2013 Nissan Pathfinder switches to unibody

  • 24-Aug-2012 02:40 EDT
2013 Pathfinder 3:4 view.jpg

"This Pathfinder has a very uniquely American fingerprint because we were able to incorporate the needs of our market very early on," said Nissan's Dan Heur. The 2013 Pathfinder will be available in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico in the fall of 2012. Information on other export markets will be announced at a later date.


Compared to prior Pathfinder models, the 2013 crossover SUV had more input from technical specialists at the Nissan Technical Center North America  (NTCNA) in Farmington Hills, MI.

“The previous generation Pathfinder was a combination of Frontier, Xterra, and Pathfinder—all off the same platform and done by the same designer in Japan. We pulled those apart this time, and we actually worked from the very beginning on all of the elements of styling and performance, including doing all of the digital reviews and all of the physical testing at NTCNA,” Carla Bailo, Senior Vice President, Research & Development, Nissan Americas, told AEI.

Nissan engineers in Japan were responsible for the platform, including chassis components, as well as powertrain development. Final tuning of the Pathfinder’s chassis and powertrain was handled by engineers at NTCNA. Bailo said that, over the next three years, the intention is for NTCNA engineers to “start working on the powertrains and the platforms from the beginning.”

The all-new fourth-generation Pathfinder essentially shaves 300 lb (136 kg) from the base S and the SV models and slashes 500 lb (227 kg) from the SL and Premium editions that are stocked with more standard equipment.

Dan Heur, Pathfinder’s Assistant Chief Vehicle Engineer told AEI, “The biggest change (in weight) can be accounted for by the vehicle’s unibody structure as well as a shift to a smaller engine. The CVT is also lighter than the five-speed automatic transmission on the previous model.”

The 2012 Pathfinder was powered by a choice of engines: a 5.6-L V8 producing 310 hp (231 kW) at 5200 rpm and 388 lb·ft (526 N·m) at 3400 rpm, or a 4.0-L V6 with 266 hp (198 kW) at 5600 rpm and 288 lb·ft (390 N·m) at 4000 rpm. In contrast, the 2013 Pathfinder is powered by a 3.5-L V6 rated at 260 hp (194 kW) at 6400 rpm and 240 lb·ft (325 N·m) at 4400 rpm that mates to a next-generation Xtronic continuously variable transmission supplied by Jatco.

A more efficient air-conditioning system, lighter front and rear axles, as well as high-strength steels (HSSs) also play a key role in the Pathfinder’s re-do.

According to David Coakley, Senior Manager of Body Systems Design Engineering, NTCNA, the new Pathfinder uses HSS in the A- and B-pillars, the sills, front rails, underbody center rails, underbody rear rails, upper rail (above the doors), as well as the roof bow at the B-pillar.

Heur said that the use of HSS enabled engineers to trim vehicle weight but still get “the crash performance, NVH, and torsional stiffness performance that our customers expect with this type of vehicle.”

According to Coakley, the 2013 model’s overall trim torsional stiffness improved by approximately 60% vs. the 2012 vehicle. Pathfinder’s aerodynamics also improved, going from a 0.38 Cd on the 2012 model to 0.34 Cd on the 2013 model.

The latest Pathfinder shares key attributes with the 2013 Infiniti JX luxury crossover, which has been in the U.S. marketplace since April 2012.

Heur noted, “The two vehicles are both built on the same platform and share some major drivetrain components, yet both are very different. All exterior sheet metal is unique to each vehicle as are the major interior components.”

An interior feature employed on the JX and Pathfinder is the EZ Flex Seating System with the patent-pending Latch and Glide feature. “The passenger-side second-row seat has a lower assembly structure that enables a dual functionality,” said Heur.

The Latch and Glide feature enables the seat bottom to fold up against the seat back and slide forward. If a child-restraint system is installed, the seat assembly (seat back, bottom, and structure) tips down, and the entire assembly slides forward approximately 15 in (381 mm) to ease access to the third row.

In addition to the Latch and Glide system, NTCNA engineers have applied for 27 other patents on the Pathfinder.

“The pending patents cover innovations throughout the entire vehicle, addressing needs in the body structure to meet our mass reduction and aero-targets as well as interior parts to improve usability and styling requirements,” Heur said. There are additional patents tied to the platform and powertrain that originated with work done at Nissan’s technical center in Japan.

The Pathfinder, which offers selectable 2WD, auto, or 4WD modes for the available 4x4-intelligent system, improves the fuel economy by 30% over the 2012 model. For the FWD vehicle, which has a mass of 4149 lb (1882 kg), the mpg numbers are 20 city and 26 highway. The 4WD model, at 4290 lb (1946 kg), has mpg numbers of 19 city and 25 highway.

Standard towing capacity is 5000 lbs (2270 kg) for the crossover vehicle with an overall length of 196.9 in (5001 mm) and an overall height of 69.6 in (1768 mm) without roof rails.

Pathfinder assembly is at Nissan’s Smyrna, TN, facility, while engine assembly is at the automaker’s Decherd, TN, plant. Starting MSRP is $28,270 without destination charge.

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