Manufacturers keep trotting out hybrid vehicles because they have to. Ever tightening corporate fuel economy averages and emission targets demand it. But the buying public? Not so much.
Aside from Toyota making a good business of selling its proven Prius line, it seems just about every other hybrid on the market is a complex, compromised and pricey version of a donor vehicle that never lives up to the mileage hype and sells like cold-cakes.
Is the all-new 2014 Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid driving down that same road?
I will say this: I chose the gasoline V6 Pathfinder as my best new crossover for 2013 based on its easy-driving nature, all-wheel-drive, comfort, V6 power and clever seven-seat passenger arrangement.
Related? Nissan Pathfinder gets my vote for 'Official Car of Ice Storm 2013'
This all-wheel-drive hybrid version features the first application of Nissan?s in-house gas/electric hybrid drive. Somewhere between a full hybrid and mild hybrid system, it uses a 2.5-L supercharged four-cylinder engine, a CVT transmission and, sandwiched in between, a small 15 kw electric motor and a couple of clutches.
The hybrid is rated at 240 hp and 243 lb.-ft., versus 260 hp and 240 lb.-ft. for the 3.5-L V6 gas version.
The hybrid comes in two trims: the $39,248 SV 4WD and the loaded $49,198 Platinum 4WD with Premium Package. The hybrid drivetrain represents a $4,000 hit over the V6 gas models.
Nissan claims a 22-per-cent improvement in fuel economy, at 7.8 L/100 km city and 7.1 L/100 km highway.
What this hybrid won?t do is perform the party tricks most hybrid buyers expect.
Auto stop/start only works when the climate control is turned off. Since most of us prefer heat and air conditioning over freezing and cooking, the hybrid Pathfinder idles away at stoplights like every other vehicle.
And don?t expect to hum around silently while looking for a parking spot. The relatively small electric motor and lithium-ion battery pack do not have the juice for that, so the gas engine is running at all times.
There was the odd occasion when the Pathfinder would go into coast mode ? the engine shuts down and decouples from the electric motor and tranny ? but a whiff of throttle has the four-pot back on duty. Again, with the climate control off, it slipped into coast mode more readily.
Nissan?s explanation boils down to cost. It?s a lighter, less-complex and consequently less-expensive system. Its functions largely as electric assist to the gas engine, and the efficiency gains come from the reuse of kinetic energy recouped during deceleration and braking.
Indeed, the hybrid did return a decent 10.8 L/100 for my light-footed week, but buyers will be logging a few years of seat time before breaking even on the investment.
In all other aspects, the hybrid drives not that much differently from the gas model. This is a good thing.
No interior space is sacrificed to accommodate the battery pack. Power and torque are pretty much a draw, although when pressed, the supercharged four isn?t as smooth as the V6. Conversely, there?s a bit more torque off the line thanks to that electric motor. I did, however, notice some throttle hesitation.
The dash and driver interface are some of the best in the biz. The backlit gauges are clear, the centre display bright, the controls are well marked and ergonomically sound.
You also get comfy seats, good audio and a standard heated steering wheel. This a pleasant place to spend time.
On the road, the Pathfinder Hybrid feels big. Handling is competent if a little roly-poly, and the ride is generally compliant.
Where the Pathfinder shines is in its interior space and clever access. A true seven-seater, the 60/40 split second row will accommodate three. Those seats accordion forward, allowing easy access to the two third-row chairs, which are habitable for actual-sized humans.
Tri-zone climate control is standard, and both third-row passengers get an HVAC duct, audio speaker and a decent view out the side window. Leg room is pretty good and the seats recline a few degrees.
The second and third rows fold flat to create a large cargo space.
I enjoyed driving the Pathfinder Hybrid, as it reinforced my assertion that this crossover is one of the better offerings in the segment. Its toughest competitor now is the Hyundai Santa Fe XL.
But is the $4,000 hybrid-hit worth it over the V6 model? I suspect this, like most hybrids, will be a lonely niche player.
The vehicle tested by freelance writer Peter Bleakney was provided by the manufacturer. Email: email@example.com.