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If you’ve been watching the automotive space you couldn’t have missed the creeping growth of the CVT into model lines. It seems to be the automatic gearbox of choice, especially in model lines that have engines of a certain torque band. And in this field Nissan seems to have taken leadership position with many of its most popular car and SUV models being kitted out with the compact transmission.

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We’ve been quite critical of the trend, having had history with CVTs that have packed up under high load conditions, although over the years the category has fought back with improvements. At its heart is the construction built on two adjustable pulleys with a steel belt in between. Compact, low cost and perfect for volume production, it is seen as a panacea by car manufacturers towards lowering cost and complexity of their platforms, while offering weight and space savings. New manufacturing technology paired with better software control of the ratios has resulted in CVTs that offer almost automatic gearbox feel under normal drive conditions, even holding designated ratios under engine braking conditions.

It’s this critical change that characterises this midlife upgrade of the Nissan Pathfinder. The more visible changes are of course connected with modernising the grille, playing around with headlight design and the obligatory tweaks of the external panels that offer a visible differentiation from the previous model year.

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The Nissan Pathfinder is a popular vehicle because of the package that it offers. The interiors are definitely best in the segment, with options available for light and tan colour interiors. The centre console stack is familiar to the model. The three-row seating has been thought out quite sensibly, easy access options to the third row and with headrest mounted displays available in the second row positions. 

Additionally the Pathfinder also throws in intelligent all-round view monitor through its suite of cameras, rear cross-traffic alert and a new generation of adaptive cruise control.

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The main powertrains on offer are the workhorse 3.5-litre V6 and 2.5-litre 4-cylinder units (the latter is on offer in the hybrid, coupled with an inline motor assist). The most likely choice is the 3.5-litre unit with its output of 271hp and 340Nm of torque. Coupled with the CVT, the engine is supposed to deliver an efficiency of 11.4 km/litre.

The Xtronic with D-step CVT is designed to mimic the shift patterns of an automatic gearbox. What this does is to override the natural tendency of the CVT to continuously move up and down its infinite ratios, to settle in on predetermined ‘stops’. This gives the connected variation in engine revs as well as a feel of stepping up or down. 

The launch event of the new Pathfinder for regional media was held in the emirate of Fujairah, with a combination of highway drive and a rather extended off-road course that took us into hilly terrain bordering the Governorate of Musandam. So we weren’t driving in sand but on rather rough tracks that involved steep climbs. At first the path seemed to be quite suited to the implied capabilities of the CVT equipped Pathfinder, till we then reached a point from where the cars were being sent up at intervals. That climb would remind you of some of the harsher trails that we are used to in the hills of Oman, with a steep gradient and sharp turns to go with the loosely graded track. The instructions were to keep up velocity and to avoid stopping anywhere.

We managed to get through around 80% of the climb, before our co-driver’s inexperience brought the engine revs down and then subjected the CVT to a degree of loading that it just couldn’t adapt to – this was the end of the climb attempt, with us switching over the support vehicle for the rest of the climb. Admittedly, the rest of the Pathfinders managed to make their way to the summit, so it gives you a good idea of the challenges that the CVT is capable of addressing. Yes, you are pushing the limits of what a CVT can do with a steep climb, especially one that also requires a lot of switchbacks.

The drive mode knob that allows the chassis to switch between FWD, an auto mode that selectively doles power to the rear wheels and a Lock mode that fixes the split define the off-road credentials of the transmission. The display graphic in the centre of the instrument panel shows the split between front and back.

On the drive down, we maximised the use of the hill descent function, that actually uses a low ratio on the CVT along with engine braking to avoid the necessity to brake continuously. What this does is allow the CVT to load up, but also has the downside that once the engine hits a rev limit, the ratio widens rather abruptly to the next step.

This confidence that Nissan displayed of pushing the new Pathfinder to these performance limits is also based on a tow capacity of 1500kgs and a very capable undercarriage consisting of independent struts at front and the compact multilink arrangement of the rear.

After the drive, we too had to agree that the new adventure plug that the brand is pushing for the Pathfinder is appropriate. While the Pathfinder doesn’t really have the underpinnings of the big brother Patrol, what it does is offer a great middle ground which allows owners to have a comfortable SUV that is quite capable of taking on most of the challenges that you are likely to face, without really trying to be an off-road champ. The midlife upgrade has made the Pathfinder quite desirable, complete with modern connectivity options, better driver aids and a refreshed design to partner with the better performance offering. It is also supposed to be priced at almost no change from the previous price points so the car will turn out to be quite a bargain. And this time around it is also being plugged with a huge range of lifestyle accessories like camping gear, cycle racks and roof racks that allow you to connect the Pathfinder with the adventure catchword.

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2017 Nissan Pathfinder

The seven-passenger 2017 Pathfinder is offered in 2-wheel drive and 4-wheel drive configurations and a choice of four well-equipped grade levels: S, SV, SL and Platinum. For 2017, the refreshed exterior goes even farther, adding a stronger sense of adventure, character and presence and continued fine-tuning of aero efficiency. The updated appearance incorporates the latest […]

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