What stands out?

The Nissan Pathfinder is a smooth and comfortable seven-seat SUV, with plenty of space and a lot of equipment. You can get it with an excellent petrol V6 engine or as a petrol-electric hybrid that saves fuel in the city. There are front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive versions, and autonomous emergency braking is standard across the range.

What might bug me?

Driving at 80km/h on the space-saver spare until you can fix your full-size flat tyre.

Having to explain to anyone who may have to drive your Pathfinder how to release the parking brake. It has a foot operated parking brake, to the left of the brake pedal, which seems antiquated for well-equipped and comfortable large SUV.

What body styles are there?

Five-door wagon only.

Some Pathfinders drive only the front wheels, while others drive all four wheels.

In an all-wheel-drive Pathfinder, a switch on the centre console lets you select from three drive options: 2WD, Auto and Lock. In 2WD, the Pathfinder drives its front wheels only. In Auto, it automatically sends drive to the rear wheels as well – when that’s helpful. In Lock, it distributes drive evenly between the front and rear axles (this is for use under 40km/h where it’s very slippery).

The Pathfinder is classed as a large SUV, lower priced.

What features do all Pathfinders have?

- Adaptive cruise control that can match your speed to that of a slower car ahead on the highway, rear parking sensors and a reversing camera.

An MP3 and iPod compatible audio system with a radio, a DVD player, Aux and USB inputs, Bluetooth connectivity for audio streaming, voice control, and at least six speakers.

An 8.0-inch colour touchscreen for controlling cabin functions. A leather-wrapped steering wheel that carries buttons for operating the cruise control, the audio system and your phone.

Active safety including autonomous emergency braking with forward collision warning, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert.

Three-zone air-conditioning, which allows the driver, front-seat passenger and rear passengers to set temperatures independently. Vents for all three rows of seats.

Seven seats, with a power-adjusted driver’s seat. Height and reach adjustment for the steering wheel.

Headlights that switch on automatically in low light. LED daytime running lights, which help other drivers see you.

Wheels made of an aluminium alloy (which are lighter and more stylish than steel wheels), and a space-saver spare wheel.

A tyre pressure monitoring system, which warns when a tyre loses pressure. (This can alert you early to a slow puncture.)

Smart key entry, which allows you unlock the car by pressing a button on the door handle (provided the key is nearby in a pocket or bag).

Rear Door Alert, which is designed to notify the driver if children are left unattended in the vehicle

Roof rails, which make it easier to fit luggage systems.

Six airbags, protecting passengers in all seat rows. Electronic stability control, which can help control a skid and is mandatory on all new cars. (For the placement of airbags, and for more on Pathfinder safety systems, please open the Safety section below.)

The Pathfinder is covered by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.

Which engine uses least fuel, and why wouldn't I choose it?

The petrol-electric hybrid Pathfinders are more fuel-efficient than the petrol alternatives, using as little as 8.4 litres/100km on the official test (city and country combined).

The hybrids combine a supercharged, 2.5-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine with an electric motor. The motor gets its power from a battery that recharges when you slow down.

In a real-world comparison conducted for the September 2015 edition of Wheels magazine, a Pathfinder ST-L hybrid averaged 12.1 litres/100km, which was less than an accompanying Toyota Kluger but more than three diesel-engined seven-seaters, which consumed about 10 litres 100km.

One reason you might not want a hybrid Pathfinder is that they cost more than petrol-only models with the same equipment. The Hybrid also costs more to service. And it needs to be serviced every six months (or 7000km), whereas petrol models can run for 12 months (or 10,000km).

Hybrids also tow less: 1650kg, compared with 2700kg.

However, Hybrid Pathfinders are just as powerful and responsive as those driven by the alternative engine, a petrol V6.

The V6 Pathfinders use about 20 per cent more fuel than the hybrids. The difference will be bigger around town, where there is a lot of stop-start driving, and smaller when cruising on a country road.

A V6 Pathfinder ST used 13.6 litres/100km over the course of a real-world comparison for the October 2016 edition of Wheels. Pathfinders on sale since March 2017 use a revised V6 with direct petrol injection that will use slightly less fuel.

All Pathfinders have a continuously variable (or CVT) automatic transmission. It doesn’t have fixed gear ratios but instead matches engine speed steplessly to the driver’s demands, which improves response and efficiency. In Pathfinders on sale since March 2017, the CVT can mimic the feel of a conventional auto, using artificial ratio steps.

What key features do I get if I spend more?

The Pathfinder is available at four equipment levels: ST (the least costly), ST+, ST-L and Ti. Each is offered in V6 front-wheel drive, V6 all-wheel drive, and all but the ST+ come with a hybrid version. The hybrid ST is front-wheel drive, while the hybrid ST-L and Ti models are AWD.

Therefore, one feature you can get if you spend more is AWD, which provides better traction on slippery surfaces such as wet, snowy or gravel roads. Another is hybrid power. And by spending more again you can have AWD and hybrid power.

Pathfinder STs have cloth-covered seating, 18-inch wheels, and the other features found in all Pathfinders.

Spending a little more on the ST+ brings a 360-degree parking monitor to help see obstacles around the car, and satellite navigation.

Pathfinder ST-Ls add partial leather trim (it’s a mix of real and fake leather), heated front seats, and two sunroofs covering most of the roof. Powered seat-adjustment is added for the front passenger, powered steering-wheel adjustment for the driver, and longer-lasting LED headlights with auto-levelling. The sound system is from audio specialist Bose and has 13 speakers.

Coughing up for a Pathfinder Ti gets you (in addition to the ST-L features) a power-opening tailgate. The front-seats can be heated or cooled. Those in the back also get heated seats and can watch movies on two colour screens mounted behind the front headrests, listening in on wireless headsets. A rear door alert notifies you if children are left unattended in the vehicle.

And your Pathfinder Ti will have 20-inch wheels, fitted with lower profile tyres for a sportier look.

Does any upgrade have a down side?

All-wheel drive models use slightly more fuel. Hybrid models cost more to service, and need work more often.

The 20-inch tyres on Ti Pathfinders will cost more to replace than the 18-inch rubber used on STs and ST-Ls. And they won’t ride quite as smoothly, because their lower profile puts less cushioning air between the wheel and the road.

Black and white are the only standard colours; the other five cost extra.

How comfortable is the Pathfinder?

The Pathfinder has broad front seats with good support, making for excellent long-distance comfort.

The main controls are well laid out and easy to decipher. The colour touchscreen is complemented by a cluster of related buttons below it – a layout criticised by some reviewers as confusing and mainly unnecessary. The driver’s instrumentation is crisp and clear. There is an additional, digital, speedo on the trip computer screen that separates the two main dials.

Steering effort in a Pathfinder is low, but in cars sold prior to March 2017 you needed to turn the wheel further than in most alternative cars. Reviewers’ brief experience of the updated Pathfinder indicates its steering feels more direct – a good thing. Mild kickback through the steering wheel remains if you hit a bump when cornering.

The Pathfinder feels comfortable over second-grade roads, riding on soft and cushy suspension, though occasionally you will feel a jolt.

The cabin is well shielded from outside noises. Hybrid models have an active noise control system which works well on country roads especially, playing sound through the speakers that is calculated to reduce engine noise and tyre noise (much like noise-cancelling headphones, Nissan says).

Performance is effortless in both V6 and hybrid models. While the V6 develops a bit more power if you press your right foot into the floor, the hybrids feel punchier around town and more responsive much of the time.

What about safety in a Nissan Pathfinder?

All Pathfinders have stability control, a reversing camera, auto headlights, LED daytime running lights, and six airbags. Seatbelt reminders work for all seven seats, making it easy for you to monitor belt use.

There are two airbags directly in front of the driver and front passenger; one outside each front seat at chest level to protect the driver and front passenger from side impacts; and full-length curtain airbags at head level that protect passengers in all three seat rows from side impacts.

The virtual overhead view camera on ST+, ST-L and Ti Pathfinders enhances safety when manoeuvring at low speeds, giving a comprehensive view of what’s outside the car. The camera has incorporated Moving Object Detection, which can alert you to the presence of a person or animal near the car when manoeuvring at slow speed.

All Pathfinder versions are equipped with suite of active safety aids that includes auto braking, forward collision alert, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.

Based on radar sensors, the forward collision alert and auto braking – which Nissan calls Intelligent Emergency Braking – work at city and highway speeds. The systems sound a warning and flash a dashboard light to warn you of a likely frontal crash – typically with a car ahead that has slowed suddenly. If you ignore the warnings, the car will brake automatically.

Blind-spot warning and Rear cross-traffic alert look behind you. The former alerts you to the presence of other cars near your rear corners, perhaps out of view of your mirrors. The latter works when you are reversing out of a driveway or parking space, telling you that another vehicle is about to cross behind you.

Rear Door Alert, which is designed to notify the driver if children are left unattended in the vehicle.

The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) rated the Pathfinder’s safety at five stars, its maximum score, in May 2014.

I like driving - will I enjoy this car?

The Pathfinder is more about relaxed touring than rising to the occasion of a challenging road. It is a heavy vehicle, and you notice that more as you drive it faster, but the body roll is well contained.

Nevertheless, a firmer suspension that arrived with the update of March 2017 has reduced its formerly pronounced body roll and made the big car more fun in corners.

The 20-inch tyres on the Ti model have more cornering grip than those on less costly Pathfinders, and their lower profile makes for a slightly more accurate response to the steering.

While V6 Pathfinders have plenty of syrupy grunt and ultimately are quicker than the hybrids, you have to drive them hard to find that extra speed. Hybrid Pathfinders are almost as brisk and in many ways are more enjoyable.

Previous iterations of the Pathfinder have been known for their prowess off road. The current generation is focused more on bitumen driving. All-wheel drive versions (which Nissan designates as four-wheel drive or 4WD) are competent in light-duty off-roading only: gravel or muddy tracks and snow-covered roads.

How is life in the rear seats?

The middle row of seats is very welcoming for adults, with excellent head room and a broad seat cushion. The flat floor at the rear ensures plenty of space for feet. The middle seats can slide forward and back, and even in the middle position there is plenty of leg room. Vision out is good for rear passengers, because they sit higher than those in the front.

The middle seatbases and backs are quite flat, however, and reviewers have complained of insufficient support under the thighs and for shoulders, allowing passengers to slide around during cornering.

USB and micro-USB sockets are fitted for the convenience of middle-row passengers.

The Ti offers more second-row creature comforts including colour screens mounted behind the front headrests with audio available through wireless headsets.

Third-row passengers have less leg room, but still more than they would have in many other large SUVs. The easy-to-fold middle seats also make it easy to get into the rear seats.

Rear passengers can set a different air temperature from those in the front, and there are air vents to both the second and third rows of seats.

How is it for carrying stuff?

The Pathfinder is fantastic for carrying drinks: it has 16 cup holders, which must be close to a record. While almost no family will use all these at once, they also provide storage for other small items.

There is a deep centre console with a shelf inside, and other compartments for odds and ends.

As with most seven-seaters, luggage space is tight when all seats are in use but still a handy 503 litres which is more than some five-seat medium SUVs.

Folding the the third-row seats down for a five-seat configuration expands the cargo area to a whopping 1164 litres, and up to 2004 litres with the 60:40-split middle-row seat backs folded down.

The Pathfinder Ti has a powered hands-free tailgate, which opens if you move your foot beneath it while carrying the smart key.

V6 versions of the Pathfinder are rated to tow up to 2700kg. Hybrid models may tow only 1650kg.

Where does Nissan make the Pathfinder?

Nissan builds the Pathfinder in Tennessee, USA.

What might I miss that similar cars have?

Possibly middle row seats that split-fold 40/20/40. The Hyundai Santa Fe is one alternative that offers this feature, which allows you to carry long, narrow items while seating two rear passengers comfortably.

A diesel engine, to cut fuel use on trips out of town. You can get one in a Santa Fe, Kia Sorento, Mazda CX-8, Skoda Kodiaq, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ford Endura for example.

The convenience of Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone pairing as found in more and more large SUVs including the Sante Fe, Sorento, Ebdura,
Kodiaq, Holden Acadia, Mazda CX-9, and Peugeot 5008.

If you enjoy driving you might find some other big SUVs bring you more fun. The benchmark here is the Mazda CX-9.

Among other cars you might consider is the Toyota Kluger.

Are there plans to update the Pathfinder soon?

The current Pathfinder arrived in Australia late in 2013, with the Hybrid models following in 2014.

A facelifted and improved Pathfinder arrived in March 2017, bringing revised nose styling, a more powerful and fuel-efficient V6 engine (using direct petrol injection), sharper handling from firmer suspension, and better steering. The more expensive Pathfinders gained a suite of active driver aids that included autonomous emergency braking.

In April 2019 Nissan made active driver aids standard across the range and added the ST+ variant, Rear Door Alert, and more advanced 360-degree parking monitor to the ST spec.

In April 2020, Nissan added the full active safety suite available in the Ti to the far more affordable ST+.

Special edition N-TREK versions were added to the range in February 2020, which added sporty exterior trim to the V6 petrol ST+ and ST-L versions.

Expect an all-new Pathfinder in late 2021.

I like this car, but I can’t choose which version. Can you help?

We’d choose the Pathfinder ST-L 4WD V6 petrol. The ST-L is well equipped, with important safety features such as forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking. It’s quick, smooth and effortless. The step to an ST-L Hybrid is worthwhile if you do a lot of your driving in the city, but in press-on country driving its economy benefits evaporate.