Nissan Pathfinder
By: Todd Lassa

We Like: Comfort and capacity, ride and handling for suburban adventurers, seamless CVT, fuel economy.

We Don't Like: Torque steer despite AWD, and it's still a CVT.

Febbo rechristened it the Nissan Mallfinder. He's right, though Nissan's move from trucky, body-on-frame, longitudinal engined sport/utility to the Altima-based, unibody, transverse-engined alterna-minivan was necessary. (See Ford Explorer and Chevrolet TrailBlazer-Traverse for precedence.) The market for truck-based SUVs that aren't Suburbans, Jeeps, or Land Rovers has left the building.

Now the Pathfinder is a long, tall Altima wagon, the Quest that the Quest will never be. Its single powertrain option combines Nissan's venerable 3.5-liter, VQ V-6 with perhaps the best continuously variable transmission extant. Towing capacity is 5000 pounds with front or all-wheel drive, and AWD can be locked in. More important, the second row has fore-aft and seatback-angle adjustment.

The base rental lot Pathfinder S stickers at $29,095 and weighs about 4100 pounds, which is impressively low for such a capacious SUV. The mid-level SV (cloth seats) and SL (leather) are in the $32,355-$35,295 sweet spot. Our AWD Platinum tester falls short of its richer brother Infiniti JX35 only in terms of leather quality and the latest automation safety features. Each has distinct interior and exterior designs, like the Buick Enclave versus Chevy Traverse. This premium trim-level Pathfinder has everything new age wagoneers expect, including a cushy ride.

"Ride quality is quite plush, though some bumps did excite the exterior trim," Markus said. "Fair amount of tire squeal on esses, but body lean seemed reasonably un-nautical for a softly sprung 'ute." He liked the VQ engine tuning and Pathfinder's value versus the Hyundai Santa Fe, though there's a lot of highway wind noise and a muddy-sounding stereo to drown it out. Also unlike the Infiniti, the Nissan has no CVT sport mode to provide step-style upshifts and downshifts. We noticed, though the average buyer probably won't. For all this seamlessness, the Pathfinder handled our off-road hill as if it was the old, truck-based Pathfinder, only smoother.

"It's bland and not really remarkable in any way," Febbo concluded, "but it's just decent all around."

After its smooth, seamless competence earned the Pathfinder a post-first-cut playoff berth, the SUV's vanilla flavor ultimately left a sour taste. We'll need a direct comparison before we can proclaim it equal to the Mazda CX-9, our favorite in the segment.

2013 Nissan Pathfinder 4WD Platinum
BASE PRICE $39,995
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front engine, 4WD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 3.5L/260-hp/240-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6
TRANSMISSION Cont. variable auto
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4536 lb (54/46%)
WHEELBASE 114.2 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 197.2 x 77.2 x 69.6 in
0-60 MPH 7.6 sec
QUARTER MILE 15.9 sec @ 90.1 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 124 ft
MT FIGURE EIGHT 29.2 sec @ 0.53 g (avg)
ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY 169/130 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS 0.87 lb/mile