They were once based on rugged pickup trucks, but now the Nissan Pathfinder and Ford Explorer get their DNA from a passenger car. Although they're officially crossovers, both have retained much of their original capability while adding decent efficiency and manueverability to the mix.
Given their revised roles in the marketplace, which is better positioned to assume family-hauling duties?
Why We Like the Pathfinder
The Pathfinder lost 500 pounds in its transition to a crossover, but it's hard to tell where it went. The interior seats seven adults in impressive comfort, even in the third row. With the seats neatly folded, there's 80 cubic feet of cargo space. The Pathfinder's 5,000-pound towing capacity isn't too far below the old model's.
What buyers gain in everyday driveability is significant. The Pathfinder handles easily and cruises with the smoothness and quiet of a large sedan. The 260-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 takes it from zero to 60 mph in 8 seconds and delivers 22 mpg in combined driving, or 21 mpg with all-wheel drive, terrific efficiency for a seven-passenger vehicle. The interior is especially well-constructed and quite attractive, especially in top Platinum trim.
Why We Like the Explorer
The Ford impresses us most with its highly refined, technology-laden interior for seven. The upscale finishes feel both luxurious and durable, and noise levels are soothingly low. Adding to the allure are features such the Sync voice-command system, the MyFord Touch electronic interface, and second-row seat belt airbags. The Explorer also offers adaptive control control with collision warning, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, and active parking assist.
The standard 290-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 provides commendable overall performance, although buyers can choose a 240-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder for increased fuel efficiency. There's also a new Sport model that carries a potent turbo V6 with 385 horsepower in addition to a firmer suspension and more aggressive trim. Notably, the Explorer's available all-wheel drive system allows drivers to select one of four road conditions for optimal traction.
The Best of Both
Both crossovers have a pleasant, car-like demeanor that should play well with most families. The Pathfinder gets the nod for efficiency, while the Explorer scores on overall sophistication.
Our Verdict: Ford Explorer
The Explorer's high content and refined interior make it a standout in this class.