Driver's Seat: Nissan Pathfinder roomy but not very comfy

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2013 Nissan Pathfinder SL 4x4: A mountain man moves to the 'burbs.

Price: $37,945 as tested (just a few minor options and shipping up from $36,070; a base 2WD starts at $28,650).

Conventional wisdom: liked the "roomy and upscale interior; good fuel economy; compliant ride quality" but not the "less cargo capacity than other large crossovers; lazy handling when pushed."

Marketer's pitch: "The next gen SUV."

Reality: Pathfinder? Or Gapfinder?

Out with the old: Much like automobile dealers, Mr. Driver's Seat is continuing his quest to unload an inventory of the 2013 models. So don't pay full price for this two-part review of the Nissan Pathfinder and the Toyota 4Runner, starting today with the Pathfinder.

Bulky in its old age: I still think of the Pathfinder in its early incarnation as a 4Runner competitor. Both started out as long, tall, narrow vehicles suited for climbing rocks and squirming between tight spaces in the woods.

But the Pathfinder has gotten bulky in its old age. It's been a large SUV for a while, but after its 2013 redesign, it's aimed for trips to the mall with the family. Which is probably where most of those rugged old versions went anyway, so the shorter height and aerodynamic touches are not a bad thing.

Finding paths: I was counting on the Pathfinder to find some paths. Maybe we don't speak the same language, but it mostly just went where I steered it.

Not entirely, though. It seemed to grow a mind of its own on windy highways, and the steering wheel needed more corrections than that vandal kid down the street who liked to set fires.

Settling in: The Driver's Seat, like that in the Kia Sorento, just feels off. In both vehicles, I find myself sitting angled a bit. It may be the wide seat and long distance from the seat center to the console that causes me to shift my position. But I've driven a Cadillac XTS, full-size pickups and other equally large vehicles, and the Sorento and Pathfinder are the only two I've noticed this feeling. Taller people might not mind it (I'm 5'10"), but I think the moms who make up most of the customer base may not be so pleased.

Friends and stuff: The rear seats are not bad. With the middle row moved to where I was not uncomfortable, I found the back seat serviceable.

Young Sturgis Kid 4.0 found the back seat not too bad for a short ride, but the high floor would have made a longer one fairly unbearable.

It was big enough with seats folded down for a couple fence sections I trash-picked from the neighbor's front lawn. And while room behind the third seat is snug, a pair of large pizza boxes fit in without any squeezing.

Junk bin: The armrest storage is nice, as is the phone holder tray in front of the gearshift.

In and out: Entry/exit to the back row is not difficult, although getting the middle row to move the way I wanted it took practice.

Barebones: Nissan was brave enough to send me a model without navigation or satellite radio. (No XM? Sheesh, even the lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat's Kia Soul Base El Cheapo has satellite.) But this is not a disqualifier by any means.

Acceleration: The big Pathfinder does accelerate thanks to its 3.5-liter V6, but it's not going to win any major awards. The CVT went unnoticed, which is a good thing; I often find these transmissions jerky and confused.

FatigueFinder: When driving the Pathfinder, I found my arms were really tired. I'm no fan of big SUVs in general, but a Honda Pilot or a Dodge Durango just made driving so much more enjoyable and easy. After a week, I couldn't wait to give this thing back.

Tough to heat (or cool): The heater controls are hard to reach, way down at the bottom of the console.

Tuning in: The radio controls, on the other hand, are pretty easy. The display is kind of useless without the navigation, though. You can get fuel economy info, but it has a lot of buttons and not much purpose for them.

Fuel economy: While that fuel economy information is right there in the radio display, I unfortunately neglected to record it. (My notes simply say, along the lines FatigueFinder and GapFinder, "It found service stations." Sometimes I'm just too clever for my own good.)

Nissan says it should average 21 mpg. Consider that my last Nissan tested, a Sentra, was rated at 34 mpg while I got 33, and I'm comfortable saying the Pathfinder doesn't deviate much from that 21 mpg estimate. Much lower and I would have harped on it; much higher and it would have been the most fuel efficient large SUV I tested (the Pilot wins here at 22 mpg).

Where it's built: Smyrna, Tenn.

How it's built: The Pathfinder is a not on Consumer Reports' recommended list.

Next week: A different path for the 2013 Toyota 4Runner.


Scott Sturgis, a freelance auto writer, can be reached at"Wheels," a special advertising supplement, appears inside today's Post-Gazette.


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