What is it?
When we drove the high-spec Pathfinder Ti earlier this year, the verdict was that although the $66,390 version packed in a lot of kit, we suspected the more affordable offerings might make more sense. So it’s time for a rematch in something that’s a little kinder on the wallet – the ST 4WD.
How much is the Nissan Pathfinder ST
While the Ti we tested in May sits just one rung below the range-topping Ti Hybrid, this $45,490 variant is positioned just one slot above the entry-level Pathfinder. Paying the extra cash for the AWD over the $41,990 ST 2WD doesn’t net you any more equipment – its feature-set is identical. Rather, that premium goes entirely into adding a selectable all-wheel drive system underneath.
Read the Nissan Pathfinder range review
Who is it for?
Quite simply, this Pathfinder is for exactly the same type of customer as the Ti – most likely a large family with a high workload for the family car. However, the ST is definitely geared towards those who can’t justify a $60k-plus budget, and/or don’t need an extensive equipment list.
It’s also for families wanting decent all terrain ability for leaving the blacktop far behind on camping expeditions, and will happily invest the extra $3500 for the AWD to enable said adventures.
Is the Nissan Pathfinder ST easy to live with?
Arriving late into Melbourne’s international airport, recently, after a long day and protracted delays, I was met by a typical mid-July occurrence: Cold wind and driving rain. But I had the Pathie loyally waiting for me in the dark carpark and I can’t tell you how comforting that thought was.
Unlike leather upholstery, its curiously shiny fabric seats were inviting - not cold, and its massive boot swallowed big bags for the hike home. Furthermore, its elevated driving position and tall glasshouse offered a reassuring view of the road on a foul evening, while the soft suspension and tall tyres soothed away the stresses of the day. In short, it was the perfect car to come home to.
Even in the top-shelf Ti specification we tested earlier in the year, the big Nissan is not a glamorous or sexy car and I don’t think it would mind me saying it’s not particularly exciting either. In my mind, embellishments such as 20-inch wheels, hide upholstery and bright paint are of little value.
What the Pathfinder is, however, is a dependable and benign machine that is best left unmolested with pricy affectations. Not only will you save cash but you won’t be constantly worrying about kerbing ostentatious wheels when parking or scratching the paint when accessing a hard-to-reach campsite. Anything that detracts from the relaxing ownership experience of a vehicle like this undermines its core purpose.
You still get plenty of storage about the cabin. There’s a third row of seats at the back for days when you have a few extra members of the soccer team to look after, curtain airbags, forward collision monitoring and tyre pressure monitoring.
Perhaps ST owners will miss having integrated navigation (there’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto smartphone mirroring either), LED headlights, 360-degree camera (a simpler rear-view camera is included), electric seat adjustment and clever rear-door alert that’s offered in the Ti grade, but for the most part, it’s only luxuries that are left out.
How well does the Nissan Pathfinder ST drive?
The beauty of the most affordable ST 4WD is that you get exactly the same drivetrain that’s standard fitment for the Ti. That means the same powerful and smooth 3.5-litre petrol V6 sending grunt through an obedient CVT auto for lots of performance and load-lugging muscle.
It’s not the most efficient result with a hefty two-tonne kerb weight asking for 10.1 litres of fuel per 100km on the combined cycle (a result that we found easy to achieve in a week of real-world driving), but having a bit of go under your toe is one of the Pathfinder’s pleasant surprises.
With a significant inertia to overcome and prodigious pulling power from a standstill, the front wheels alone cannot cope with full throttle. In the wet, off-the-mark traction is even more laughable when in 2WD mode, so the switchable transmission was left in ‘auto’ all-wheel drive for all conditions. Configured that way, grip in wet weather is very hard to breach.
That decision will probably cost more at the pumps but scrubbing a set of front tyres through lots of unintentional wheel spin will also hit the wallet where it hurts. Which is the lesser of two evils is up to the end user.
As a result of the identical driveline (with the exception of a hill-descent system that’s included in higher grades and most drivers will probably never use) the driving experience is almost indistinguishable. The taller tyres on 18-inch wheels arguably improve the ride over the 20-inch posh rims, but beyond that it’s business as usual.
Braking and acceleration are excellent for a car of this size and weight and the steering is the only qualm with far too much power assistance to offer even the slightest sensation of feedback from the road. That’s probably not a problem for most of the Pathfinder’s target audience, but you will notice it if you are getting out of a number of rivals including the Kia Sorento or Mazda CX-9.
The Pathfinder is classed as a large SUV but it’s one that hides its measurements well through good design and ergonomics. The third row of seating is a meaningful size and the ride comfort will keep all occupants happy.
All in all, it’s a very easy companion to live with and its stoic ability to get on with the job makes some other big SUVs look neurotic by comparison.
After a long day would you rather come home to the family dog performing an interpretive dance while juggling the cat, or would you like it to be simply holding your slippers and the paper?
The Pathfinder is not a vehicle that is designed to wow and delight with every trip. It’s a hard-working addition to the family that can be praised for not garnering attention.
At the entry-level, the ST does everything you would want a large SUV to do in this particular (relatively affordable) part of the market. Anything else would be a bonus - but one that you could most likely live without.
Our only must-have would be the four-wheel drive transmission, which comes as a relative bargain over the ST 2WD considering how much it adds to the model’s appeal and driveability.
As we hypothesised in our summary of the high-grade Ti, something from the more affordable end of the spectrum would appear to be where the wise choice is, and a few days living with the ST certainly seems to confirm the theory.
Perhaps we need to inspect another Pathfinder variant to see if the real gem of the line-up is hiding somewhere in the middle of the range?