2014 Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid: Gas Mileage Test Disappointing

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2014 Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid Platinum 4x4, upstate New York, Dec 2013

2014 Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid Platinum 4x4, upstate New York, Dec 2013

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Hybrid SUVs and crossover utility vehicles remain rare compared to the growing array of hybrid passenger sedans and hatchbacks.

So we've been eager to test the new 2014 Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid, one of only four hybrid crossovers. 

MORE: 2014 Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid: Is It Hybrid Enough To Matter?

It's only a mild hybrid, unlike Toyota and Lexus competitors, and we've had our doubts about whether it can deliver its rated gas mileage in real-world use.

2014 Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid

2014 Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid

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After spending more than a week with a Pathfinder Hybrid over the end-of-year holidays, the news isn't good.

The 2014 Pathfinder Hybrid is rated at 26 mpg combined (25 mpg city, and 27 or 28 mpg highway for all-wheel-drive and front-wheel-drive models respectively).

25 percent lower than EPA

Over 573 miles of mixed use, roughly two-thirds highway and one-third urban and suburban stop-and-go, the car's in-dash fuel-economy reading settled at 19.5 miles per gallon.

That is, regrettably, fully 25 percent lower than the combined EPA rating.

And that shortfall is the highest we've ever recorded among more than 200 cars we've tested over the last five years.

It's even worse than our test last summer of the 2013 Fiat 500 Abarth Cabrio, the Italian hot hatch with the alluring exhaust note that begs to be driven as hard as you dare.

The little Fiat hot rod is rated at 31 mpg combined, and we got 24.9 mpg--almost a 20-percent difference. The hybrid Pathfinder was worse.

2014 Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid Platinum 4x4, upstate New York, Dec 2013

2014 Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid Platinum 4x4, upstate New York, Dec 2013

Enlarge Photo

Supercharged four, tiny motor

The hybrid Pathfinder uses a supercharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, with a 15-kilowatt (22-hp) electric motor sandwiched between the engine and an adapted version of Nissan's continuously variable transmission (CVT).

Total power output of the engine and motor together is 250 hp

To its credit, Nissan offers the Pathfinder Hybrid in several different trim levels--including the mid-level SV model--and offers a choice of front-wheel or all-wheel drive on every one.

MORE: 2014 Nissan Pathfinder - full range review

Behind the wheel, though, it's not a very rewarding driving experience.

In stop-and-go traffic, the hybrid Pathfinder is lumpy, with surging clearly perceptible as the motor and engine clutch in and out, adding and subtracting two very different power outputs.

The engine stayed on virtually all the time, idling at 1100 rpm, even when fully warmed up and stopped at traffic lights. We saw almost no idle-stop at all.

And during the entire week, we saw the powertrain kick into electric-only mode only a small handful of times, generally at steady speed on gentle downhill slopes. The "EV" mode light in the dashboard stayed resolutely off.

When floored, the supercharged four produced sufficient power to move the big SUV away swiftly, occasionally even chirping the tires. But the price for that power was a loud and noticeable engine roar intruding on the usually quite quiet and calm interior.

Winter weather

To be fair, we tested the big hybrid crossover during the winter, when hybrid efficiency can fall 10 percent or more. And we did more than half our miles on the highway, where there's little benefit to the hybrid system.

But still.

We're sufficiently troubled by the shortfall that we'll try to test a Pathfinder Hybrid again this summer, in lower-speed and more stop-and-go traffic if we can manage it.

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