For a long time, "hybrid" and "SUV" have been almost mutually exclusive -- not good if you're a fuel-conscious car shopper interested in combining hybrid gas mileage with SUV practicality. Yes, you could once get the Ford Escape Hybrid, but with its recent cancellation, the Toyota Highlander Hybrid was the only hybrid SUV that doesn't cost a fortune to buy.
Until now. Enter the 2014 Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid, a midsize SUV that offers 3-row seating and hybrid power for less than $40,000 -- a combination previously unknown among SUVs. While it's not especially fast, the Pathfinder Hybrid offers what many SUV shoppers are looking for: family practicality and good fuel economy. And considering how well it works, we're surprised more automakers don't try something similar.
What's New for 2014?
While the Nissan Pathfinder was totally redesigned for the 2013 model year, the Pathfinder Hybrid is all-new for 2014.
What We Like
Excellent gas mileage; reasonable pricing; practical for families
What We Don't
Not especially quick; cargo capacity could be a little better
The Pathfinder Hybrid offers just one engine and transmission combination: a 250-horsepower 2.5-liter hybrid 4-cylinder mated to a CVT automatic. It's rated at 25 miles per gallon city/28 mpg hwy with 2-wheel drive or 25 mpg city/27 mpg hwy with optional all-wheel drive.
Standard Features & Options
The Pathfinder Hybrid offers three trim levels: base-level SV, mid-level SL and luxurious Platinum.
Shoppers who choose the SV ($35,900) get 18-inch alloy wheels, tri-zone automatic climate control, remote keyless entry, split-folding second- and third-row seats, cruise control and a 6-disc CD changer.
Step up to the SL ($38,800) and you add leather upholstery, a remote engine starter, fog lights, heated front and rear seats, power front seats and a power rear lift gate. Opt for the SL's Premium Package ($1,700) and you'll get a panoramic sunroof and a Bose audio system.
Topping the Pathfinder Hybrid range is the upscale Platinum ($43,500), which adds 20-in alloy wheels, a navigation system with voice recognition and an 8-in touchscreen, Nissan's useful Around View Monitor camera system, Bluetooth Audio, heated and cooled front seats, a heated steering wheel, and a power tilt and telescoping steering wheel. For $2,200 extra, Platinum models also offer a Premium Package that includes a panoramic sunroof and a tri-zone rear entertainment system.
All Pathfinder Hybrid models include front side airbags, side-curtain airbags for all three rows, anti-lock brakes, stability control and traction control. Platinum models offer Nissan's useful Around View Monitor camera system, which gives drivers a 360-degree view around the vehicle -- an important item for low-speed driving in tight areas.
In government crash testing, the gas-powered Pathfinder earned four overall stars -- five in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's side-impact tests and four in front-impact and rollover assessments. While the Pathfinder Hybrid hasn't been tested, we'd expect it will perform similarly to the regular model.
Behind the Wheel
Like the normal Pathfinder, the Pathfinder Hybrid is a highly capable, well-mannered family crossover. Unlike the normal Pathfinder, there's one exception to the Pathfinder Hybrid's excellent on-road abilities: acceleration. While its 0-to-60 miles per hour time is around eight seconds, the Pathfinder Hybrid feels sluggish at higher speeds, such as passing on the highway. A 4-cylinder is just no match for the SUV's weight and size.
But many drivers will trade performance for fuel economy -- and we think that's a pretty good deal. After all, the Pathfinder Hybrid returns an excellent 25 mpg city, which is virtually unknown for midsize SUVs. And it does so with standard 3-row seating, a comfortable ride and a long list of standard equipment.
Beyond acceleration and gas mileage, we find the Pathfinder Hybrid to be very likable on the road. Steering is a bit numb, but the midsize crossover segment is hardly known for its sports-car-like handling. And while the CVT automatic is a little noisier than we'd like, it provides a smooth conduit for the Pathfinder Hybrid's power to reach the wheels.
Other Cars to Consider
Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel -- There's no third row, but the Grand Cherokee Diesel offers hybrid-rivaling gas mileage of 21 mpg city/28 mpg hwy. Its only problem is cost: Base pricing starts above $40,000.
Lexus RX Hybrid -- Like the mechanically similar Highlander Hybrid, the Lexus RX Hybrid offers more power than the Pathfinder, and better gas mileage. But there's no third row, and the Lexus starts at nearly $50,000 with shipping.
Toyota Highlander Hybrid -- The Pathfinder Hybrid's biggest competition is the Highlander Hybrid, which offers more power and better gas mileage. But it's also far more expensive, with base prices easily topping $40,000.
If you're looking for fuel economy and family practicality, we'd find it difficult to pass up the 2014 Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid. We recommend one of two models: For shoppers on a budget, go for a lightly optioned SV, as it's all you'll ever need. But if you want luxury, don't bother with the SL. Go straight for the high-end Platinum. Think of it as a Lexus RX Hybrid with a third row and you won't be disappointed.