Three Sheets to the Wind
GMI Drives: Holden Acadia LTZ-V FWD vs Toyota Kluger GX vs Nissan Pathfinder TI
24 November 2019
As a parental unit, there is always a sense that you are two steps behind. New shoes, new games, new extra curricular activities, awards nights, Parent Teacher meetings (sorry, Student Lead Conferences), you name it, it's on tomorrow afternoon. These three V6 7 seaters are built solely to tackle these challenges, but who fights the good fight, and who is mere cannon fodder?
Though it would have been ideal to line up three variants with like for like features, we battle on with what we've got: Toyota Kluger (nee Highlander) is the GX 3.5 V6 with 8spd auto and AWD, vs Nissan Pathfinder TI 3.5 AWD tied to a CVT, and the top spec Holden (nee GMC) Acadia LTZ-V pushing it's 3.6 LFX V6 through a 9 spd auto. For the sake of parity, if all three were top spec AWD, Nissan chimes in at $66,390, has the cost advantage of around $1,100 less than an Acadia LTZ-V AWD, with the Toyota Grande AWD a further $1,100 deeper into your wallet. The theme continues with the base model prices.
So if you want the cheapest one at the point of purchase, buy the Nissan...
The similarities between these rigs are a demonstration of what every parent thinks they need: decent range from 73L tank (72L Kluger), you can fill it up with cheap booze (91 RON for all three), 7 seats for those emergency pick ups, 7x airbags for Kluger/Acadia (6 for Pathfinder no knee bag), AEB, ESP, EBD, etc. etc. All in all, you aren't going to miss out on anything important ,if you fork out the $$ for the right spec.
These are all packaged thoughtfully for their segment. It's the bits that aren't on the focus group check list, that make it interesting. Let's start with the Nissan.
Pathfinder, nay, Follower
The Nissan Pathfinder was previously a ute based wagon. That is, it was based on the Nissan Navara, which meant it was equipped with a proper dual range transfer case, and could go where SUVs (note: in Australia, we call CUVs, SUVs ) alleged they could go but never did. I know of a few Pathfinder owners who went to update and came away confused, disappointed by the shift to a more car like CUV platform, and driving a new something-not-Nissan. For me, that is a bit of a black mark, because meeting customer expectations should be everything.
The 'new' Pathfinder is now advertising its array of Advanced Driver Assist Systems (ADAS is an industry term, not a Nissan one), such as RADAR cruise, lane keeping assist, AEB etc. If all those features sound familiar, that's because they are. As I inferred earlier, all three products are very close on specification. Nissan doesn't add anything new, they just advertise like they do.
The reality that the Pathfinder is the oldest here, is revealed as soon as you sit in the cabin. Everything looks at least on generation behind, including the materials, infotainment/GPS graphics and everything you touch. The materials aren't badly executed, just old. Everything actually works remarkably well, even the blindspot warning, which is a light inside the the A-pillar rather than on the external mirror like every other (Non-Nissan) car on the market. I even appreciated the soft leather seats despite their lack of side bolsters.
On the road, the Pathfinder has one thing going for it: 202kw 340nm 3.5 L V6. Oddly enough, it's the least powerful in this fleet, and the Nissan is the fattest at 2087kg, yet the CVT makes the most of it, with good off the line response and an underlying growl letting you know there's work being done. The Pathfinder actually has the highest braked tow rating of 2700kgs(!)(the other two are 2000kgs).
Try turning a corner, however, and the substantial 235/55/R20 boots conspire with soft, under damped suspension, to play havoc with your desired formation. Under-steer + on call V6 = a tyre eating monster. You don't even need to test it for yourself. Merely walk into any shopping centre car park and you will find a Pathfinder with scrubbed front tyres. During my week in the, admittedly decent looking, dark blue lunch box, I put it in AWD lock for the last three days, which made it modestly better, but there is only so much you can do.
The kids loved the DVD headrests, and I loved the giant sun roof, but there is no urgency in this beast. Take it easy, and it's easy to take, but as we said at the start, there are multiple missions, and we don't have time to wait for the Pathfinder to find its feet. Next!
Straight off the bat, the Toyota Kluger has a head start on the other two. It does exactly what the customer expects. Not exactly a long standing name, the Kluger was introduced in Australia in 2012. As with most Toyota products it's priced a little above average, hoping that the brand will carry a little extra credit. It seems to work, and every Kluger owner I've ever talked to all say the same thing, "great car, but likes a drink"...
First impressions held no suprises. Klugers are all over the place. Though it's a reasonably handsome design, it's not breaking any molds, but is the most contemporary and has the neatest proportions. Importantly, this SUV doesn't have a low dragging chin, so you jump those kurbs with reckless abandon. Helping further is the widest rubber and highest sidewalls at 245/60/R18 (245/55/R19 in the top spec Grande).
The current-but-not-cutting-edge theme continues inside. There are a few little gems, like the ledge on the dash which allows placement for the drivers phone, the passengers phone, more phones, more cards, spare change ad infinitum. Half the battle is having space for troops and equipment. The Kluger seems to be the most considerate, and well thought out, at least in that regard. Noting that this is the entry model, materials are average, even though the execution feels robust for a family bus.
What stood out most was the absence of any instance when I thought "ugh, they could do that better". Sure it wasn't as sorted as the Acadia at speed, and the foot e brake should be burned at the stake, but the Kluger ate everything I hurled at it. Throw in a full sized spare and all of a sudden I could look past the safety-first understeer.
My only real complaint is 6 month servicing intervals. Really? REALLY? *facepalm emoji*
It was also the thirstiest of the bunch, but also the one that I leaned on the most. Space in the rear was probably the smallest, but only against gargantuan competition. In practical terms, no-one had an advantage in shoving stuff in the boot (trunk)
If you care to wind your clocks back a few years, Holden was once disparagingly referred to as the Commodore Company. At least one trick ponies have tricks, and the Commodore had been plying its trade successfully since 1978. In the last 10 years, however, the SUV has slowly taken over the family car role, as well as the young professionals choice, the hairdressers car, retirees, dentists, stamp collectors... ok, everyone started buying them.
Holdens offerings had been the nice-at-the-start, cooling-to-mediocre-in-the-middle, olde but cost effective Captiva range which ran longer than the VE-VFII Commodore range. Finally, after 13 thousand mid life updates, it was retired. Roll on the Equinox (we'll talk about you later) and now the Acadia.
On paper, it looks like just what the doctor ordered. Basically, it's a (ZB) Commodore wagon with SUV space and 7 seats. It runs the familiar 3.6 DI V6 which cranks out a very handy 231kw and 367nm through a 9 spd auto. At 1897kg, that endows the Acadia with the best power to weight in this bunch, and at full flight, don't you know about it. It's as imposing as that big, bluff nose. That didn't seriously effect it's fuel economy though, with the best showing of this bunch. A best of 6.7 on my highway commute to Brisbane, put the Acadia well ahead of the Kluger which could barely get that number to start with an 8.
On the road, the Acadia is the best here. It's the most confident in the front end, and most reliable to push around corners. It's not as tactile as the ZB wagon, but for a battleship, it's comparatively supple. The front end does struggle with the power delivery, but that's the kind of management I like. The transmission does a bang up job of making sure you don't have to use the ridiculous rocker switch on top of the shifter, to choose your own ratios, and you can instead turn your attention to throttle modulation... doesn't everyone drive SUVs like that? (I don't like being late)
The bad news though is the rear suspension (yuck) which presents uncouth crashing under duress. That is something that doesn't burden the ZB. All AWD wagons get well sorted IRS, so why not this $63,000 unit? It's an extra $4,000 to get proper handling and composure then (opting for AWD). Even still, this LTZ-V has skinnier rubber than the Calais Tourer (235 vs the Calais 245) *please explain.
The rest of the experience is similar swings and roundabouts. The interior is a decent size, with decent comfort, but the materials are from another planet (okay, another continent). This is the same foible that troubled the Malibu and continues in the Equinox. What's good for the US, is not good for the Gander. It needs better materials. Other ailments include the mirror which is freakin enormous and teams up with the a-pillar to make an almighty blind spot, ground clearance from the front end is as low as my Commodore, and the space saver spare is a new industry standard poke in the eye. Getting to the spare is a seventh circle of hell.
Choose Your Own Adventure
I honestly was torn driving the Acadia. I know the AWD would fix some of my concerns, but others are there to stay. The Pathfinder delivers for those who are only concerned with features and put their second row entertainment at a higher priority than that of the front row. The most well rounded choice is the Kluger, which delivers functionally, but is the biggest drinker, with the most frequent servicing impost.
It's the Acadia by a nose, but it's so easy between buyers for the slightest feature to take priority.
For example, the Acadias Lane Keeping Assistance doesn't hold you in the middle of the road. It bounces side to side in the lanes. The Kluger and Pathfinder stay closer to the centre, but drift enough that I can't trust them either, so I turned LKA off in all three. The Active Cruise Control is just effective between them all, but the controls differ. Functionally it's a draw, but how you use them is your own preference.
So I'm not telling you which one to buy. You tell me.
Have Holden/GMC got it right? Or do they need to try harder? A full size spare and some actual nose clearance would be greaaat.
They're soooo close.
Gallery is YONDER
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