BMW X3 VS Nissan Pathfinder
- Clever tech now trickling down
- Quiet and spacious cabin
- Dynamic enough to dispose of twisting tarmac
- Smaller diesel engine lacks overtaking punch
- Wince-worthy option list
- Full phone integration will cost you
- Tough looks the N-Trek brings
- Spacious interior
- Big boot
- Interior starting to date
- No Apple CarPlay or Android Auto
- Thirsty engine
If SUVs were a horror movie, they'd have to be the 1958 cult-classic The Blob: a drive-in special that told the story of a shapeless mass that grows and grows, eventually consuming everything in its path. A bit like James Packer, then.
But also a bit like BMW's range of X-stamped SUVs. Take the X3, for example, which has slowly but relentlessly grown over the past 15 years, so much so that this all-new, third-generation model is now bigger in every key dimension than the original BMW X5.
Which means the X5 has also grown, which means the X6 has grown, which means the... well, you get the idea. If current trends continue, we won't be so much driving the next generation of X cars as we will be moving into them.
But unlike that cinematic tale, the X3's new and bigger dimensions have a happy ending, especially for riders lounging about in the really very spacious backseat. And there is more good stuff going on for this major update, too.
It's got a new and more muscular design penned by crayon-wielding Aussie ace Calvin Luk, and it's loaded with clever technology (including BMW's latest autonomous technology) pilfered from the new 5 series.
So how does the new X3 measure up.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Do you like Nissan's Pathfinder yet find it lacking a certain something? Masculinity perhaps, musculature, or just a sense of menace, rather than middle-of-the-road nice-ness? If you've always hankered after a seven-seat family hauler with a mean streak, or at least a mean look, then you’re going to love the Pathfinder N-Trek special edition.
So, what makes this Pathfinder an N-Trek and how much does it cost to look this tough?
We tested the new Pathfinder N-Trek to find out.
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The X3 is a hugely important model for BMW, and one that was starting to be left behind by rival models from Mercedes-Benz and Audi. But this third-gen model levels the playing field once more, and launches the X3 straight back into the fray with the segment's best.
For our money, the xDrive30d is the pick of the bunch, serving up effortless performance in a comfortable, quiet and practical package.
Would you choose the new BMW X3 over a Mercedes-Benz GLC or Audi Q5? Tell us in the comments section below.
The Pathfinder is a comfortable, practical seven-seat SUV and the N-Trek special edition adds a tough and stylish look. Research has shown that special editions generally don’t fetch more money when it comes time to sell, so keep this in mind and enjoy the unique look of the N-Trek rather than thinking you’ve bought a collector’s car.
The X3's exterior was designed by Australian Calvin Luk, who was tasked with making it "sportier, tougher and bolder" than the outgoing model. And while, to our untrained eyes, the changes don't seem quite as extreme as Calvin insists they are, there's no doubting the X3 cuts a handsome figure on the road.
Viewed front-on, that traditional kidney grille has been raised to give it a more proud look out front, and it flows into a bonnet lined with new and defined creases carved front-to-back toward the windscreen. Muscular arches, roof rails and a razor-sharp body crease add attitude to the side profile, while at the back, a more tapered rear end is framed by a hint of rubber from the rear tyres.
Inside, the materials and layout are taken straight from the BMW playbook, but there's been a technology overhaul, albeit one that's more obvious on the more expensive models, with wireless phone charging, an updated touch screen and, on the 30i and 30d, a new digital driver's binnacle.
So evolution over revolution inside, but the cabin exudes a predictably premium feel no matter the trim.
The N-Trek pack adds a menacing look to the Pathfinder, making it look more mafia family than just family. As mentioned above, the N-Trek edition adds the black grille, black roof rails, black door handles, black mirror caps, plus front and rear lower bumper trim in black. I’m a fan of the sinister look the accessories bring and it suits the Gun Metallic grey paint my test car wore (see the photos I took) perfectly. The Pathfinder N-Trek special edition comes in four colours, so along with the grey there’s Ivory Pearl, Diamond Black and Caspian Blue.
What do you think of those wheels? They’re unique to the Pathfinder N-Trek, too, but I’m not the biggest fan of the design.
The cabin doesn’t get anything in the way of N-Trek equipment – it’s the same cabin as you’ll find in the ST+ and ST-L, which is beginning to age in terms of its design and equipment, with the small screen being the most obvious example. Still, it’s a comfortable and premium-feeling cabin, especially in the ST-L with its leather seats.
Measuring 5042mm end to end, 1963mm wide and 1793mm tall, the Pathfinder isn't petite.
At 4708mm long, 1891mm wide and 1676mm high, this third-generation X3 is bigger than the original X5 (which was 4666mm long, and 1872mm wide), and all those those extra millimetres start making sense once you climb into the cabin.
Up front, every X3 feels spacious, with lots of headroom and, with electric front seats standard on every trim level, plenty of options to get comfortable. There are two cupholders that seperate the front seats (joining the two in the pull-down divider in the backseat), and there's room for a 1L bottle in each of the four doors. Up-front riders also share two USB ports, as well as a wireless charging pad for compatible phones.
Climb into the backseat and you'll find plenty more space on offer. There was more than enough clear-air between my knees and the seat in front when sitting behind my own (5ft10inch) driving position, and impressive headroom, even with the optional sunroof fitted.
Elsewhere in the back, three-zone climate is standard across the X3 range, so backseat riders get both vents and temperature controls, and there's a 12-volt power source, too - no USBs, though. There's also two ISOFIX attachment points in the back, and a third top-tether point in the middle seat, so you can squeeze three child seats across the back.
The boot serves up 550 litres with the 40:20:40 split-fold rear seat in place, but should you drop them via the boot-mounted levers, that number grows to 1600 litres. There are some cool touches in the boot, too, like a hidden storage area under a partition in the boot, the lid for which is held open by a gas strut that makes loading easier. That extra space is also big enough to store the boot cover.
The Pathfinder is a seven-seater SUV and practicality is its main strength.
Space up front is excellent, with good head, shoulder and elbow room, even for somebody with my two-metre wingspan and 191cm height. I can sit behind my driving position and behind that in the third row without my knees touching any of the seat backs.
Directional air vents in all three rows, plus large windows make life more comfortable for everybody. So does the raised second row, which offers a view over the top of the driver and co-pilot.
The floor does seem overly elevated in the Pathfinder, which places the knees of second and third-row passengers higher. For a model comparison see the Pathfinder ST+ vs Holden Acadia LT video.
Boot space with the third-row seats up is 453 litres, opening up to 1354 litres with them folded flat and the second row in place. You’ll find extra storage space under the boot floor.
Cabin storage is excellent with 10 cupholders (yes, 10) on board (two up front, four in the second row and another four in the back row); large door pockets, a tray in front of the shifter and a deep centre-console storage bin.
For charging and media there are three 12-volt and two USB outlets up front and two USB charging points and a media USB port in the second row.
Room for improvement? Well, the Pathfinder could do with wireless charging and it’s also lacking USB ports in the third row.
Price and features
The BMW X3 range arrives in three flavours, the diesel-powered xDrive20d ($68,900), the petrol-pumping BMW xDrive30i ($75,900), and the biggest - and best - diesel option, the xDrive30d ($83,900). They'll be joined by the smallest petrol model, the xDrive20i, and the go-fast and enticing-sounding M40i version, both of which will touch down next year.
For now, though, the cheapest way into the X3 range wears the xDrive20d badging, and your investment will earn you 19-inch alloys, roof rails and LED headlights outside, while in the cabin you'll find part-leather-trimmed seats, a leather-lined steering wheel, a colour head-up display, navigation and a wireless charge pad for compatible phones. You'll also get three-zone climate control and a 6.5-inch touchscreen that pairs with a six-speaker stereo.
Step up to either the 30i or 30d (both are identically equipped), and you'll add 20-inch alloys, full leather seats, a bigger 10.25-inch touchscreen running the latest iDrive system, and another 12-inch digital display that replaces the traditional gauges in the driver's binnacle.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto remain a cost option, with the clever wireless version of the system yours for $623, and you might want to spring for the 16-speaker harman/kardon stereo (another $2000), too. Both of which should really be standard on the more expensive models.
Available on the ST + and ST-L grades, the N-Trek editions come with a $1500 price increase over the grades they’re based on.
The front-wheel-drive Pathfinder ST+ N-Trek lists for $46,840, while the front-wheel-drive ST-L N-Trek is $57,140. As for the four-wheel-drive versions: the ST+ N-Trek is $50,340 and the ST-L N-Trek is $60,640.
The N-Trek edition brings a body kit with black elements for a stealthy look. There’s the black grille, black roof rails, black door handles, black mirror caps, plus front and rear lower bumper trim in… you guessed it – black.
Standard features on the ST+ N-Trek include an eight-inch touchscreen, sat nav, a reversing camera with all-round-view monitor, a six-speaker stereo, DVD player, privacy glass, rear parking sensors and three-zone climate control.
Stepping up to the ST-L N-Trek adds a 13-speaker Bose stereo, LED headlights, sunroof, leather seats, front fog lights, heated side mirrors and power adjustable driver and front passenger seats.
Is the special edition worth the extra $1500 over the regular model? That depends how you look at the extra costs – some would see it as just different coloured paint but others would see it as paying for uniqueness, and there won’t be many Pathfinders that look like yours. Yes, you could have similar enhancements done yourself, but it’ll cost you more, if done properly. Nissan has done it for you with genuine accessories.
A better question to ask is: does the Pathfinder’s price in general represents good value? Well the current Pathfinder is getting old now and it’s not loaded with the latest equipment, such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, such as you’ll find in the Holden Acadia or Mazda CX-9. In those terms it’s not great value any more, but Nissan will fix this when the new-generation Pathfinder arrives next year.
Engine & trans
The xDrive20d kicks off proceedings with its 2.0-litre, four-cylinder diesel engine good for 140kW and 400Nm. It pairs with an eight-speed automatic that shuffles its power to all four wheels. The combination will serve up a 8.0sec sprint to 100km/h (though it doesn't feel that fast).
Step up to the petrol-powered xDrive30i, and you'll find a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder unit nestled under the bonnet, producing 185kW and 350Nm, which is paired with an eight-speed "sport" automatic. It too sends its power to all four wheels, and will trim the sprint to 100km/h down to 6.3sec.
But our pick of the current-engine bunch is the xDrive30d, which makes use of a six-cylinder diesel engine good for 195kW and 620Nm. It pairs with the same eight-speed "sport" automatic as the 30i, but produces a sharper sprint to 100km/h of 5.8sec.
The N-Trek special edition comes with the same 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine found in the regular Pathfinder, with the same 202kW and 340Nm outputs. The continuously variable transmission (CVT) is smooth, although it produces lacklustre acceleration, accompanied by a droning sound that you might find annoying.
The petrol variant - the xDrive30i - sees fuel use climb to a claimed/combined 7.6L/100km, with emissions a claimed 174g/km. Finally, the biggest diesel should return 6.0L/100km (claimed/combined) and 159g/km of C02.
Fuel tank size is 60, 65 and 68 litres respectively.
The Pathfinder N-Trek ST+ and ST-L both have a 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine and Nissan says after a combination of open and urban roads the four-wheel-drive version should use 10.1L/100km, while the front-wheel-drive only uses a coffee mug less at 9.9L/100km. In my own testing of the four-wheel-drive Pathfinder I’ve measured the combined consumption to be 14.9L/100km.
It's actually pretty hard to go too far wrong in the premium mid-size SUV market at the moment, with the other Germans especially kicking all sorts of goals. And happily for BMW, this new X3 is packing the right skillset to launch right into the thick of that field.
We spent the bulk of our time in the biggest diesel, the xDrive30d, and it's so impressively smooth, quiet and effortless in its acceleration that you can genuinely forget you're driving a diesel at all. The smaller diesel lacks the outright punch to overtake quickly and cleanly, and is probably better suited to city life, and while the sole petrol option improves matters, its the rich stream of torque on offer from the big six-cylinder diesel makes it our pick of the bunch.
The eight-speed transmission is a treat, too; silky smooth in its changes, and quick enough to feel near-enough telepathic when you plant your right foot.
Plenty of work has gone into improving the ride, handling and NVH, or in other words, how quiet and cosseting the interior is, and even on loud road surfaces the cabin is impressively quiet, and the standard suspension strikes a handy balance of supple and sporty, so much so that, even on the twisting stretches of tarmac, there's seemingly no need to lean on the optional adaptive dampers (leaving a handy $1900 in your pocket).
But the big news in the cabin is the adoption of BMW's Driving Assistant Plus (BMW's autonomous technology) as standard on the 30i and 30d, meaning you can drive hands-free for up to 40 seconds. It's not infallible, of course, and will only work consistently when there's clear road markings, but it's a very handy safety net.
The Pathfinder N-Trek was tested on about 130km of winding country roads, which at times turned from bitumen into loose gravel. My test car was the ST+ grade with four-wheel drive, although there should be no difference in the way it drives over the ST-L version.
I’ve said it before in reviews of the Pathfinder – this is an easy and comfortable large SUV to drive, with light steering, good visibility and plenty of grunt.
That said, the Pathfinder felt a bit challenged when pushed on the twisty, tight roads, with plenty of body roll to remind me that it was a two-tonne, five-metre-long metal box. If anything, it’s a compliment to how insulated from the world you are in the cabin.
The loose gravel roads we took also seemed to unsettle the Pathfinder at times. I pulled over, selected four-wheel drive and watched the display screen show drive split 50-50 between the front and back axles. The problem was that our as speed was increased the system switched to Auto, which decides on the fly how to distribute the drive, but tends to choose a heavy bias towards the front.
The Pathfinder’s 180mm ground clearance rules out anything more challenging than dirt and gravel roads, but a 2700kg braked towing capacity makes this SUV a great choice for hauling trailers and caravans – although you should know it likes to drink petrol.
The safety story starts with six airbags (dual front, front-side and curtain), as well as cruise control, lane departure warning, blind-spot monitoring and a city-speed auto emergency braking system that detects pedestrians that BMW calls its Approach Control Warning. You’ll also find parking sensors front and rear, a reversing camera and a parking assistant function that will tell you if you’ll fit in a parking space, all of which arrives as standard on the xDrive20d.
Stepping up to the 30i or 30d adds Driving Assistant Plus, which includes Active Cruise Control with AEB, cross-traffic warning and steering and lane assistants that form part of BMW’s autonomous package (the same that appears on the 5 series), and that will allow you - in the right conditions - to take your hands off the wheel for spells of 40 seconds.
The X3 was awarded the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating when tested in 2011, but the new-generation model hasn't been tested yet.
The Pathfinder was given the maximum five-star ANCAP rating when it was tested in 2013. Coming standard is advanced safety technology such as AEB, blind-spot warning, rear cross traffic alert and adaptive cruise control.
There are rear parking sensors, but not front ones, which is odd.
The rear-view camera is good, and these grades come with a 360-degree moving-object-detection system – which is great for when kids are running around the car.
For child seats you’ll find two ISOFIX mounts and three top-tether points in the second row, and a third top-tether point in the right-hand-side seat in the third row.
The Pathfinder ST+ is covered by Nissan’s five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.
Servicing is recommended every 10,000km or 12 months. As a guide you can expect to pay $290 for the first service, $309 for the next, $458 for the third, $367 for the fourth, $314 for the fifth and $502 for the sixth.