First Drive: Nissan Sentra & Pathfinder

By Barbara Schaffer

Napa Valley, Calif. ? Business is good at Nissan.? The company has become the second largest Asian brand globally and has increased its share of the U.S. market to 8.2 percent.? In fact, in 2011, U.S. sales grew to more than one million units, up 17.3 percent from the previous year.? Nissan?s success comes from many factors, but the biggest reason is it products ? good products.

To keep the momentum going, starting earlier in 2012, with the introduction of the all-new Altima, Nissan?s 15-month schedule called for the introduction of five all-new vehicles.? I recently had a chance to drive numbers two and three of the five, the Sentra and Pathfinder, and with good new products like these, Nissan?s future looks even rosier.

Nissan Sentra

After building 4.3 million Sentra?s in North America over the last 30 years, Nissan is shipping its seventh generation Sentra.

All new for Sentra, means from the ground up with a new lighter platform, which shrinks the Sentra by 150 pounds.? That might not seem like much, but on a 2,800-pound car, it?s a significant cut that helps increase the fuel economy.

What I like best about the new Sentra sedan is the more upscale look.? No cheap looking small car here, the Sentra adopts Nissan bold new signature trapezoid-shaped grille and large wraparound headlights, which also include the trendy new LED accents.? This is the only car in the compact segment with the LEDs.? The rear taillights are LED too.

With its lower beltline, more dimensional character lines and aggressive stance, the Sentra to a major step up from the previous generation.? The ?richer? look of the Senta is best seen inside that cabin where the materials look and feel more opulent with soft-touch materials on the dash and armrest.? Some models even have plush leather seating surfaces.? Even the gauges are electroluminescent, adding to the luxurious look.

?? Sentra has one of the largest interiors in this compact class pushing into the mid-size space range and topping its competitors. The trunk is also a large 15.7 cubic feet, rivaling many larger sedans.

An all-new 1.8-liter DOHC lurks under the hood of the new Sentra producing 130 horsepower.? The base model S has a standard six-speed manual transmission, but all the other models have the new second generation Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT).? I think the Nissan CVT is the industry best, and this latest version is a step up.? In tweaking this new CVT, engineers were able to reduce the weight of the transmission by 13 percent and friction by 30 percent.? However, I wish that it came with paddle shifters or some sort of manual shifting ability.? Combined with the engine changes, weight loss and a few other modifications, the drivetrain now produces a best in class EPA rating of 34 mpg combined, or 30 mpg city and 39 mpg highway.


The Sentra seats are on the soft side, which I prefer.? The steering and suspension are about right for a normal driver, but may lack a little of the feel and control a more aggressive driver will demand.? However, this is a car designed for comfortable transportation and not racing, so I think it?s right on target.

Technological savvy shoppers will appreciate the new NissanConnectSM system with navigation, Pandora radio capability and a nifty Hands-Free Text Messaging Assistant.? Like many of the new systems, it includes features like NavTraffic, and NavWeather , point of interest searches by Google and the ability to sync a destination from a phone or computer so it doesn?t have to be programmed in the car.? It also includes a rear view camera.

Sentra comes in four trim levels: S, SV, SR, SL and the more economical FE+ version of the S and SV models.? The FE+ version adds a unique rear spoiler, underbody aero dynamics and low rolling resistance tires all designed to eke out a little better fuel economy.

Prices start at $16,770 for the Sentra S with manual transmission and go to $20,590 for the SL with its 17-inch alloy wheels, heated outside mirrors, automatic temperature control and many other features.? Notable options include the high value navigation package for $650 and a $1,200 premium package, which adds power moonroof, Bose audio (for the first time in the Senta) and auto dimming mirror.

The new Sentra is easily one of top picks in the highly competitive compact sedan category.

Nissan Pathfinder

It is my experience, that as most people grow older and wiser they tend to gravitate to things that are more comfortable and refined.? The same seems to be happening to Nissan?s middle level SUV the Pathfinder.

At earlier stages of life, Pathfinder was a rugged, highly capable, off-the-beaten path style SUV built in the original and traditional body on frame structure — actually a modified version of a truck.? The fourth generation, which is now on sale, has taken the older and wiser theme to heart with a new softer side that is much more refined and comfortable than previous versions.

For the first time the Pathfinder rides on a unibody platform that allowed engineers to increase interior space, smooth out the ride quality and deliver better fuel economy to owners.? Much of the fuel economy story comes from dropping 500 pounds of ugly steel and other materials in the process.? People requiring towing capabilities, should fear not, however, because this new Pathfinder has best-in-class 5,000-pound towing capabilities.? And while it might not have the hard-core off-road capabilities of earlier versions, it still easily handles most off pavement situations.? Someone that wants the real off-road capabilities should be looking at the Nissan Xterra.

The new Pathfinder is essentially a Nissan version of the plush and sophisticated Infinity JX35.? In my estimation, that is a good thing, because I love JX for its great styling, sophistication and performance.

The new Pathfinder has a great trim muscular look with smooth arches over the wheel and a new adaptation of the Nissan family grille.? The Pathfinder grille has strong angled chrome bars appear to be flanked by winged headlight pods.? Combined they create the look of one unit, which then sweeps back into the hood and fenders. ?The entire body is beautifully executed and it?s very aerodynamic.

With the new longer and wider Pathfinder body (4.6-inches longer and 4.3-inches wider), the interior gains an additional 8.4 cubic feet of room.?? This makes a comfortable and usable space with room for seven passengers in three rows.? As always, row three is a tight fit, but with the flat floor, courtesy of the unibody platform, Nissan engineers have been able to create an innovative new EzFlex? seating system for the second and third rows, which allows the second row to adjust to allocate legroom where it?s most needed.? The system also slides forward allowing much easier passenger access to the third row.? When a massive cargo space is required, the two rear rows fold flat to create nearly 80 cubic feet of space.

The driver gets an upscale workstation with plush soft-touch surfaces and abundant wood surrounds. ??But the best part is the innovative driver assists on the instrument panel like the Advanced Drive-Assist? Display, the large multifunction center IT display and the Nissan Navigation system that has all the cool traffic, weather, information and entertainment systems.? Probably most impressive and innovative is the Around View? monitor that provides the driver a virtual 360-degree image of the area around the vehicle ? it?s something like an out of body experience where you are flying a few feet over the Pathfinder looking down.

Nissan?s award winning V-6 engine powers the new Pathfinder.? Replacing a V-8 and larger 4.0-liter V-6 from the previous generation, the new 260-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 combines with the new generation Xtronic CVT to produce a combined 22 mpg fuel economy (20 mpg city and 26 mpg highway) for front-wheel drive models.? The four-wheel drive model sips about one mpg less.

The Pathfinders intuitive four-wheel drive system is perfect for people who typically buy this type of SUV.? The system allows the driver to select full-time two-wheel drive, automatic four-wheel drive (that activates when slippage is expected) or a four-wheel drive lock.? The system includes a Hill Start Assist that works with both two- and four-wheel drive.

The Pathfinder comes in four trim levels from least expensive are the S, SV, SL and Platinum, and a choice of front- or four-wheel drive.? Pricing ranges from $29,095, including the $825 destination charge, for the 2WD S up to $39,995 for the Platinum.? Four-wheel drive is $1,600 extra.? Options are limited to a couple of entertainment packages on the upper level models and a tow package.

The more upscale new Pathfinder has a high level of features with the Platinum model boasting standard features like heated and cooled front seats, 20-inch aluminum wheels, the Around View Monitor, Navigation and Bose audio.?? Included on the Platinum and SL are remote engine starts, leather seating and power rear liftgate.

Nissan has done a great job on the new Pathfinder offering a high level of sophistication and comfort.? One feature I missed, however, was the ability to manually shift the CVT.? Some Nissan models like the Altima have paddle shifters and manual shift modes, and I think the Pathfinder wishes it had them.

The Nissan Pathfinder is impressive and should be on the shopping list of anyone looking for a family SUV or crossover.????

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