It's been a long time since the Pathfinder graced Nissan dealer showrooms, but after a five-year absence it is back, and is better than ever.
I don't know why Nissan abandoned the Pathfinder, it had a fearsome reputation here, especially as a pre-owned import out of Japan, both the petrol and diesel Terrano have been a popular choice.
Nevertheless, Nissan have been well served by the X-Trail and Patrol as stop-gap models for buyers wanting a new Nissan four-wheel-drive, but those wanting a seven-seat, four-wheel-drive vehicle have had to shop elsewhere.
The new Spanish-sourced Pathfinder is available essentially in four variants, two V6 petrol models and two four-cylinder common rail diesel models. Both ST specification variants list at $61,700, and the two Ti variants are priced at $67,000. Ti specification adds leather trim, electric front seat adjustment, heated seats, electric sunroof, rear air, curtain and side air bags, and a few other minor details.
Standard ST specification includes climate control air conditioning, central locking with remote, cruise control, electric windows, electric exterior mirror adjustment (also foldaway), leather-wrapped steering wheel on tilt-adjustable column, variable intermittent wipers and quality fully integrated audio which is six-disc capable.
Safety fitment includes dual air bags, active head restraints and ABS. The latter, working on a four-disc set-up, combines to offer powerful braking control. The brakes are also used as part of vehicle dynamic control which is initiated if oversteer or understeer appears likely.
On-board comfort is fine, and space for five adults is plentiful along with their associated luggage. The two rear seats which make the Pathfinder seven-occupant capable are a little on the cramped side, it's fine for youngsters, but adults seated back there might find the journey a little tiresome. That aside, entry and exit from that area is reasonably accessible and all seven seats have the benefit of an overshoulder seat belt. The ST variant is finished in a soft grey velour with perforated cloth inserts. The seats are comfortable but could do with a little more side support.
Part of the Pathfinder's appeal will be the versatile seating configurations and flat floor rear load space, which, according the promotional material, room can be made to lie down in.
Nissan's 2.5-litre, double-overhead-camshaft, 16-valve, turbocharged diesel is a strong unit which, not surprisingly, develops a great deal of low down torque. Rated with a mammoth 403Nm, its maximum is developed remarkably low at just 2000rpm, a useful area to supply good acceleration as well as flexibility for off-road use.
Top end power is also high at 128kW, peaking at 4000rpm, and the engine will rev to near the 5000rpm redline, but that speed is seldom needed. Overall, the power outputs combine to give the 2244kg ST satisfactory on-road performance with a 0-100kmh time of 10.5sec and an overtaking time from 80kmh-120kmh coming in at around 9.5sec.
Cruising the legal limit in top gear, the engine is turning over at just 2050rpm right in the area of peak torque which means it is eager at that speed, concentration is required to eliminate speed creep, the use of cruise control is recommended. Sound from the engine bay is well stifled which means that the diesel throb is all but inaudible unless under load.
Drive is sent to the rear wheels via a five-speed automatic gearbox and it is a real beauty. Shifts are strong but fluid, the gears can be felt changing but they don't arrive with a jolt. The gear ratios are also well defined for the mixture of driving conditions the Pathfinder is likely to face, the bottom gears are quite low for off-road travel, while the remainder cater well for the urban or rural commutes.
The Pathfinder's on-road movement is a mixture created between a moderately dampened suspension and the jiggle initiated from the big all weather Good Year Wrangler tyres (255/65 x 17in). Feel through the steering is generous, and body roll in a corner is well contained. The handling is representative of moderate spring and damper firming.
I took the test car on a variety of inland tracks, made slippery by some drifting nor'west rain. The Pathfinder at 210mm has good ground clearance and with reasonably generous approach and departure angles (33deg and 26deg) it can be placed at obstacles with reasonable confidence.
Up front, double wishbones locate the wheels and associated steering geometry, at the rear is a fully independent multiple link set up. Axle articulation isn't overly compromised by the demise of previous generation's rear live axle, the Pathfinder can be placed at extreme angles and wheel-to-ground contact is well provided.
Nissan's All-Mode 4WD mechanism is controlled by a facia-mounted rotary switch and it offers four drive choices. For my expedition I used mostly automatic mode, whereby the system proportions drive to the wheels less likely to loose grip.
For the real gnarly stuff, low ratio is a necessity and the ratios low enough to control a slow, easy descent. The diesel/automatic gearbox combination works well in conjunction with the transfer case, the gears come in strongly but not with such force that power delivery becomes uneven. Incidentally, the gearbox has a manual sequential system if the driver decides to take control over the shifting process.
I found the Pathfinder more than capable of meeting the challenges I threw at it, not only did the suspension and driveline put power to ground well but ride comfort was perfect.
And that is the essence of the new model, it is graceful and easy-to-drive, catering well for the large family. It also converts to a large station wagon for the high country holiday as well as being a docile, economical model for the school day commute. That comment is judged on the trip computer readings. Instantaneous figures of 8.3 litres usage per 100kmh at 100kmh (34mpg) are achievable, while a test average of 11.5l/100km (25mpg) is reasonably satisfying.
It's been a long wait for the new model, but one that has been worth it, the Nissan dealers are pleased to have the Pathfinder back and those who have bought a new model can relax in the knowledge that they have chosen a quality built, state-of-the-art, SUV.