2013 Family Crossover Comparison - Day Three

A. J. Mueller Patrick M Hoey

2013 Nissan Pathfinder vs. 2013 Toyota Highlander

2013 Nissan Pathfinder Platinum 4WD

The Nissan Pathfinder has been like an aging rock star struggling for relevance. One of the progenitors of the SUV craze, it fell to the wayside as the segment evolved. But now the all-new 2013 Nissan Pathfinder has found itself some new managers and is aiming for the top of the charts.

Much like the opening lines of a catchy pop song, the Pathfinder's styling is at once fresh and a little familiar. A flowing Coke-bottle shape clearly communicates that this is now a unibody, carlike crossover rather than a body-on-frame truck. Nissan designers also resisted their weirder impulses (reference the Cube, Juke, and Murano CrossCabriolet) and instead went for what one of us describes as "proportional and clean" and another thinks is "anonymously attractive."

Living the Crossover Life
The interior likewise aims for the segment's sweet spot. First- and second-row passengers have acres of space. The third row feels more hospitable than the specifications (30.7 inches of legroom) would suggest. "The optional moonroof helps brighten things back there," notes deputy editor Joe DeMatio.

Nissan is more adventurous with interior materials than most mainstream brands. Berber-weave floor mats and a nicely grained, almond-color dash warm up the cabin and further distance this crossover from its SUV forerunner. It's also worth noting that the materials are mostly the same hard plastics that we knock in competitors like the Toyota Highlander; Nissan's designers deserve credit for figuring out how to work with the cheap stuff in an impressive way. At $44,395, you pay for such details, of course.

Power with Responsibility
We thought Nissan's notoriously noisy 3.5-liter V-6 and a continuously variable transmission (CVT) would be a match made in hell. In fact, the engine and transmission get along reasonably well. The V-6's growl signifies 260 hp and 240 lb-ft of torque, and it sounds infinitely better than the buzzy four-cylinders we typically associate with CVTs. It's hard to argue with the results, since the Pathfinder's fuel-economy rating of 19 mpg city/25 mpg highway edges out the rest of the pack. "Pretty impressive for a large, four-wheel-drive crossover," notes DeMatio.

In driving environments representative of the typical crossover experience -- say on the freeway or in the parking lot at Chuck E. Cheese -- we enjoyed the Pathfinder's linear steering and comfortable ride. Even so, the 4471-pound crossover had a tough time hiding its size when pushed in corners.

Some of our more aged, tenured editors wistfully recalled what a sensation the original Nissan Pathfinder had been in the 1990s, when its snappy made-in-America design set it apart from mainstream trucks. Today's 2013 Nissan Pathfinder, like most of the pop songs on the radio in this new century, is polished and professional, if not particularly memorable. Yet, just as teens no longer line up to listen to rockabilly, most American families no longer want to drive around the suburbs in a truck. - David Zenlea

2013 Toyota Highlander Limited V6

The 2013 Toyota Highlander is in many respects the grand dame of this segment. Toyota started offering a third row in the Highlander back in 2004 to make it an alternative to minivans and bulky, full-size SUVs. The second-generation model introduced in 2008 remains a strong seller that we simply can't ignore, even though an all-new version (based on the Camry, just as here) is on the horizon. Yet the opportunity to drive the 2013 Highlander back-to-back with its newer competitors provides evidence of the way this segment has evolved.

The most notable shift is in size. The Highlander finds itself on the small end of this group, more like a mid-size crossover with bonus seats in back than a dedicated three-row vehicle. (It's still a bit bigger than other 'tweeners like the three-row Kia Sorento and Mitsubishi Outlander.) Toyota makes up some ground with smart packaging. The second-row center seat, for instance, folds neatly into the front center armrest. Still, the Highlander's third row seats were more cramped than those of any other vehicle in this group.

No Offense
The 2013 Highlander also betrays its age with its austere styling. There's nothing offensive about the Highlander's sheetmetal, but neither is there anything interesting. The interior proves versatile when it comes to utility, but it's trimmed throughout with rental-car plastics, which is noticeable in a vehicle priced at $41,855. "Toyota needs to get its act together in terms of interior quality," notes road test editor Christopher Nelson. That said, some appreciated the Highlander's minimalism. "I like the slim A-pillars, the shallow dash, and the ability to sense the front of the vehicle," says deputy editor Joe DeMatio.

The Highlander's hallmark remains its hassle-free driving experience. Although all the crossovers we tested drive like cars, the 2013 Highlander convinces you it really is a car. Credit the Camry-derived underpinnings and a silky smooth, 270-hp V-6 that gets 17 mpg city/22 mpg highway. Mind you, we're not talking about a very interesting or sporty car. The 4464-pound Highlander features the same flaccid steering and soupy handling that knocked the Camry out of contention in our recent comparison test of mid-size cars. There are, no doubt, plenty of buyers who desire an effortless, isolated driving experience, but they don't read Automobile Magazine.

Some Respect, Please
Even if we don't love the 2013 Toyota Highlander, we left this test with a healthy respect for it. "As old as this crossover is, it's still quite good," concludes DeMatio. Yet among this group of new and recently updated models, that's not quite good enough. An all-new, significantly larger Toyota Highlander debuts later this year. If it can build on the strengths of the outgoing car, Toyota should again have a formidable contender. For now it will have to settle for an honorable first-round exit. - David Zenlea

Winner: 2013 Nissan Pathfinder

2 of 2
Adam Gardner
Wife and I test drove used 2011-2012's, Mazda CX-9, Honda Pilot and Chevy Traverse. The CX-9 was fun to drive, but was lacking in cargo space and third row seartim
I really am beside myself on this one.  The Traverse is given demerits for doing the family thing and not being a sports car.   Automobile magazine or not you don't have to rate every vehicle for being the most sports car like.   Maybe do the readers a true service and rate all-around vehicles for being the best at intended purpose.   Putting what would probably have been the top 2 in a true comparison and bracketing one out early does your readership an injustice.   Stick to traditional comparison tests.
I like the Dodge Durango but do not care for the rotary tranny selector.  Rather have the tranny located on the dash or steering with a rod to move instead of a knob. Like the Towing capability and the V6.
The new 8 speed tranny for Dodge may help it, but not sure the mileage with improve much and the problems with new autos can be more than one wants to chance. Have some questions about the new diesel that they are putting out in their new models. You may be able to save fuel driving it, but will you save any money by the time you pay extra for the engine and upkeep? You have to use that urea with it and the maintenance is more on a diesel...  just look at the oil changes costs.
Plus,  Dependability and reliability is not what Dodges are known for and latest survey from JD Power put them way below the average of problems per 100 vehicles.  GM did excellent in the survey,  BTW.I am not a big fan of Honda.(having owned a few) ..they are living on past glories but, now ...they have sorta lost their way and the completion passed them by.  Their autos are not cheap to buy, but you do not get much more than 4 wheels and an engine. ...Have a CR-V and it is the noisiest auto I have even driven. So much wind and road noise, think I am riding a Honda bike. Hard l slick plastic interior and real noisy. Everything in the glove compartment and pockets broadcast thru out the auto.. No other nice features,like other autos,  period.  Have some real problems with their backup camera, too.   Hyundai gives you lots more features and auto for your dollar. Honda is still using a ROD for hood support....like like someone holding up their hood with a broom stick. ..my too cheap to buy struts to support the hood...how cheap can one company get?  Toyota and Honda has been slow to adopt higher gears trannys or direct injection engines, etc. Some are going to those terrible CVT like Nissan has.  Nice to see GM and Dodge stay with some gears.  Ford is still doing more gears trannys, I understand.
The Traverse has the battery in the passenger compartment.... great way to ruin your carpet and in a roll over not too smart. Had a few battery exploded on some of my autos in the past and it is not good. Like it under the hood and not inside or in the trunk.
The Mazda is a nice auto but its mileage is no better than a pickup.  The C7 was discontinued, which I liked.  They did do away with the premium gas requirement which was good.   Will not buy an auto that requires premium gas and many of the small turbo autos today are requiring it along with many others. Now, Mazda it trying something new with the their engines and tranny and too early to see how that has played out.Have owned Hyundai and their V6s are not that peppy.   Had good luck with it for most of the time.   Their big warranty is just a marketing tool and not that good of a warranty...  It has some may loopholes in it that make it worthless, in my experiences.  But they have come up in the world and making better autos than years ago.  Nice and quiet and well appointed interiors.I fail to understand why the auto makes are going to larger tire sizes, except to be able to charge you more.  Like 17 in. sizes best..more reasonable to buy and and nice size and riding.   Had 18s and they were much more money and riding was not that good.I will wait to see how and why they selected their winner.   They ruled out the Dodge, Chevy and Toyota.
i see wen choosing crossovers we really can't listen to automobile mag at all, the Traverse did everything better and you chose the lesser one Wow where they do that at oooh at automobile mag 
Carloz Lopez
Frank Linzner
Gentlemen u have to be kidding about the My Ford Touch being hard to use.  In trying to read ur article I tried repeatedly to click on day 4 of the  ute comparison only to be presented with the Lincoln MKZ hybrid article.  I ultimately gave up trying to read the complete article.  The My Ford Touch system is infinitely easier to use than trying to read this comparison.  Talk about non intutive.  I also agree with Alfonso Alvarez in that u need to make evaluations of vehicles based on why people buy these vehicles.  People don't buy an SUV to go canyon carving or looking for the highest skidpad #'s. 
Jim Collis
The web team that put this together should be able to put better navigation into this article.  You can't get there from here.
Balamirr Sunguralp
the chevy traverse is my choice it does everything you want it to do, automoblie mag yall are bias 
David Desilet
I think this should have waited until the new Highlander came along, so I say Mazda and Pathfinder
Danny Wang
Chevrolet Traverse for higher tow rating, payload, cargo space and cross-band radio presets
Diesel Gould
This is nothing more than a Detroit 3 vs Asian comparison.  Automobile should have stated that right off.  Why not compare the Explorer vs Traverse, Pilot vs CX-9, Pathfinder vs Highlander, and Durango vs Santa Fe instead?   When people cross shop, if they are of import type, they wouldn't look at D3 offering.  And vice versa.  No wonder all 3 Detroit vehicles were eliminated in the first round, despite their sales number.  
Steven Barahona
Ford explorer
So the Traverse is more practical, has a more comfortable interior, and does everything a crossover is supposed to do better than the CX-9, and yet the Mazda wins because it reminds you of a miata???? 
Stanton Slocum
traverse and pathfinder
Kyree S. Williams
Do keep in mind that, unlike with most large CUVs, the Lambda platform that the Traverse and its siblings sit on is a direct replacement for the U-Body minivans, and so basically the Lambda vehicles *are* minivans without the unfashionable sliding-doors.
Kyree S. Williams
I'm going to go with Mazda CX-9 and Nissan Pahtfinder. Let's see if I'm right :P
Ahmed Barrasali
Traverse is very heavy, and you fell like will roll over in corners. The CX-9 is much brattier.
Rahul Singh
Mazda cx-9
Rajiv Radhakrishnan
Mike Dunlap
Mazda all the way. With the new 3, they have the best lineup of cars and SUVs on the market!
Tim Lucas
I like the Chevy and the Mazda. The Toyota and the Nissan are the 2 most boring in the segment!
Alfonso T. Alvarez
@stantons27 Absolutely - I have several vehicles for different needs - so this lame-assed reviewer thinks that they should make their decision on what CUV is superior based upon criteria that has absolutely nothing to do with what those of us who buy these base our decisions on??SHAME ON YOU AUTOMOBILE mag - see, this is why your subscription rates continue to sink into the abyss!!
I am an enthusiast who buys different vehicles based upon their appropriateness for my needs!
I don't buy a sports car to autocross based upon trunk capacity!! I don't buy a dual sport motorcycle based upon skid pad data!!Seriously, if you don't want to continue to sink into the toilet in ratings, GROW UP and start to review vehicles based upon their targeted market - not ludicrous and moronic nonsense that has absolutely NOTHING to do with the segment a vehicle competes in!!
Those of us who buy vehicles in this segment VALUE passenger comfort and capacity!!  I have two kids, when we go to our cottage, many times our kids bring friends, so the third row room is vitally important!!
You don't have kids??  Then try to understand what these vehicles are used for and stop being so asinine!!
@Alfonso T. Alvarez +1

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