For those of you that live outside of the Snow Belt and who may routinely ignore the Weather Channel out of cocky certainty – I'm looking at you, American Southwest – there's been some real weather in our part of the world this winter. A year ago, I'd basically packed up my shovel and my driveway salt by Valentine's Day; while the last quarter of 2012 and beginning of 2013 have seen back-wrenching piles of snow fall on and around my Michigan home. Good times, in other words, to test the all-weather capabilities of our all-wheel-drive Pathfinder.
The first real test came on a long and unplanned road trip I was bound to make – driving to the western edge of Wisconsin for a family funeral. The trip from Ann Arbor, MI to Platteville, WI is just about 450 miles door-to-door, and is bisected by one of the most snowbound stretches of highway in the country. Anyone familiar with the greater Chicago area can tell you that the travel corridor immediately to the south of Lake Michigan, as well as for long stretches east and west of it, can get brutal with snowfall.
On both trips around the horn of Lake Michigan, we found ourselves caught in the teeth of lake-effect snowstorms.
And, true to form, on both the westbound and eastbound trips around the horn of the lake, my wife Molly and I found ourselves caught in the teeth of lake-effect snowstorms. Slick, icy roads get covered by layers of snow in these conditions; leading to lots of driving with very poor visibility, strong gusting winds and treacherous surfaces. In cases like these, I'm always glad to have an AWD vehicle under me, at least to mitigate the slipping and sliding. But if I'm completely honest, our it was our tester's Bridgestone all-season "sport" rubber that had me nervous.
I shouldn't have been. With the exception of a few intentional dabs of the brakes to test out the road surface, and one or two meandering seconds when changing lanes in drifting snow, the Pathfinder was sure-footed through both storms. There wasn't a lot that the Nissan could do, sadly, about the blowing snow in the air, nor the rest of the drivers on the road, but we did manage to move along with the fastest traffic that the conditions would allow. What's more, despite our return trip morphing from about seven hours to almost eleven (I-94 was completely stopped by the police at some points), neither Molly nor I could complain much about sore backs or bottoms thanks to our Nissan's comfortable, supportive seating.
We managed to move along with the fastest-traffic that the conditions would allow.
For the full trip out to Platteville and back, mostly on interstates and county roads, I recorded 21.2 miles per gallon. That's lower than the EPA highway rating of 25 mpg, but not all that bad considering the stop-and-go stuff for hours around the lake was more like city-driving, and that I was pushing hard to cover distance when the roads were clear. On clear roads with at posted speeds, I would anticipate coming far closer to that 25-mpg figure. What's more, I very quickly forgot about the still-sometimes-annoying sounds of the CVT-modulated engine – the transmission might be worth the economy gains, I guess.
While the truly grueling snowy driving was a success, I was mildly less fortunate more recently. Driving the two miles from my gym back to the homestead, I somehow plowed right into a large chunk of ice on the road. The debris was solid enough to do a number on the Pathfinder's front tire and wheel. If I'm searching for a silver lining to my own cockup, it's that I got to "test" putting on the space-saver spare tire that usually lives on the bottom backside of the vehicle; accessible in typical SUV fashion via a crank that lowers the tire to the ground on a thick piece of wire. All in, the biggest problems were the size of the wheel – a 20-inch Pathfinder dub is no small thing to chuck around, even for a large Dutchman (nevermind my gym attire in the 20-degree weather). Don't change a tire in shorts, guys. Still, I consider it a testament to the slowly developing modernity of in-car jack and lug wrenches that I suffered only one bloody knuckle in the whole process.
I got to "test" putting on the space-saver spare tire that usually lives on the bottom back side of the vehicle.
Getting the wheel and tire replaced was a lot more painful for the Autoblog wallet than it was for my hand, however. The 235-section Bridgestone Dueler Sport all-season tire was a nifty $253.75, while the new wheel set us back a sobering $813.55. With labor and tax, that meant a $1,200-plus bill. Sorry, boss. On the plus side, the service department at my local Nissan dealership in Ann Arbor is staffed with super nice folks (probably because they're all so well paid).
Here's hoping that the next team member to take the Pathfinder keys has better luck with random encounters.