2013 Nissan Pathfinder Review

2013 Nissan Pathfinder - Back to its unibody roots, Pathfinder is a great choice for families on the go.


Vehicle Tested
2013 Nissan Pathfinder Platinum
Base Price: $40,770
At-Tested Price: NA
Built in Symrna, Tennessee.


Engine: 3.5-liter V6
Transmission: CVT Automatic
Drive Wheels: All-Wheel Drive

Nissan helped start the SUV craze of the late '80s early '90s with its four-door Pathfinder. At a time when other automakers were selling bulky, body-on-frame two-door brutes, the maneuverable and carlike four-door Pathfinder was a breath of fresh air and quickly became a favorite of American families looking for a vehicle with the space of a minivan and the go-anywhere ability of four-wheel drive.

In 2004, SUV sales in the U.S. peaked at nearly two million units and Nissan introduced an all-new Pathfinder. Curiously, that that model shared its chassis with the Frontier pickup, meaning that it had switched from unibody construction to body-on-frame. That proved to be a mistake as sales of body-on-frame SUVs trailed and sales of crossover SUVs based on car-type unibody chassis took off.

Nissan corrects that misstep for 2013 with an all-new Pathfinder that switches back to a unibody frame and shares chassis and engine with the luxury-themed Infiniti JX crossover. Still seating seven on three rows of seats, the 2013 Pathfinder sports softer corners and a very familiar Nissan grille.

Another change for Pathfinder is the change from a true four-wheel-drive system to a front-wheel-drive-based all-wheel-drive system. Though the Pathfinder's all-wheel-drive system does not offer a low-range for heavy-duty off-road driving, it does offer a four-wheel-drive lock setting that is designed to maintain a set torque split front to rear.

Size wise the new Pathfinder is 4.6 inches longer and 4.2 inches wider than the model it replaces. The wheelbase is two inches longer but it's actually three inches shorter. Unlike many of its competitors, the '13 Pathfinder bucks the current trend of vehicles getting heavier with each redesign and sheds more than 500 pounds.

The model lineup includes S, SV, SL and Platinum trim levels. All get a 260-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine that mates to a continuously variable transmission. Towing capacity is 5000 pounds on all models.

Standard safety features include four-wheel disc antilock brakes with brake assist, stability control, tire-pressure monitor and dual-front, front-side and curtain-side airbags. A rear-obstacle-detection system is standard on the SV and above. Nissan's surround-view camera is included on the Platinum.

Prices range from a low of $28,270 on the front-drive S to $40,770 on the all-wheel-drive Platinum. Stand-alone options are limited and include sunroof, dual-screen DVD entertainment system, floormats, mud guards and a roof rack. The 2013 Pathfinder has an $825 destination charge and is built in Smyrna, Tennessee.

Get Up and Go  Pathfinder  has a proven drivetrain. The smooth and powerful 3.5-liter V6 and CVT combo can be found in a number of Nissan and Infiniti products. In the Pathfinder it provides good acceleration and above-average passing punch. While the overall horsepower might be down compared to some rivals, the engine is silky smooth and the CVT does an excellent job of delivering the engine's power to the wheels in the most efficient manner -- it doesn't hurt that the 2013 Pathfinder is 500 lighter than the model it replaces. Also, it's interesting to note that Pathfinder has a 5000-pound towing capacity right out of the box, while many competitors force you to add towing packages to achieve that rating.

Pathfinder's all-wheel-drive system isn't as off-road ready as in past years. The new system is a front-wheel -drive-based all-wheel-drive system with a locking center differential. That's better than what's offered on many rivals, but falls short of the capability of a full-time four-wheel-drive system with low range and front- and rear-locking differentials. Still, you'd be surprised how capable Pathfinder is off-road. It's got good ground clearance, suspension travel and above-average  approach and departure angles. Given a set of all-terrain tires, it's likely to be all the billy-goat any city slicker would ever need.

EPA ratings are quite good. The front-drive Pathfinder is rated at 20 mpg city and 26 mpg highway. Numbers drop one each on all-wheel-drive models. Those numbers are as good or better as other seven-passenger vehicles in this class. Nissan says Pathfinder will run fine on regular-grade gasoline.

Real-world driving nets an impressive 20-22 mpg overall in light-duty commuting and it's easy to average more than 27 mpg in straight highway cruising. As with any large vehicle though, economy is directly related to driving type. If you spend a lot of time in stop in go traffic, don't expect to top 18 mpg.

On the Road  All models get similar suspension settings so differences in ride quality come down to tire size. SL and lower have a very comfortable and compliant ride that will suit nearly all family shoppers. Platinum's 20-inch wheels add a bit more control but also transmit more vibration. Most drivers won't notice the difference, and it's nice to have the option of firming up the ride without infusing too much harshness.

As you'd expect, Nissan gave Pathfinder friendly, car-like handling traits. Though it's a large vehicle, it seems to shrink around the driver and is more nimble than you'd think. Still, with a fair amount of body lean in quick turns and numb steering, it's no sports car. Brakes seem to have good stopping power, but the pedal has a lot of travel and doesn't transmit much feel.

Given its mission as a family hauler, Pathfinder is quite quiet inside. There's very little road noise and wind rush is never an issue -- even at high speeds. About the only gripe is a sporty exhaust note in hard acceleration.

Behind the Wheel  Pathfinder's interior design reinforces Nissan's recent trend of flowing and functional interior scheme. Drivers face two large dials that flank a mini digital information center. The center stack features a nice array of buttons and switchgear that set the standard for ease of use. Platinum gets a navigation system with a large touch-screen display that's easy to program and also absorbs some audio controls. Materials are par for the class but no more as several hard plastics disappoint.

Front seats are surprisingly comfortable and well padded. Head room is good and leg room adequate -- as taller folk might want an inch or more of rearward travel. With its high seating position and large windows, forward visibility is excellent. However, the view out the back is compromised by interior headrests and roof pillars -- not uncommon for the class. Unfortunately, Nissan chose not to make blind-spot assist available, even though it's available on the similar Infiniti JX.

Second-row bench seats slide fore and aft and also tip and fold forward to ease access to the third-row seats. Additionally, the seats can "kneel" when equipped with a forward-facing child seat. That's a nice touch for families with infants and toddlers. Leg room is good when the second-row is pushed all the way back and tight when moved forward. Seat comfort is good. Unlike some other vehicles in the class, there is no option for second-row captain's chairs. Third-row seats are actually quite comfortable, but still best suited for children.

Pathfinder's cargo area isn't quite as large as some competitors, but there's quite a bit of useful space. The third-row seats fold flat on a slight incline to match folded second-row seats. The load floor is fairly even and all models get a handy covered storage bin at the rear -- that's partly occupied by the available Bose subwoofer. Interior storage is impressive, highlighted by a large center console/bin combo and deep map pockets. Another nice touch are cubholders that are intergraded into the rear armrests.

Bottom Line  Pathfinder is reborn a jack of all trades. It's a great family hauler that shines with a comfortable ride, quite interior and a fuel-efficient powertrain. The ace in the hole is price. When comparably equipped, Pathfinder is very competitively priced when compared to direct competitors. It's a shame that Nissan doesn't offer blind-spot assist, but Pathfinder's strong points clearly outshine that one flaw and make it a must see for those shopping for a family vehicle.

Specifications 2013 Nissan Pathfinder Platinum
4-door wagon Engine
Wheelbase, in.
114.2Size, liters/cu. in.
3.5 / 214
Length, in.
Horsepower260 @ 6400
Width, in.77.2
Torque (lb.-ft.)
240 @ 4400
Height, in.69.6
TransmissionCVT Automatic
Weight, lbs.
19 city / 25 highway
Cargo Capacity, cu. ft.
Fuel Capacity, gal.
Seating Capacity
3 years / 36,000 miles
Front Head Room, in.
5 years / 60,000 miles
Front Leg Room, in.
5 years / Unlimited miles
Second-Row Head Room, in.
Free Roadside Assistance
3 years / 36,000 miles
Second-Row Leg Room, in.
Free Scheduled Maintenance

Mark Bilek

Mark Bilek is the Senior Director of Communications and Technology for the Chicago Auto Trade Association and the General Manager for DriveChicago.com. He is also responsible for developing and maintaining the Chicago Auto Show Web site.

Mark has been reviewing vehicles for more than two decades. Previously, he was associate publisher at Consumer Guide, where he oversaw publication of Consumer Guide Car & Truck Test, Consumer Guide's Used Car Book, and ConsumerGuide.com. He was also responsible for publication of "Collectible Automobile" and various hardcover automotive titles. In 2001 and 2002 he served as president of a Midwest Automotive Media Association. Mark has appeared on NBC TV, ABC TV, Fox News, WGN and MotorTrend TV as an automotive consultant. He hosts the Drive Chicago radio show on WLS 890 AM and was a regular guest on WGN Radio's Steve & Johnnie show. Mark lives in the northwest suburbs with his wife and three sons.