BMW X3 VS Nissan Pathfinder
- Scorchingly fast
- Gives its rivals a run
- Terrific chassis
- Apple CarPlay price is extortion
- Some (not me) find the ride too hard
- Needs more visual aggro
- Tough looks the N-Trek brings
- Spacious interior
- Big boot
- Interior starting to date
- No Apple CarPlay or Android Auto
- Thirsty engine
Big fast SUVs have long been a guilty pleasure of mine. My brain has been telling me for years, since the first time I drove one - the first-gen Audi SQ5 - that they're silly and wasteful and 'not my kind of car'.
The Europeans - and latterly, the Americans - seem to be playing to an audience of me, convincing my prejudiced head that my try-anything heart is right: over-engined, jacked-up, stiffly-sprung family wagons are as much fun as anything else.
The X3 M is BMW's first full-fat M version of the X3, a car that has never really fired the imagination until this third generation. First we got the very good X3 M40i, now we have a 375kW, twin-turbo straight-six screamer, the M Competition.
|Engine Type||3.0L 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|
As much as I love the mental GLC63 - complete with V8 bellow - the X3 M is the one for drivers. While that's a silly thing to say on the surface - what 'driver' is going to buy an SUV? - this is the new reality. We love these things and they're not going away.
While it may not be quite as comfortable as any of its competition or have the V8 cachet of the Jag and the Merc, it still takes the fight to them in what is easily the roomiest and most practical in this niche part of the segment. And it's an enormous amount of fun.
You have plenty of choices in the mid-size fast SUV market - X3 M, GLC63, Alfa Stelvio Quadrifoglio - what's your choice?
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 third-generation X3 is by far the best-looking and isn't as badly blighted by BMW's current oversized, hatchback-straining grilles. It's not small, no, but in the flesh, it looks fine.
The usual M accoutrements are present, with new front and rear bumpers, skirts and a whopping set of 21-inch alloys. It looks different and marginally more aggro than the M40i and just enough so a vaguely interested observer will notice.
A quick look at the rest of the similarly-sized hard-and-fast SUVs reveals a similar approach.
The seats add some serious excitement, they're a proper set of M seats, complete with the slightly naff light-up X3 M logos in the backrest. But it's predictably well-made, is very comfortable and is full of nice materials.
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.
This X3, if you need reminding, is bigger than BMW's first SAV (ugh), the X5. That means plenty of room up front, heaps of legroom for most in the back and enough room for five aboard.
Front seat passengers score a pair of cupholders with a cover and the centre rear armrest has two more for a total of four. Add to that bottle holders in each door and your beverage holding capabilities are pretty standard.
The boot starts at an impressive 550 litres, almost tripling to 1600 litres when you drop the 40/20/40 split fold seat. You get a good flat load space when you do that, too.
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
For $157,900, before on-road costs, you may think this car should be absolutely loaded with stuff. And it is. Whether that's enough is up to you, but the price is about right for its segment.
It's worth remembering we only get the up-spec Competition version, BMW saw no point in offering the 'normal' version nobody was going to buy.
For your cash you get 21-inch alloys, multi-zone climate control, ambient interior lighting, keyless entry and start, active cruise control, electronic damper control, digital instrument cluster (not the new 'Live Cockpit'), sat nav, auto high beam, auto LED headlights, launch control, leather seats and steering wheel, electric front seats, head-up display, auto parking, power everything, auto wipers, huge panorama sunroof and a tyre repair kit.
The big central screen features BMW's iDrive, controlled by either the rotary dial or via touchscreen. It's a belter of a system and I reckon it's still the best, although you have to pay for Apple CarPlay - this remains controversial and I wonder how long the company will persist.
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 X3 M arrives from the US with a shiny new version of BMW's modular six-cylinder performance engine. While the M Performance M40i has a single turbo (B58) straight six, one tiny change to the name - from B58 to S58 - means a heck of a lot.
The S58 takes the same fundamental formula, bolts in two new single-scroll turbos, throws in forged conrods and a few other changes to boost the power to 375kW (500 horsepower) and 600Nm.
That torque figure is available across a nice wide 3350 revs, between 2600rpm and 5950rpm.
Getting all that to the wheels is the M version of BMW's all-wheel drive system xDrive and an active rear differential. The near-ubiquitous eight-speed ZF brokers the connection between that system and the flywheel and it's all impossibly smooth and feels bulletproof.
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 reality, of course, is different but not unexpectedly so - a week in my hands in the suburbs and a cobweb-clearing early morning run delivered a 14.1L/100km average. Again, not bad given the kind grunt that's on tap.
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.
One of the things I love about BMW is the company's ability to produce a car that on one hand is so normal and competent for the every day but also produce a version that is completely doolally.
The fine folk at M obviously involve themselves from day one so that when they get a finished car they can get cracking on making it properly fast. Obviously, quite a bit has to change for that to happen.
The X3 M is very stiff. Pop the bonnet and you'll see a piece of whatever the metal equivalent of four-by-two keeping the two sides of the car apart.
This is something M does whenever it gets a vanilla BMW, as it has with the M2 and outgoing M3 and M4 pair. To name three. The difference from the driver's seat, when compared to, say, the M40i, is immediate.
The steering is super-responsive, the front of the car reacting incredibly quickly given the X3 M's two-tonne weight.
Even in Comfort mode, the X3 M's ride is pretty firm. That doesn't bother me especially, nor my wife, who has a keen sense of ride quality. It never really falls over the line of being uncomfortable but it's worth knowing if you're considering this and you have to carry passengers.
If you drive around town in either M1 or M2 (in the factory settings at least), you're mad - the suspension becomes very hard and the steering too heavy. In fact, the steering in its Super Sport setting is just too heavy and uncooperative.
Cheerfully belting the 7200rpm redline at every upshift, barking between gears and delivering torque the way a hungry Labrador delivers a headbutt if you get in between it and food, the straight-six is glorious.
The 4.1-second sprint from 0-100km/h is only part of the story. Not many cars can cover ground so quickly and fewer still SUVs of this size and weight can do it with such precision.
When you turn the wheel on the X3 M, the front goes where you want it, instantly. All that under-bonnet bracing prevents the front flexing and shimmying, which is the enemy of going fast. So that sorts out getting into the corner. The best thing is you can push through corners and slingshot out the other side, riding that huge torque slab, the rear wheels doing most of the work with the occasional wriggle to keep you smiling.
A good chunk of the applause goes to the way the xDrive all-wheel drive system and its 'M Active' diff at the rear work together in Sport+ mode.
As colleague Steve Corby discovered at this car's clay-pan launch, the front wheels aren't doing much of the driving when you've turned it all up to 11 in '4WD Sport'.
When the road goes from straight to twisty, the excellent brakes come in to play, hauling the car down from big speeds without complaint. Even better is that in normal driving, they're not grabby and the pedal always lets you know what shape you're in.
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 X3 M rolls out the door of BMW's North Carolina factory with six airbags, stability and traction controls, front and rear parking sensors, around view camera (including reversing camera), forward and reverse AEB, blind spot sensor, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, reverse cross traffic alert, speed limit recognition and tyre pressure monitoring.
There are also two ISOFIX points and three top-tether restraints.
The X3 scored a maximum five ANCAP stars in 2017.
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.
BMW offers a segment standard, but increasingly mean-looking, three years/unlimited kilometre warranty. It's not just BMW, though, it's all of the premium Germans. You do get three years roadside assist into the bargain and you can pay to extend the warranty, too.
You can pre-pay your servicing, with a five-year/80,000km Basic package for $3685. If you think you're going to give your X3 M a proper walloping you can opt for the the 'Plus Package'. For a not-inconsiderable $8173.
BMW will cover your brake pads and rotors for the same period as the Basic package.
Service intervals are variable because, as ever, BMWs tell you when they need a trip to the dealer.
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.