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REVIEW: 2014 Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid
Robert Duffer reviews Nissan's Pathfinder Hybrid and finds that during this test drives, it 'consistently outperformed EPA estimates.'
Chicago Tribune/USA 27 Apr 2014
Nissan redesigned the Pathfinder for 2013 to soften its brawny sport utility (SUV) edges and appeal to the creature comforts of the dominating crossover (CUV) class.
Nissan continues on that family-minded path with the 2014 Pathfinder Hybrid, which maximizes fuel economy while maintaining a spacious 7-seat interior.
The 2013 redesign shed 500 pounds, improved aerodynamics, and dropped down to a 3.5-liter V6 from a 4.0-liter V6 in the previous generation. The results were one of the most fuel-efficient seven-passenger SUVs on the market, getting 19 mpg city/ 25 highway/ 21 combined for the all-wheel drive.
The hybrid trims the engine even more, with a 2.5-liter supercharged 4-cylinder paired to a 15 kW electric motor, making 250 horsepower and getting an EPA-estimated 25 mpg city/27highway/26 combined for the all-wheel drive.
Another major change to the Pathfinder redesign was the switch back to unibody construction.
Body construction is an important distinction in how vehicles are manufactured, marketed and used, and it serves as the dividing line between what is an SUV and what is a CUV.
Unibody construction, where the frame and body are designed as one piece, provides a smoother car-like ride and more efficient, holistic design. Nissan now has the Rogue small crossover, the Murano midsize crossover and the Pathfinder. Nissan’s two SUVs, the X-Terra and Armada, use body-on-frame construction, like a pickup. The ride is rougher with body-on-frame but it’s more durable and easier to repair for those off-road jaunts.
The unibody redesign puts the Pathfinder in the larger, three-row crossover space that has filled the family void between the minivan and the traditional SUV.
The Pathfinder Hybrid and the Toyota’s Highlander Hybrid are the only two of its size in the crowded crossover class. But with all these fuel-efficient crossover options, is a larger vehicle hybrid worth the extra $3,000 (it’s an extra $7,000 for the Highlander)?
Nissan seems to be more earnest about its hybrid than Toyota. The Highlander hybrid comes in one trim level, the tricked-out Limited, which starts at $47,300 and has everything you’d expect from top of the line trim. The Pathfinder Hybrid comes in three trims, starting with the SV, which is a step up from the base model S in the gas model.
The Pathfinder hybrid SV 2WD starts at $35,300 and my test model with all-wheel drive came in at $36,710.
That’s a huge price jump from the Highlander. With a four-cylinder, V-6 and hybrid engines offered in the Highlander, and so many other hybrid models, Toyota probably has its bases covered, which may be why Nissan, maker of the best-selling pure electric vehicle in the Leaf, is planning more hybrids for 2015 models (CQ).
The Pathfinder’s focus is to maximize fuel economy without minimizing space. The lithium-ion battery is under the third-row seats so there’s no compromise inside. And the positioning of the drive-select knob under the gear stick acts as a reminder of how easily you can boost 2 mpg by switching to front-wheel drive only. I got 27.1 mpg one way on the highway in fwd, and 24.9 on the return trip in automatic.
Hybrids might be the only things that do well in traffic and the Pathfinder Hybrid consistently outperformed EPA estimates. On two inbound trips over 25 miles, it averaged just under 30 mpg in stop/go highway traffic. The same return trip with no traffic, averaging 70 mph, returned about 25.9 mpg.
There is a bit of a tradeoff with this improved fuel economy. Because the motor kicks on whenever you coast or stop, there is a momentary but noticeable shift in power distribution from the motor to the engine. Accelerating again after the driver in front of you turns right, say, leads to a slight lag before the engine takes over. If you’re gentle on the pedal, it’s not noticeable but in normal situations your rpm might pop from 1500 to over 3000 when the engine kicks in. It might be half a second but it’s there.
Nissan seems to be understating the hybrid system on the inside. The vehicle info display and the customizable touch screen focus more on fuel economy readings than the power flow. You can customize the VID to show active fuel economy and regen braking but the base level touch-screen left doesn’t offer much in-depth tech.
Despite the inability to scroll XM or radio channels, the in-car connectivity between steering wheel controls and the touch screen worked well enough. The screen graphics felt out of date, which you don’t want with a new car and don’t expect from a hybrid, but it wasn’t a deal breaker.
The seating configuration splits the audience. Some people prefer 3 seats in the back and two in the middle like a minivan. The benefit of the Pathfinder’s 2 seats in the back is that people other than grade-schoolers can fit back there with enough shoulder room, even though the leg room is a little tight. With 2 seats in the middle and 3 in back, you’re only going to fit 6 adults. The Pathfinder fits 7. Getting in and out isn’t bad for the rear row, since the mid-row seats fold up against the seat back and slides forward, or collapses down for flat storage. For getting in and out, I preferred the mid-row seats in the Durango, which collapse forward then tilt up, so the seat back was touching the driver’s seat back.
The large crossover is the family car for people who don’t like the minivan. And since hybrids and minivans have not found harmony, the Pathfinder hybrid, for just $3,000 more than the gas model and averaging an extra 5 mpg, is a worthy family contender.
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