When it comes to redesigning or upgrading their models, carmakers apparently have one rule of thumb: make it bigger.
When in doubt, increase the wheelbase, raise the roof height, put in a bigger engine and add more stuff to the interior. Models that start out a modest size somehow balloon over the years to the point where they bear almost no resemblance to the original.
There are plenty of examples: Toyota Camry, Honda Civic, Dodge Grand Caravan, Ford Ranger, Volkswagen Beetle, etc., etc. The list is long, and for one of the latest examples of the bigger-is-better mindset we need look no further than the Nissan Pathfinder for 2022.
Starting in 1986 as a compact wagon built on a pickup chassis and definitely meant to be taken off-road, the Pathfinder is now a midsize, semi-upscale SUV that dwarfs its early ancestor – in size and accoutrements.
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These days, the Pathfinder comes in five variations and is powered by a 3.5-litre V6 that features variable valve timing and has an idle stop/start feature. This engine – minus the stop/start thing – has been around in one form or another within the Nissan model range for years and has been used in everything from mini-vans to pickups to two-door coupes.
It’s a proven unit, with excellent response, reasonable fuel efficiency and silky smooth in operation. It’s a good choice for the 2,031-kg Pathfinder and is mated to a nine-speed automatic with four-wheel drive as standard equipment on all models. It has a towing capacity of 1,588 kg, and I don’t doubt that it would make an excellent tow vehicle.
I’m not a huge fan of this market but, if I was looking to buy, this one would be on the list. It has no bad habits and is one of the more drivable SUVs around.
A few observations:
The stop/start feature is a little disconcerting. Whereas other manufacturers seem to struggle with this gas-saving/emission-reducing feature, Nissan has refined it to the point where you literally don’t notice when it cuts in or shuts off. The vehicle goes absolutely dead at stoplights and restarts with virtually no signs it has done so. It caught me by surprise over and over again. At first I thought it had somehow stalled out.
Do I like it?
Nissan has jumped into the nanny features game with both feet – to the point of absurdity. For example, do I really need a dashboard readout to tell me that I’ve just put the windshield wipers or rear window wiper on? That’s what happens – a little “guidance” note flashes on the instrument panel to inform the driver that they put the wipers on.
Seriously? Do you think we’re that feeble?
For once, switchgear and controls are readily understandable and easy to get along with – a little overdone, perhaps, but no gripes here. Steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters come as standard equipment with the Pathfinder but I just never seemed to use them. This isn’t a criticism – more of an observation.
My tester also had the optional heads-up display, which, given the plethora of other information, reminders, and “guidance” notes constantly coming at you, is kind of welcome. Again, a bit of overkill.
With almost 2,280 litres of interior storage room with the second- and third-row seats folded flat, the Pathfinder isn’t a class leader when it comes to storage capacity. The Honda Pilot is good for 3,092 litres. Apparently, the Pathfinder will hold up to eight adults, but they should be good friends.
Still, as a grocery-getter and around-town schlepper, the Pathfinder is just fine. It’s easy to get along with, comfortable, refined and even nice to look at.
Would I take it off-road? Only if there was no choice in the matter.
2021 Nissan Pathfinder
Base price: $43,998
Engine: 3.5-litre V6
Horsepower: 284 at 6,400 rpm
Torque: 259 foot pounds at 4,800 rpm
Transmission: nine-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11.6 city and 9.2 highway, with regular fuel
Alternatives: Volkswagen Atlas, Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, Kia Telluride, Hyundai Palisade, Mazda CX-9
Ted Laturnus has been an automotive journalist since 1976. He was named Canadian Automobile Journalist of the Year twice and is past president of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC). For interview requests, click here.
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