If you take one cup of people mover, one cup of 4×4 off roader, and stir until combined, you get the modern-day large SUV. Let’s take a look at two main contenders, with the 2023 Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota Kluger.
One of the most popular contestants on the large SUV menu is the Toyota Kluger. But it’s not as popular as you might think. Sales for it have declined by a quarter, according to VFACTS figures from January to June 2023. Partly due to stock shortages. It trails behind the Isuzu MU-X, the Toyota Prado, the Subaru Outback, the Ford Everest, and the Kia Sorento in new units registered.
Also hitting the smorgasbord after a short hiatus is the fifth generation Nissan Pathfinder. Sales for it are also mediocre – failing to reach the top ten in the ‘large SUV under $70k’ category.
Both SUVs offer room for seven or eight passengers, light off-road abilities, and the latest tech. So, what is their issue? Here, we’re putting their flagship recipes under investigation, in Pathfinder Ti-L and Kluger Grande AWD Hybrid forms.
2023 Nissan Pathfinder Ti-L: Specifications
Engine: 3.5-litre petrol V6
Output: 202kW@6400rpm / 340Nm@4800rpm
Gearbox: Nine-speed auto
Drive type: All-wheel drive
Wheels: F & R: 20×8.0, 255/50
ANCAP: Five stars
Tare weight: 2039kg
Power-to-weight: 10.09:1 (kg:kW)
Official consumption: 10.5L/100km
Our consumption: 10.3L/100km
Fuel tank/Fuel type: 71L/91 RONPower efficiency: 19.23kW:L/100km
0-60km/h: 3.94 seconds*
0-100km/h: 7.80 seconds*
60-110km/h: 5.36 seconds*
1/4 mile: 15.93 seconds at 146.6km/h*
Max acceleration: 0.737g*
100-0km/h braking: 40.88m in 3.39 seconds*
Max deceleration: -1.144g*
Decibel at idle: 41*
Peak decibel at 60-100km/h: 81*
Starting price: $81,490
2023 Toyota Kluger Grande AWD Hybrid : Specifications
Engine: 2.4-litre petrol four-cylinder hybrid
Output (combined): 184kW
Gearbox: CVT auto
Drive type: All-wheel drive
Wheels: F & R: 18×8.0, 235/55
ANCAP: Five stars
Tare weight: 2055kg
Power-to-weight: 11.16:1 (kg:kW)
Official consumption: 5.6L/100km
Our consumption: 6.4L/100km
Fuel tank/Fuel type: 65L/95 RONPower efficiency: 32.85kW:L/100km
0-60km/h: 4.01 seconds*
0-100km/h: 8.60 seconds*
60-110km/h: 6.25 seconds*
1/4 mile: 16.28 seconds at 142.0km/h*
Max acceleration: 0.572g*
100-0km/h braking: 43.69m in 3.21 seconds*
Max deceleration: -1.050*
Decibel at idle/on standby: 26*
Peak decibel at 60-100km/h: 86*
Starting price: $80,230
*Figures as tested by Driving Enthusiast on the day. Manufacturers’ claims may be different. Kluger figures based on previously tested GX AWD hybrid variant on our old website
2023 Nissan Pathfinder vs Toyota Kluger: How much does it cost?
For the Kluger, there are three variants to choose from; the ‘GX, GXL and Grande. Available in all of these variants are three powertrains; a 2.4-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine that drives the front wheels only; the same engine again that drives all four wheels; and then a hybrid 2.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol with batteries that power three electric motor generators.
The cheapest all-petrol 2WD GX Kluger retails from $51,790 and peaks at $80,230 for the Grande hybrid that we’re testing here. Stepping up from the 2WD to 4WD petrol engine adds $4000 to the GX and GXL, and $2640 to the Grande. Then stepping up again to the hybrid adds $2500 in the GX and GXL, and $4580 in the Grande. It is great that Toyota offers the hybrid across the board.
There are just two variants to choose from in the Pathfinder; the Ti and Ti-L. And, even though a hybrid powertrain was on offer in the past, for the moment you can only get a 3.5-litre naturally aspirated V6 petrol that powers all four wheels. The Ti costs $71,490 and the Ti-L that we’re testing here costs $81,490.
Among the large SUV market, the top-spec Kluger and Pathfinder variants we are testing here both sit on the higher end of the pricing scale. The top variant Isuzu MU-X retails from $65,990, the Ford Everest from $78,530, and the Subaru Outback from $56,490, for example. But they undercut the dearest Toyota LandCruiser Prado that costs $87,468, and the Kia Sorento top model is $81,080 (all excluding on-road costs).
2023 Nissan Pathfinder vs Toyota Kluger: Interior & packaging
There is nothing really striking about the design of the Toyota Kluger or the Nissan Pathfinder. Their conservative external appearances match the conservative market they target. Both SUVs are also built in the United States, where their designs are frequently oriented to suit that region. The Kluger gets some flared-out contours to give off a tougher silhouette, and the wide taillights copy similar shapes from Corolla and Fortuner. The Pathfinder sees some of Nissan’s global design language come through with the bold ‘V-Motion’ front grille and headlights that trail far into the bonnet.
In terms of size, the Pathfinder is bigger than the Kluger in every dimension. But on the inside, the copious amount of space offered is difficult to pick apart. The Pathfinder can even accommodate for eight passengers in the Ti model. Plenty of room for larger families with those school pickups or a road trip.
On paper, boot volume in the Kluger measures bigger than the Pathfinder because they use different measuring standards. The Kluger offers 241 litres when the third row is up, 552 litres with the third row down, and 1150 litres with the second and third row down. The Pathfinder advertises 205 litres when the third row is up, a close 554 litres with the third row down, and 2280 litres with the second and third row down.
Interior look and feel are about equal from each SUV. Being the top-spec variants, you can expect some extra leather-wrapping and intricate stitching here and there. But they’re not spaces that blow your mind into the future. In turn, they make for very easy layouts to navigate.
Material quality feels premium and long-lasting. We appreciate the foldable armrests in the front and second row of the Pathfinder, and the multi-shelf design of the dash in the Kluger is thoughtful. We notice design similarities with the gear shifter and digital instrument cluster from the Mitsubishi Outlander have snuck their way into the Pathfinder now that the brands share parents.
Both SUVs score an ANCAP five-star safety rating, so there is an array of standard safety features. Highlights include low speed forward collision warning with braking, front and rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot sensors, lane departure warning and intervention, driver alert detection, adaptive cruise, road sign recognition, and 360-degree cameras. The Pathfinder adds tyre pressure monitors and reverse collision mitigation; and the Kluger adds high speed forward collision warning with braking and a full-sized spare alloy wheel.
Other standard appointments in both SUVs include tri-zone climate control, powered tailgates, rear side window blinds, ambient interior lighting, head-up displays, auto full LED headlights and high beam, 20-inch alloy wheels, leather appointments, heated and ventilated front seats, a sunroof, 12.3-inch digital instrument clusters, a wireless charging pad, wired Android Auto and wireless Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth, digital radio, and sat-nav.
The Pathfinder goes further on creature comforts by offering a power adjustable steering column, an extra 12-volt outlet in the cargo area, heated second row outboard seats, a 13-speaker Bose sound system over the 11-speaker JBL system in the Kluger, auto-dipping side mirrors when reversing, and remote engine start. However, the Kluger scores a bigger 12.3-inch centre touch-screen over a 9.0-inch one in the Pathfinder.
Disappointingly, and considering the premium pricing, there are no active shadowing headlights or wireless Android Auto to be seen on either SUV.
2023 Nissan Pathfinder vs Toyota Kluger: Powertrain & handling
This is the section where the Kluger and Pathfinder set themselves apart the most. For the time being, the Pathfinder only comes with one bulky and thirsty 3.5-litre V6 engine. Frankly, these large displacement V6 engines are old technology now. It does produce a robust 202kW of power, which gives it a willing surge when you demand it. As well as a gutsy V6 soundtrack.
But the full extent of that power does not kick in until near the redline at 6400rpm, meaning it’s an engine that needs to rev when push comes to shove. We tested a 0-100km/h sprint time of 7.80 seconds, which is decent for a large SUV. Torque output is typically low for a petrol V6 engine, peaking at 340Nm at a high 4800rpm. Which again shows how the best of this engine happens in the top end. But that also contributes to heavy fuel consumption.
Officially, the Pathfinder burns an average of 10.5L/100km. We were gentle with our test vehicle, building an average of 10.3L/100km. Thankfully, you get a hefty 71-litre fuel tank to cope with the thirst. And, the ability to run on the lowest 91RON fuel is welcomed.
Turning to the Kluger’s powertrain, it’s a hybrid setup that gets by with a 2.5-litre four-cylinder naturally aspirated petrol engine that produces 142kW/242Nm on its own. It is backed up by three permanent magnet electric motor generators – two at the front and one at the rear – that are powered by a nickel-metal hydride battery. Combining the two power sources harvests 184kW of total power, resulting in a 0-100km/h time of 8.60 according to our Vbox.
With acceleration and torque setting in instantly thanks to the electric side, the Kluger hybrid glides up to speed effortlessly and promptly without the need to push it. It surprised us how little you need to push the accelerator down to lead the flow of demanding traffic. And just as well, because when you do push it, the engine quickly changes to sound buzzy, shrill and breathless. Most drivers won’t care, but Toyota has done away with meaty engine soundtracks in the name of better economy.
That economy is officially listed at 5.6L/100km. That is a powerful argument for a two-tonne, seven-seat SUV. You can almost run two Klugers for the fuel consumption of one Pathfinder. Though, the Kluger requires a minimum of 95RON petrol. We should also advise that the Kluger is more economical at lower city speeds than freeway speeds. Less frequent braking on the freeway means the battery gets less opportunity to recharge. Our official average came in at 6.4L/100km over 650km of driving.
Nissan has done away with the previous constantly variable transmission and introduced a nine-speed conventional auto gearbox. There are a lot of ratios here to dance through, which has been known to cause muddled gear selection or too much gear transition time. Gratefully, not here. It operates smoothly and fluently; and brings back the thrill into acceleration compared to the CVT auto used in the Kluger. The Kluger’s CVT auto is effective in providing smooth acceleration, but in a blander fashion. You don’t get that strong sense of progress compared with the Pathfinder.
On the road, both the Pathfinder and Kluger are on the softer side in terms of ride. Bumps are handled with poise and comfort. Track stays secure when bigger holes approach, too. With bias on comfort, cornering ability is not too bad for SUVs of this size. Their two-tonne weight works in their favour to clamp them down on faster corners.
But even though they are big SUVs, steering feel is light at lower speeds. This means they are easy to manoeuvre in tight spaces. Then they are appropriately weighty at higher speeds to give off a secure and sturdy feel in the lane.
2023 Nissan Pathfinder Ti-L: Key attractions/reasons to buy
Both SUVs boast off-road credentials and abilities. The Pathfinder is equipped with what Nissan markets as “Intelligent 4×4” that features a new direct coupling system and six dial selectable driving modes – Sport, Tow, Eco, Snow, Sand, and Mud/Rut.
The Kluger ‘eFour’ also scores a ‘Trail’ mode that adjusts throttle control, shift schedule, drive force distribution and brake control to deliver optimal traction. But it misses out on the more sophisticated Dynamic Torque Vectoring AWD system the all-petrol Grande gets. This means you lose two couplings on the rear axle that enable torque to be split between the front and rear axles, and the left and right rear wheels.
If you plan on towing, the Nissan boasts better towing capabilities, with trailer sway control and a 2700kg capacity – 700kg more than the Kluger.
The Pathfinder’s engine feels and sounds punchier with its V6 and conventional torque converter gearbox.
Pathfinder Ti-L models come with a seven-seat configuration (2:2:3). But if you need even bigger, the Ti model squeezes in an eight-seat configuration (2:3:3).
The Pathfinder also boasts a few more features on top of the Kluger. For example, a power adjustable steering column, an extra 12-volt outlet in the cargo area, heated second row outboard seats, auto-dipping side mirrors when reversing, and remote engine start.
2023 Toyota Kluger Grande: Key attractions/reasons to buy
You cannot ignore that difference in fuel consumption. The Kluger leaves the Pathfinder for dead in the economy race, with 5.6L/100km vs 10.5L/100km.
Both SUVs are granted with a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty, and servicing is required every 12 months or 15,000km with the first few services advertised at a capped-price. The Pathfinder’s first six services will cost $351, $710, $372, $753, $395, then $1625. The first five servicing prices are all cheaper on the Kluger, capped at just $265 each.
Surprisingly, the Kluger struts a higher ground clearance than the Pathfinder, with 206mm versus 179mm. The Kluger is also gifted with that full-sized alloy spare wheel – important if you plan to head out to remote locations. The Pathfinder only receives a space-saver temporary spare.
You get a bigger 12.3-inch centre touch-screen in the Kluger compared with the 9.0-inch one in the Pathfinder.
Toyotas historically has one of the best resale values too, if you cycle through your cars frequently. Your second hand Toyota will be in high demand.
2023 Nissan Pathfinder: Video
2023 Toyota Kluger GX: Video
We didn’t test this Kluger Grande with the Vbox but here’s a performance test of the GX AWD hybrid variant from our old website: