There I was, cruising along comfortably in a 2015 Nissan Pathfinder, and it occurred to me once again that the American family car has pretty much come full circle.
Time travel with me back to the 60s and you will recall that a growing family could fit six people into the two rows of a fancy Mercury Colony Park station wagon or perhaps a Ford Country Squire or an Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser.
Some station wagons even offered the option of a rear-facing third row that could be raised from the luggage-area floor. It obliterated luggage space, but allowed a couple of children to become bilious while riding backwards.
The cars were powerful enough, rode comfortably, handled adequately for the times and the mission, returned mediocre fuel mileage and offered plenty of room behind the second-row seats for toting the luggage on the annual family vacation.
Pretty much the same can be said today of the Nissan Pathfinder, which can hold five people in two rows or a maximum of seven with a third row pulled from the cargo-room floor. To accommodate passengers of varying sizes, second-row seats slide 5.5 five inches fore and aft and the seatbacks recline.
Even with a semi-stowable passenger side seat in the second row, access to the third-row can be a bit awkward for older folks and all adults will find the space a bit cramped. But kids can scamper back there and ride comfortably without feeling queasy.
As with the station wagons of yesteryear, the Pathfinder is adequately powerful, returns mediocre fuel mileage, rides comfortably and handles well enough to get its intended job done.
Of course, It wasn’t always that way with the Pathfinder, which first arrived on the scene as a pickup-truck derivative that rode like one and, with a lot of ground clearance, could tackle tough off-road trails for the outdoors adventurer.
But starting with the 2013 model year, Nissan, bowing to the evolving needs and desires of the motoring public, restructured the Pathfinder on a car-based platform. That gave the crossover more car-like driving dynamics and a more comfortable ride without betraying the design elements of a sport-utility vehicle.
All was not lost in transition, though. While the Pathfinder is available as a front-wheel-drive vehicle, the mid-range Pathfinder SV I drove was equipped with a four-wheel-drive system that allows the driver to choose from among front-wheel drive, for maximum fuel mileage; automatic operation, which seamlessly switches from two-wheel drive to four-wheel drive depending on road conditions; and four-wheel-drive lock, which helps to keep the Pathfinder moving when the blizzard hits or when the driver has a need to tackle some tricky off-road terrain. In addition, 2015 models come with hill-descent control.
In sunny South Carolina, I had no opportunity to test the merits of the 4WD system, but I was able to determine that the Pathfinder’s metamorphosis offers most of the comfort and convenience of a family sedan, while allowing the driver to enjoy the coveted high-seating position.
Since the Pathfinder’s suspension —- struts up front and a multi-link setup at the rear —- is calibrated primarily for comfortable urban, suburban and highway duty, do not expect to find much fun in the driving dynamics.
The hydraulic/electric steering is accurate but mostly uncommunicative. However, the 4-wheel vented disc brakes, with electronic brake force distribution, traction control and emergency brake assist, do a satisfactory job of stopping the 4,427-pound crossover.
Every Pathfinder is powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 engine that produces 260 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque. The engine is teamed with a continuously variable transmission that is equipped with something called D-Step Logic that simulates the upshifts of a conventionally geared automatic transmission.
You won’t catch me throwing compliments at any CVT, but I will concede that the Nissan version is essentially unobtrusive when driven with a light to moderate foot on the gas pedal. But if you need to pass in a hurry or power up a steep hill, the engine still roars while the CVT works to establish the best gear ratio.
On the plus side, the Pathfinder is capable of towing boats and trailers weighing up to 5,000 pounds.
The EPA estimates fuel mileage at 19 mpg in the city, 26 on the highway and 22 mpg overall. My range in several hundred miles of varied driving conditions was 18-27 mpg. Expect less if you are hauling a lot of people and their stuff and/or that travel trailer.
While the seating area is spacious for a mid-size utility vehicle, the cargo space is tighter than in some other similar crossovers. There are 16 cubic feet of space behind the third-row seats, 79.8 cubic feet with the second and third-row setbacks folded forward.
The revised Pathfinder has a pleasant interior, with quality materials and comfortable seats. The gauges are easy to find and the controls are easy to operate.
In addition to the braking systems, the crossover’s standard safety features include a full complement of airbags and side curtains, rearview camera, rear parking sensors and a tire-pressure monitor.
Standard features included on the Nissan Pathfinder SV include keyless lock and ignition, 6-speaker audio system with USB and Ipod access, Bluetooth hands-free phone system, satellite radio availability, tri-zone climate control, fog lights, auto on/off headlights, automatic dimming rear-view mirror and heated outside mirrors.
Base price of the all-wheel-drive Pathfinder SV is $34,500. Add $210 for carpeted floor mats and the $860 delivery charge, and the total comes to $35,570.
Getting the right-size crossover vehicle for the growing family can be a daunting prospect because there are so many similar vehicles available. The mid-size Pathfinder stakes its claim on a roomy interior capable of carrying up to seven passengers, a comfortable ride, a quality interior and an engine powerful enough to tow up to 5,000 pounds. If that’s what you are after,
now you know where to find one.
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