2013 Nissan Pathfinder
I recently traded my 2010 Pilot EX-L on a 2013 Nissan Pathfinder. A number of members have asked me to write up my impressions on the Pathfinder, so here goes...
Let me start this off by saying that I am a big Honda fan, and in fact, a big fan of the Pilot. I've owned two now, both the 2010 EX-L and a 2005 EX before it. In general, I think the Pilot is a great family truckster - but I did have one big problem with it that didn't seem to improve between the two models - that's gas mileage. My daily commute is about 6 miles one-way, up and down hills in a semi-rural area, so I realize that is a big factor in the mileage of this vehicle - which during its stay, came out to about 16.5 MPG total (and that included a number of family vacations, where I did 21MPG for entire tanks). I use the iPhone app, 'Gas Cubby' to track mileage and was always very conscious of how I drove the Pilot - in fact, the Pilot's real-time mileage indicators were how I developed my "hyper-miling" skills for the first time - and I pretty much attribute that to the 16.5MPG overall I achieved during the time the vehicle was in my possession. I suspect it would have been in the 14-15 range had I driven it like I would have any other car.
So, when the lease came up on the Pilot, I was looking for something that was roughly equivalent to the Pilot in terms of capability, a little more refined in terms of interior and exterior styling (never liked the cheesy plastics in the Pilot, nor the exterior design), and significantly better mileage. I looked at the Ford Explorer, the Edge, the Highlander and the Nissan Pathfinder. In general, I was looking for something a bit smaller and more nimble overall.
I had read about the Pathfinder several times in passing and I was intrigued by the CVT, as well as the mileage claims. Let me say here that yes, I do like CVTs. We had never owned one until we purchased my wife's Subaru - and we love it. I have heard quite a bit of fuss over "CVT whine" or "drone", but it's nothing that we've ever noticed - and the tradeoff in terms of smoothness, instant power delivery and mileage is a huge plus for us.
As it turns out the Nissan dealer was quite accommodating - and we ended up leasing the Pathfinder for about the same as what we paid for the Pilot, despite a $5K higher sticker price. Our Pathfinder is the SL Premium model, which is very well equipped, including 4WD, dual sunroofs, an auto open/close hatch, remote start, Bose audio and a generous 7" LCD screen on the dash.
Comparing it to the Pilot is really hard, because the Pilot is such a different vehicle despite the fact that these are both in the "large crossover" class. The Pilot definitely feels larger and more truck-like, but it clearly has more space than the Pathfinder - particularly in the cargo/third row area. I also felt like I sat taller in the Pilot, whereas the Pathfinder is a lot more like sitting in a normal car. Ride quality is vastly better in the Pathfinder. The 2010 Pilot always had a bit of a harsh ride, even compared to the 2005 model. It also felt a bit clumsy to me, particularly maneuvering in a parking lot at slow speeds.
One big shortfall for the Pilot (and I'm not sure if this has improved for the revised 2012 model) is the interior - particularly the cheesy plastics used throughout. This is where the Pathfinder shines. Soft touch materials, particularly on the door sills (where one would naturally rest their elbow) are more evident - and even where they aren't - they don't look cheap. For example, I had to knock on the dash top to know that it was hard plastic. Additionally, the quality of the leather is much better. Overall, the Pathfinder's interior design leans toward the luxury end of the segment, where the Pilot is a bit more comparable to what one would find in a Civic. When you compare the Pathfinder to its cousin, the Infiniti JX, you can see a lot of parallels in the interior design. So, it's clear that Nissan didn't go on the same kind of cost-cutting mission that Honda did with the Pilot in differentiating it from the MDX.
Out on the road, I've already mentioned that the Pathfinder is very smooth and much more car like. It definitely feels more maneuverable, and it absorbs the bumps better overall. However, I think the Pilot definitely had better steering feel - the Pathfinder's feels a bit numb and over-boosted and there seems to be a bit more body roll. It has taken some time to get used to the way it corners, where the Pilot, despite being more truck-like overall, felt more natural to me. Perhaps at least some of that is due to the fact that I've been driving Hondas for so long - and the Pilot had a lot of the Honda characteristics of being taut and well-tuned. The CVT definitely seems to be tuned for economy as initial tip-in is a bit lethargic. But given a heavy foot, the Pathfinder steps out quickly and feels every bit as swift as the Pilot. With the way the CVT is tuned, I find that I can get underway quickly and get off the gas sooner - whereas in the Pilot, I felt that I had to be on it more in order to build and conserve momentum.
On the highway, the Pathfinder is hands down quieter than the Pilot. I always felt like the Pilot was just pushing around a lot of air - despite the acoustic windshield, there was always a lot of wind rushing noise that I attributed to its bull-nosed design. In fact, one of my pet peeves with the Pilot was cruise control accuracy. The Pilot always struggled to stay set at a given speed, particularly if the terrain was hilly, as it struggled to stay in overdrive unless the highway was perfectly flat. The Pathfinder is in general, a far more relaxed highway cruiser and suffers none of these faults.
As far as interior amenities go, the Pathfinder wins hands-down. I had an aftermarket iPod integration system that made the Pilot bearable for me. The Nissan has this built-in, and with the large display, you can much more easily control the iPod's behavior. I suspect the Nissan's system is more like the system in the Touring model of the Pilot, but it's worth commenting that Nissan bundles this into its lower-end models, as it should have been in the Pilot. The Bose stereo beats the Pilot's unit as expected. Additionally, Nissan integrates a second full-color, high-res display in the instrument cluster, where you can adjust vehicle settings, see real-time tire pressure, fuel economy stats and a variety of other vehicle information. All of this is controlled via the steering wheel. You can toggle through it with the steering wheel controls while driving, though much of it can't be manipulated unless the vehicle is stopped (as it should be). In general, Nissan seems to include a lot more amenities, particularly in the electronics department, that Honda didn't in lower trim levels.
I wanted to weigh in a bit about gas mileage here, even though I've only been through two tanks thus far - as this is one area where the Pathfinder really shines over the Honda. I've found that my overall fuel economy is about 18.5 thus far - and that's with very little highway driving. For the most part, I've made no special accomodations other than to keep the vehicle in "2WD" mode (the Nissan allows you to select whether you want to be in 2WD, 4WD automatic, or 4WD lock) and the A/C off. I'm pleased with that result, considering that in the first few weeks of owning the Pilot, we noted about 15.7. That might not seem huge to a lot of people, but when you consider the Pilot's 21 gallon tank (the Nissan is 19.5), it means you can easily get 350 miles to a tank in the Nissan, whereas I felt like I was constantly at the gas station with the Pilot.
In summary, we are very happy with the Pathfinder thus far. It's a better fit overall for our family of four, despite being a bit smaller. For those that need to use the third row regularly, I can see how the Pilot might be the better choice, but our use is limited to the odd event that we have to go somewhere with the in-laws and kids in tow. Even my wife, who was too intimidated to drive the Pilot based on size, really likes driving the Pathfinder (and with the memory seats, it's a lot easier for her to do so). Given the size, performance, value and quality, I think Nissan really has a winner here. I'll be interested to see if any other Piloteers end up making the switch.
2013 Nissan Pathfinder SL Premium, Dark Slate
2010 Honda Pilot EX-L 4WD (traded)
2010 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Premium - Ruby Red Pearl
2005 Honda Pilot EX 4WD (traded)
Last edited by cwa107; 12-30-2012 at 12:33 PM.