Based on recently unearthed (read: invented) archaeological material, we can postulate that the history of family vehicles goes like this: wooly mammoth sedan chair, foot-driven stone-wheeled surrey, antelope-drawn woody chariot, paddled gondola, horse-drawn barouche, and velocipedal crew-cab, before reaching its apogee around 1905 with the invention of the internal combustion engine and its installation in a station wagon.
This functioned perfectly for about 80 years, or roughly until the Baby Boomers starting having kids, since, as we know, the Baby Boomers ruin everything. This destructiveness is rooted in an intrinsic generational antagonism that reflexively rejects everything their parents loved, regardless of how great it was, and replaces it with its polar opposite: ratty tresses for crisp Don Draper side parts, stultifying weed for delicious alcohol, sloppy free love for overt monogamy and covert cheating and indulgence for anything resembling child-rearing discipline. And SUVs for station wagons.
This last switch worked out about as well as the Boomers' other choices, with their 50 million oversized SUVs contributing no small amount to an atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gasses, and a nationwide traffic jam. Eventually, the BBs noticed that the oceans started rising around the unstable islands on which they'd clustered their retirement homes, and that they could no longer drive to Target without refueling mid-trip. And they were like, Oops. Fortunately, our government intervened, finally demanding optimistically realizable fleet fuel economy figures. Then everyone suddenly wanted a family vehicle that offered more efficient packaging—lighter weight, less tipsy handling, better gas mileage. In other words, something more like a station wagon.
This is how we ended up with the unexceptional intermediary category of vehicles known as crossovers. And why the 2013 Nissan Pathfinder — one of the SUV's trucky 1980s progenitors, and one that has since sated the Boomers' gluttonous cravings with successively larger cabins and engines — has now reinvented itself as such. Gone is its blocky, flared-fender stance. Gone are its trendsetting-turned-anachronistic hidden rear door handles and truck frame. Gone is its honking 5.6 liter V-8 with ridiculous 6.4 second 0-60 run.
What Nissan has delivered in its place is essentially a taffying of its Nissan Murano, providing the brand with the crescendo for a vehicular quartet that allows you to endure every conventional adult life-stage (single, coupled, married, burdened) within the confines of a Nissan crossover.
Is this the path you want to find? If so, the new seven-seater will, for the $43,000 price of the top-of-the-line, fully-optioned, 4WD Platinum model, provide you with everything you'll need for a life of middling comfort. You won't feel swaddled in luxury—the interior design and material quality consistently says just-enough-more-than-good-enough to distinguish it from the overt lavishness of its pricier fraternal twin, the Infiniti JX. But you will get all the requisite in-category features: seven seats, four of which can conceivably seat an American plus-sized adult; a glass-paned roof that helps distinguish accessing the back rows from a spelunking expedition; an intuitive navotainment system that includes Bluetooth, the ability to play dual DVDs on the dual rear screens and a panoramic backup camera, as well as streams of information on proximal traffic, weather, restaurants, senior care centers, t-shirt outlets, cattle futures, and local tap water additives.
So what makes this Pathfinder different from the roads more traveled? Well, the Pathfinder's rearmost row of seats reclines almost enough to fool the grandparents into thinking they're comfortable enough for the drive to the soccer game. When you're forced to pull over to deal with the tire-pressure monitor warning light, the beast notes your achieving proper sidewall pressure by tooting its horn. The Pathfinder assists you in parking or tacking with birds-eye camera views of the now distant corners of its exterior (it is both four inches wider and longer than its predecessor). Its integration of Nissan's continuously variable transmission results in 26 highway mpg if you forego 4WD, 25 if you don't. And the pairing of Nissan's CVT with a chain drive that resembles Chewbacca's bandolier gives it enough grunt to pull a class-leading 5,000 lbs.
In an extensive drive around the Northern California coast, we discovered that the Pathfinder does everything suitably well—including chugging through a steep, cow pie-strewn off-road course. Everything, that is, except looking good. Say what you will about the outgoing model's deficiencies, it had the visual presence of an origami pachyderm. But presence is not necessary in a category where every competitor looks like a gummy Wooly Bear. Trace the outline, serially, of the Toyota Venza, Mazda CX-9, Subaru Tribeca and Kia Sorento, and the schmeary amalgam will look like this.
Still, if you're going to hitch yourself to the seven-passenger crossover bandwagon, this is definitively one to consider. Us, we'll wait until the Baby Boomer's 80 million kids flip a bitch on their parents' preferences, and bring about the resurgence of the real station wagon.
2013 Nissan Pathfinder
Seven-passenger sport utility vehicle
Continuously variable automatic
4,100 lbs. - 4,471 lbs.
19/25 mpg 4WD; 20/26 mpg 2WD
$28,270 - $40,770
Swollen jellybean styling
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