The numbers are compelling. Honda sold 116,297 Pilots last year, Toyota sold 101,252 Highlanders, Chevrolet moved 107,131 Traverses, and Ford sold 135,704 Explorers of both the old body-on-frame and new unibody varieties. By comparison, Nissan sold 25,935 body-on-frame Pathfinders.
Like the Explorer, the Pathfinder was a pioneer in the field of truck-based midsize SUVs. Thanks to its product cycle, is is also the last of the big-volume models to try to get back to its big 100,000+ level by switching to transverse-engine unibody platform, which, thanks in part to heavy concentration on high-tensile steel, sheds 300 to 500 pounds off the outgoing model depending on configuration. Mass for the new Pathfinder starts at roughly 4100 pounds for a base FWD model.
Unique selling propositions thus include a claimed best-in-class coefficient of drag of 0.34, 5000-pound towing capacity with all-wheel or front-wheel drive, "best-in-class" fuel economy, and a continuously variable transmission. Nissan says the Pathfinder's CVT is tuned differently than the one in the Infiniti JX 35.
"Best-in-class" fuel economy is in quotes because this counts base-engine models in the midsize, three-row CUV class and the Ford Explorer's 2.0-liter EcoBoost is an expensive option. It's also not available with AWD, though Nissan didn't mention that.
EPA numbers for the 2013 Pathfinder are 20 mpg city, 26 mpg highway, and 22 mpg combined for the FWD model and 19/25/21 for the AWD model. The AWD option, available on all trim levels, gets you a shift-on-the-fly three-mode control button that allows automatic, locked FWD, or locked AWD modes.
Other unique selling propositions include a pretty slick second-row seat folding mechanism called EZ Flex. Flip the lever on either the left-hand two-seat side of the second row or the single-seat right side and it slides forward, the seatback tilting for easy access to the third row. The second row has fore-aft adjustment, and offers decent legroom in its foremost position and VW Passat-like legroom when slid all the way back.
Nissan also claims best-in-class passenger volume, front headroom, and front legroom. There are other nice "surprise and delight" touches for the family seeking a minivan alternative, such as a shelved glovebox nearly big enough to store a desktop computer with a damped door, dual cargo area tie-downs, and a damped cargo area storage bin that can stay open on its own. The spare, a mini, sits below the floor.
Sybaritic features include heated and cooled front seats, heated second row (sorry, kids in the third), and heated steering wheel. This all comes with the top-trim Platinum model only, however. There's also Nissan's "Around View Monitor," which shows all sides of the CUV from its eight-inch center stack display and a dual-headrest entertainment system that lets one of your kids to watch Disney movies while the other plays "Grand Theft Auto."
Trim levels remain S, SV, SL, and Platinum, with the volume going to the cloth-seat SV (expect something in the $32,000 range) and the leather-seat SL (maybe $35,000). Base price for the straight-to-rental S will start just under $28,000, which means just over $28k with destination. The Platinum looks to be a $40,000-$42,000 model.
As is tradition with Japanese-brand vehicles, each trim level offers few options for build simplicity. Beside AWD or FWD, the Platinum, for instance, is available with a dual sunroof underneath its luggage rack.
Though we the automotive press kept asking, Nissan kept insisting that Infiniti customers won't set foot in a Nissan showroom. Perhaps they need more Infiniti customers. In any event, the Infiniti JX has nicer leather and, presumably, better plastic and interior trim, which is good in the Nissan, but not standout. While the Pathfinder gets that Around View Monitor, the Infiniti's lane-departure warning, for example, doesn't trickle down yet. Yes, it's kind of like Buick Enclave vs. Chevy Traverse.
As with all modern CUVs, the automaker won't try to pretend the Pathfinder is for off-roading. Nissan isn't giving up on the Xterra, which has become niche as customers moved away from serious offroaders (18,221 sold in 2011), and is up for a facelift. The new Pathfinder goes on sale this fall.