The test vehicles I receive each week are the automotive equivalents of the Vestal Virgins.
They are pristine, low mileage, current models. They are typically high-end rides loaded with every option in the automaker's larder. And they are clean enough that you could do brain surgery on the floor mats.
Obviously, this isn't the real world as most folks understand it. So, I thought I'd spend some time with a base model that had seen some serious use.
I found one on the Hertz lot at the Philadelphia International Airport. It was a 2016 Nissan Pathfinder S with 26,000 miles on it, which made it the highest mileage daily rental I had ever driven.
This S model was also rather bare bones compared to the top-of-the-line Platinum. It didn't even have a rear camera or a USB port, although, in fairness, it did have niceties like a tilt/telescopic steering wheel, 18-inch alloy wheels, and a climate-control zone for each of the three rows of seats.
This roomy, seven-passenger SUV is one of Nissan's best-selling vehicles. It started out some three decades ago as a traditional, truck-based SUV. Today, it is really a crossover, with its unibody and more carlike ride and handling afforded by its fully independent suspension. It's also front drive instead of rear drive (with all-wheel drive as a $1,690 option).
This front-drive Pathfinder originally listed for $29,830. According to the NADAguides, this vehicle, with 26,000 miles on it, has a "clean" retail value of $21,450.
Last designed for the 2013 model year, the Pathfinder is getting a little long in the tooth. But that's not a bad thing when a vehicle is as handsomely styled as this one. It's lean and graceful with a sufficiently macho presence.
The body fits weren't quite as good as the styling, but the paint work was — and it showed little evidence of maltreatment. Except for some light scuffing on the bright metal accents, the interior had also nicely survived the car's multiplicity of dance partners.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about the Pathfinder's interior is its roominess, which is surprising for a three-row SUV that's only 197 inches long.
I'm 6'2", and I had good leg room in all three rows. I don't remember ever being comfortable in an SUV's third row. That's usually the province of Ken and Barbie and their contortionist cousins.
The second row seats have nearly a half-foot of travel, creating either more legroom or easier access to the third row seats. There were eight cup holders and six bottle pockets, assuring all seven passengers of sufficient kidney cleansing.
The rental was a pleasant driver. It was reasonably quiet, and the seats and suspension teamed up to deliver a comfortable ride. The handling was competent, the steering a little heavy. Braking was fine.
Adequate acceleration is courtesy of a 3.5-liter V-6 that develops 260 horsepower. (The 2017 Pathfinder's horsepower harvest increases to 284, thanks to several engine tweaks, notably the switch to direct injection.)
This 2016 front-drive model has EPA mileage ratings of 20 city and 27 highway, which compares quite well with the competition. (The 2016 Chevy Traverse front-driver gets 17 and 24. The Honda Pilot has 19 and 27.)
The rental's good mileage derives in part from its relatively light weight (4168 pounds) and its continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). CVTs are as economical as they are tedious.