Long-term 2013 Nissan Pathfinder

This Nissan is the most in-demand long-term vehicle we've ever had.

They may not readily fall into the sweet spot of driving enthusiasts, but our year-long test of this Nissan is proving to be an object lesson in why crossovers are so popular – especially large ones like our three-row Pathfinder. In fact, it's been so busy that it's hardly been at a standstill long enough to pen an update, which is why this one is late. Simply put, this Nissan is the most in-demand long-term vehicle we've ever had, racking up more miles and more long-distance trips than any LT vehicle in the Autoblog stable.

Much of that high demand stems from the inherent versatility of a three-row CUV, of course, but the Pathfinder is still a good representative of the breed. We should know – we've been piling on serious miles in our Mocha Stone and we've learned a lot. In the main, this is an accomplished freeway cruiser – not only does it deliver a refined ride thanks to that long, 114.2-inch wheelbase and pleasant suspension tuning, the interior of our top-rung Platinum model is downright luxurious.

Just as I did last year with its Ford Explorer arch rival, I drove our Pathfinder from the Greater Detroit area to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and even if the drives were a year apart, memories and a full sheaf of notes revealed some interesting differences between these two competitors.
Long-term 2013 Nissan Pathfinder with Wright Bros. plane replica

For one thing, I prefer the Nissan's interior – it feels more airy, not to mention somewhat better furnished. With its tan interior and massive panoramic moonroof, the openness is to be expected, but it also feels like there's more seating space inside. The Pathfinder's navigation and infotainment system is familiar fare, and while it lacks some of the bells and whistles of MyFord Touch, it's much easier to use and live with on a daily basis, and the always-excellent AroundView Monitor is particularly helpful in a vehicle of this size. That said, I do wish the screen and controls were an inch or two closer to the driver's seat.

Over the first 100 miles in zero traffic, we averaged 73 mph and 24.3 mpg according to the gauge cluster.

The continuously variable transmission, which I'm still not in love with, grates less on the interstate, too, as once you accelerate hard up the onramp to freeway speeds, you don't have to hear it momentarily engage in the 'stretched rubberband' sound that CVTs are notorious for. The CVT's raison d'être is clearly fuel economy, and in that regard, the Nissan's performs admirably. My trip only involved three adults, but we folded the remaining seats and packed the Pfinder to the roof with beach clutter, and we still netted handsome numbers. We even had a fast start – over the first 100 miles in zero traffic, we averaged 73 mph and 24.3 mpg according to the gauge cluster (we've found the latter to be surprisingly accurate against our own calculations). That strikes us as hugely impressive for a 4,500-pound, all-wheel-drive crossover. The CVT's wide ratio bandwidth means that at 70 mph, the 3.5-liter V6 just loafs along at turning under 2,000 revs.

Thanks to a few traffic snags and the usual battery of fuel, food and bio breaks, our average speed plummeted to a still-respectable 56 mph, but even so, we racked up an impressive 23 mpg over 875 miles. That's two mpg under the EPA's highway rating, but in light of the fact that we were fully loaded, lead-footed, hit traffic and travelled through the mountains of Pennsylvania, the 25 mpg window sticker rating strikes us as eminently achievable. Given that the Pathfinder also has a larger fuel tank than the Explorer (19.5 gallons), a cruising range of 500 miles should be within reach.

Long-term 2013 Nissan Pathfinder in OBX with Wright Bros. monument

I put over 1,800 miles on our Pathfinder in eight days, and I'd happily do it all over again.

On the less flattering side of the ledger, our long day's journey into night allowed us to uncover a few sore spots. Most importantly, the long-distance comfort of the seats was the subject of some debate, with some feeling they were fine while others wished for more lower back support. Secondly, I wish the CVT had some sort of manual gate with pre-selected ratios for engine braking and towing scenarios – as it is, on long, steep downhill grades, you have little recourse beyond knocking the overdrive switch. Satellite radio reception also left something to be desired in the aforementioned mountains of the Keystone State. We've done this same drive with satellite radio at least a half-dozen times, and we don't recall having intermittent reception issues quite so frequently (weather wasn't an issue). Finally – and this is admittedly a niggle – at freeway speeds, the climate control system's lowest setting isn't quite low enough. One can always redirect air to the footwells and windshield, but it's nice refreshing to have a bit of a cool breeze without drying out one's contact lenses. For whatever it's worth, I don't recall ever having this issue in a vehicle before.

All-in, I put over 1,800 miles on our Pathfinder in eight days, and I'd happily do it all over again. It may not be the type of vehicle that sets our hearts aflame, but it's hugely useful, gets excellent fuel economy and is downright Infiniti posh in highline trim. As far as Griswoldian family vacation cruisers go, our long-term Pathfinder is right up there with the very best.