sterling job of making controls and instruments user-friendly. You won’t be confused by an excess of buttons and knobs and readouts, not at all. Yet there is plenty of technology at work here, including available real-time weather and traffic info.
So yes, the Pathfinder has evolved this past quarter century – evolved to thrive in the new century, rather than expire like the dinosaurs and truck-based SUVs.
2013 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Platinum
Type: Large premium crossover
Price: $42,098 (freight $1,720)
Engine: 3.5-litre V-6
Horsepower/torque: 260 hp/240 lb-ft
Drive: Part- and full-time four-wheel drive
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 7.9 highway/10.8 city; regular gas
Alternatives: Ford Explorer, Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia, Honda Pilot, Mazda CX-9, Hyundai Santa Fe (long wheelbase coming for 2014), Dodge Durango, Ford Flex, Toyota Highlander
Globe rating for the 2013 Nissan PathfinderOur ratings guide
The highway ride is as comfy as any sedan. But you don’t want to go all Michael Schumacher in the corners; a high centre of gravity is a high centre of gravity.
It’s hard to disguise a big box, though Nissan’s designers have tried – with some nice creases and curves and shape.
You can cram in a small herd of kids and parents and their stuff. The big glass sunroof welcomes in the light.
This is a robust design loaded with airbags and electronic nannies.
The fuel economy is good for such a big rig.
(out of 10 / Not an average)
The numerical ratings are assigned by The Globe and Mail’s car reviewers on a scale out of ten. Each car is assigned a separate rating in five key categories - plus an overall satisfaction rating that is calculated separately, and is not an average of the five category ratings.
Vehicles that do not yet carry ratings on this site will be assigned them when the latest model is reviewed.