Twin Test: 2013 Nissan Pathfinder vs 2012 Ford Explorer

On paper these are surprisingly close, so which would we drive home?

By Shahzad Sheikh

2013 Nissan Pathfinder vs 2012 Ford Explorer

The all-new 2013 Nissan Pathfinder is the fourth generation car of its lineage – but the last three generations have been entirely distinct cars with barely any common thread through them.

The first and second-generation Pathfinders, for example, were affordable and usable off-roaders that welcomed and took abuse. The third generation version, kept some of the off-road ability, but went upmarket and upscale. Now this new one seems to be very much in the style of a family-friendly Crossover, and less of an over off-roader altogether.

But does that make it a bad car? To find out, and to try and make some sense of the Pathfinder, we decided to put it in a head-to-head with another 7-seater priced at around the same money, also featuring a 3.5-litre V6 and four-wheel drive, the Ford Explorer.

IMPORTANT NOTE! The Ford Explorer you see in these pictures is the range-topping 365bhp twin-turbo Ford Explorer Sport (priced at AED210k [$57k]. If offers impressively quick progress, has bigger brakes, stiffer suspension and looks absolutely fantastic thanks to black exterior trim and those cool wheels). However for comparison purposes we are considering the regular 290bhp Explorer (AED135k-205k [$37k-$56k]) against the 254bhp Pathfinder (AED125k-174,500 [$34k-48k]).

Both cars also offer base-level two-wheel drive versions with the same engines priced at AED120k ($$33k) and AED115,700 ($32k) for the Explorer and Pathfinder respectively.
Scroll down and click through the pictures to read our pictorial twin-test, or read the text below –

2013 Nissan Pathfinder vs 2012 Ford Explorer

Style Stakes

2012 Ford Explorer 4/5
This is such an easy win for the Family Ford – after all it looks so good that some would argue Land Rover copied some of its style for its Range Rover line-up. It’s a far cry from the blocky old Explorer, and is handsome, sleek (for an SUV) and utterly contemporary to behold. Very appealing.

2013 Nissan Pathfinder 2/5
Sadly for the Nissan, this is a very dull and rather confusing and indistinct design. After all, we can barely tell what it is. Is it an SUV, a Crossover, or actually a people-carrier – well it’s all three of course, but the styling is uncertain and wavy waistlines don’t serve to add any interest to the looks.

2013 Nissan Pathfinder vs 2012 Ford Explorer

Are we comfy?

2012 Ford Explorer 3.5/5
It’s a full seven seater with a third row that folds flat into the floor. Both cars have about the same amount of cargo space, and they’re remarkably similar, both have great interior space, good comfort, cupholders in identical places, and are well kitted out. The Ford manages to feel more solid and boasts a nicer more inviting and interesting interior. The touch buttons may not be to everyone’s liking but at least they do listen to feedback, as evidenced by a proper hazard button now – previously an awkward touch system. There’s lots of cool showroom appeal in this car.

2013 Nissan Pathfinder 4/5
The Pathfinder counters with a sliding middle row seat bench, adding to legroom for the last row, although taller people will find their knees up near their ears in the back. The flat-folding third row seats are far less complex and quicker to operate, though not as impressive as the flip-and-rotate action of the Explorer’s. Pathfinder also has a wider tailgate opening, and very useful 360-degree camera views allowing you to easily park it.

2013 Nissan Pathfinder vs 2012 Ford Explorer

How they drive?

2012 Ford Explorer 3/5
The seating position, the height, the visibility the angle of the screen, even the style of the controls and the upright dashboard, all serve to give you the impression of driving an SUV. This is reflected by the driving experience itself too. It feels like a big car from behind the wheel, substantial and significant, closer in spirit to its cousins in the full-size Truck range, like the F-150, and considering the popularity of those vehicles, that’s probably no coincidence. It’s not a car you’ll be hurling around corners, but a satisfying high-riding cruiser.

2013 Nissan Pathfinder 3.5/5
Compared to the Explorer, the Pathfinder feels much more car-like to drive, again blurring the line between SUV and Crossover. But this does mean that it’s an easy, effortless drive and it also handles, goes and stops better. The CVT gearbox lets the side down, aside from the droning, it seems to take forever to wind itself up to speed when you accelerate, it’s just a perception of course, because the Pathfinder’s quick enough, but perception counts.

2013 Nissan Pathfinder vs 2012 Ford Explorer

The verdict

1st place: 2012 Ford Explorer 4/5
2nd place: 2013 Nissan Pathfinder 3.5/5

This is a close one, closer than I thought it would be. I honestly started out this comparison already biased against the Pathfinder. I feel that it is a dilution of the hardy and acclaimed nameplate, so I wanted to be really annoyed with it. But slowly it won me over.

It is an eminently sensible, practical and user-friendly people mover that certainly appeals to the family man in me. There is very little to fault it, the price is good, the drive is actually pretty decent – you can almost forgive the CVT transmission – and the comfort and undisputed reliability should have won the day. And for most people it will.

Except that for me, this is not a car that I would turn back to look at after parking it, it’s not one that got the kids very excited or impressed the wife. The butch attitude of the Explorer, the svelte styling, the surprise and delight showroom appeal of the interior gives the Ford an edge.

There’s also a sense of sturdiness and rugged assurance that’s missing from the Nissan (though we don’t doubt for a minute the Pathfinder’s durability). At the end of the day though, it’s down to desirability. If my choice was only from these two cars, I’d happily ACCEPT the Nissan, but I’d WANT the Ford.

2013 Nissan Pathfinder
Price: AED125k-174,500 [$34k-48k]
Engine: 3.5-litre V6, 254bhp @ 6400rpm, 240lb ft @ 4400rpm
Performance: 7.8secs 0-100kph (est), 195kph (est), 10.2L/100
Transmission: CVT auto, four-wheel drive
Weight: 1946kg

2012 Ford Explorer
Price: AED135k-205k [$37k-$56k]
Engine: 3.5-litre V6, 290bhp @ 6500rpm, 263lb ft @ 1600-5000rpm
Performance: 8.1secs 0-100kph, 200kph, 10.2L/100
Transmission: six-speed auto, four-wheel drive
Weight: 2130kg

So which would it be for you? Sensible reliability or rugged charm? Let us know which one you would have below.

7 responses to “Twin Test: 2013 Nissan Pathfinder vs 2012 Ford Explorer”

  1. jatin says:

    Reminded me of reading CARS magazine . 🙂 Hope to see read more these twin tests .

  2. Joel P says:

    Is there any issues reported in the middle east about the problem north american consumer is facing regarding the transmission.

    • admin says:

      [Imthishan] The car’s just been introduced into the market, so there aren’t any complaints about the transmission on file…yet. While we had it on test, there were no issues to report. We’ll keep an eye on the situation.

  3. John says:

    The Explorer looks way sexier than the Pathfinder…Great review! Made my day!

  4. Luis says:

    I am ready to buy one of these cars, but a Pathfinder (mid option, 150k) or Explorer XLT 160k ???
    Nissan suggests oil maintenance every 5000Km instead of Ford every 10000Km.
    Warranty it’s almost the same, but, Ford offer 6 oil services, and consumable parts. Nissan only the first service.
    I think that is the reason the difference of 10k.
    What do you suggests?
    What about petrol consumption? It is the same for both?.
    Best Regards

    • admin says:

      [Imthishan] If ease of maintenance is your priority, I’d recommend the Ford, if only because you spend less time in the service centre. Petrol consumption wise, they’re both about the same.

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