Nissan Pathfinder Ti 550 2012: Tow Test

words - Chris Fincham
photos - Geoff Middleton
With a class-leading 3500kg towing capacity and willing V6 turbodiesel, the top-spec Pathfinder is a good option for hauling big rigs

The third-generation Pathfinder has been around since 2005, slotting under the bigger Patrol but above the smaller X-Trail in Nissan’s all-terrain family wagon range.

Like the Mitsubishi Challenger and Toyota Prado, the mid-sized Pathfinder employs a ute-based, ladder-frame chassis and dual-range four-wheel-drive system, which gives it more rugged construction not to mention genuine off-road ability compared to more car-like rivals like Ford Territory and Toyota Kluger.

Far from a workhorse though, the current Pathfinder offers a comfortable, practical cabin with three-row seating to accommodate seven passengers, and high specification levels across three grades to further boost its value-for-money proposition.

Sourced from Spain, the latest Pathfinder is available with a 140kW/450Nm version of the Navara-sourced 2.5-litre turbodiesel engine with six-speed manual or five-speed auto. Since early-2011 there’s also been a more powerful V6 turbodiesel engine, available on the top-spec Ti Pathfinder (as tested here).

Matched to a seven-speed auto, it pumps out an impressive 170kW/550Nm, while helping boost the Pathfinder’s towing capacity from 3000kg to 3500kg.

As part of the most recent update in 2010, the Pathfinder received styling revisions including a revised bonnet, grille, headlamps and bumper assembly, while inside the centre dash cluster was revamped.

Adding to a long list of features including leather trim, electric sunroof, cruise control, keyless start, multi-function, leather-covered steering wheel, and heated seats, the range-topping Ti adds Xenon headlamps with auto-levelling and concealed washers, a seven-inch touch-screen infotainment system with hard-drive based satellite navigation system, reversing camera and DVD functionality, and new metallic highlights in the cabin.

Priced at $75,990 without on-road costs, the Ti 550 Pathfinder is more expensive than the range-topping $73,490 turbodiesel Ti Patrol, but is arguably better equipped and offers more performance than the big Patrol.

It also costs $10,000 more than the $65,990 2.5-litre Ti Pathfinder, but for that you also get privacy glass, sunroof wind deflector, automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, smoked bonnet protector, side moulding and V6 badges, rear fog lamps and body coloured heated door mirrors on the outside, while inside, an upgraded DVD player features additional functionality, a nine-speaker audio system and an anti-theft alarm.

Step up into the jacked-up body and it’s comfortable and reasonably spacious inside, with the leather-trimmed, eight-way electric adjustable driver’s seat offering some lateral support. The steering column lacks reach adjustment which may prove an issue for some drivers.

Cabin materials are a pleasant mix of hard and soft, mostly grey plastics with leather trim in the side doors and metallic highlights helping to break up the blandness. Interior highlights include the large touchscreen display and booming Bose audio system, but the confusing array of switches and dials clustered around the centre stack could have been better integrated as part of the touchscreen system.

Second row legroom is adequate but not as generous as some of its rivals, though the second row seatbacks are adjustable for angle. Rear seat passengers can also manually adjust the climate control delivered through roof-mounted vents.

The rear seats fold 40:20:40 to allow the loading of cumbersome objects while ‘flip and tumble’ outboard seats provide easy access to the third row. There’s only limited space for two children or small teenagers in the back though.

There’s decent storage throughout with cup holders in all three rows and two gloveboxes up front, while Pathfinder's boot is bigger than most seven seaters with the third row in play.

Developed in conjunction with Renault, the direct-injection, 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel mill develops maximum torque of 550Nm from a low 1750rpm through to 2500rpm, and a hefty 500Nm available from 1500rpm.

Euro 5 emissions compliant, it also offers decent fuel economy with an official combined average of 9.5L/100km.

The gutsy powerplant makes light work of the Pathfinder’s 2314kg bulk, getting up to speed quickly despite some turbo lag. While refined on the freeway it’s a bit truck-like when revved and it’s not as quiet in the cabin as the Ford Territory diesel, for example.

The seven-speed auto tends to hang onto gears longer than required, and can be indecisive when rushed, but otherwise is relatively smooth with the engine revving below 2000rpm in top gear on the freeway.

While not as truck-like as the Patrol, the Pathfinder has a tendency to wallow around corners but generally holds its line well with decent grip in the dry. The rack and pinion steering is light and lacks feel on-centre, but braking was up to the task despite a soft pedal feel.

The independent front and rear suspension rides over most road irregularities with little disruption to occupants, although there’s some thumping over deeper potholes.

Off-road is a different matter, where the long travel suspension, 228mm ground clearance, hill descent control, fold-in mirrors, and interior grab handles all make it a capable bush basher.

The dial for selecting high or low range 4WD is handily located near the gear lever.

Safety is well covered by Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC), traction control, anti-skid braking with Brake Assist (BA) and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD), front and side airbags for front occupants and front-to-rear curtain airbags.

Hooked up to a Chaparral boat and trailer weighing 1900kg, the Pathfinder had little trouble accelerating or getting up to suburban speeds.

Once up and cruising around town the extra weight behind was barely noticeable, suggesting the Pathfinder would comfortably cope pulling something close to its 3.5 tonne limit.

Driving solo the Pathfinder averaged 9.2L/100km, which increased to 14.6L/100km when towing although this involved mostly ‘city’ driving with no highway work.

The Pathfinder easily maintained speed up a short incline, not kicking down from fifth gear despite accelerating from 50km/h to 70km/h.

There was also minimal drop in the Pathfinder’s rear suspension when hooked up, with the trailer’s downball weight well short of the Pathfinder’s 300kg limit.

Although the big side mirrors provided decent rearward vision for our test, larger boats or caravans would require additional towing mirrors. The reversing camera with ‘predictive path technology’ was also a handy feature when hitching up.

While probably not the best choice for suburban Mums or city residents due to its size and bulk, the top-spec Pathfinder makes sense as a tough, well-equipped SUV that can double as a family hauler or off-road adventurer.

Armed with a gutsy V6 engine and hefty 3500kg towing capacity, it’s also a very capable tow tug and one of only a handful of vehicles capable of hauling the biggest boat trailers, caravans and horse trailers.

Engine: 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel petrol
Max. power: 170kW at 3750rpm
Max. torque: 550Nm from 1750-2500rpm
Transmission: seven-speed auto
Length: 4813mm
Width: 1848mm
Height: 1781mm
Wheelbase: 2853mm
Ground clearance: 228mm
Kerb mass: 2314kg
Gross Vehicle Mass: 2980kg
Fuel: 80lt
Roof load: 100kg
Towing cap. unbraked/braked: 750kg/3500kg
Tow ball mass maximum: 300kg
Fuel economy (claimed): 9.3L/100km
Price: $75,990 (MRRP)

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Published : Monday, 17 September 2012
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