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1997 Nissan Pathfinder Sport Utility

4dr XE Auto

Starting at | Starting at 16 MPG City - 20 MPG Highway

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  • $23,899 original MSRP
Printable Version

1997 Nissan Pathfinder Sport Utility

Printable Version

1997 Nissan Pathfinder Sport Utility


1997 Nissan Pathfinder LE 4X4

Source: New Car Test Drive

SUV style, passenger car comfort.

by Ray Thursby

Like other areas of the automotive market, the sport-utility world is changing. It's a quiet kind of revolution, one that indicates manufacturers are paying close attention to the needs and wants of today's customers.

Not so long ago, sport-utility vehicles were evolutionary updates on pickup trucks. That was certainly the genesis of the original Nissan Pathfinder, and the same formula worked for early Chevy Blazers and Toyota 4Runners as well.

Now, increasingly sophisticated buyers are looking for something different. The hard-riding but off-road capable mid-size sport-utes of past years won't satisfy them; what they want is a machine with car-like comfort, equipment and driving characteristics, without giving up the traditional SUV high stance and suitability for those rare off-road forays.

Introduced last year, the latest Pathfinder reflects the requirements of this evolving market. Its direct competition comes from the Toyota 4Runner, also a year-old design; other candidates for consideration include the Blazer (or GMC Jimmy or Olds Bravada), Ford Explorer or Mercury Villager, Isuzu Rodeo/Honda Passport and Jeep Cherokees, Grand and regular.

But combining the attributes of a passenger sedan with those of a sport-utility vehicle entails compromise. Knowing your own priorities before stepping into a showroom is vital; old- and new-style sport-utes do many things well, but not necessarily the same things.


What we have here, at least visually, is a brawny station wagon with extra ground clearance. With no shared sheet metal between Pathfinder and Nissan pickups, the family resemblance is gone. Though the new entry retains the distinctive triple slots above the grille, it has a more rounded nose with faired-in headlights and a wagon body with the hard edges smoothed out.

Automotive resemblances don't stop with the sheet metal. The Pathfinder eschews the body-on-frame construction common to most sport-utes, using instead a unit structure that Nissan claims is more than twice as rigid as its predecessor, as well as considerably lighter. That should keep squeaks and rattles to a minimum, as it did during our test.

There are three models -- XE, SE and LE, in ascending order -- and the fancier versions carry more bright trim than most passenger cars; their grilles, bumper tops and running boards are plated or polished. Equivalent pieces on XE models are black (though, curiously, the XE rides on chrome wheels), creating an immediately apparent distinction between the models.

Both XE (from $23,919, including destination) and LE (from $33,339) versions are available with rear- or four-wheel drive. The latter is a part-time system with shift-on-the-fly capability, and we recommend the optional limited slip rear differential if you're planning to challenge mucky forest trails.

The sporty SE (from $28,369) is a 4WD-only model that essentially splits the difference between XE and LE and offers extra ground clearance -- 8.3 inches, versus 7.5.

As the wide range of listed prices suggests, the various Pathfinders run the gamut from relatively basic to fully loaded, though there's not a "stripper" in the bunch. All have a V-6 engine, ABS, AM/FM/CD audio system and rear wash/wipe as standard, but to get air conditioning, power windows, mirrors and locks, plus leather seats and automatic transmission without exhaustive option-shopping requires purchase of an LE version.

Our tester was a top-of-the-line LE, with 4WD.

The Inside Story

Is it a car or a truck? From the inside, you'll be hard-pressed to tell which category the Pathfinder fits best. Granted, the seats are higher off the ground than they would be in, say, a Nissan Altima, but the dashboard, seats and all other trim pieces convey a sense of passenger car ambience and comfort.

Like most sport-utes, getting into or out of a Pathfinder requires a long step up (or down), but once inside you'll find all the right stuff in all the right places. Dials (speedometer, tachometer, water temperature and fuel level) are large, as are buttons for most other necessary functions and rotary dials for climate control. The radio buttons are a little too small, and the electric mirror switches are hidden from view by the wheel, but by and large, the designers have done their work well. Everything else is sited for easy use.

Seating quality and noise isolation fall into the car-like class as well. A quiet, comfortable environment is one of the Pathfinder's greatest assets, followed by generous cargo space, enhanced by the vehicle's increased dimensions. On the debit side, taller occupants may find a little less headroom than they'd like, and all adults will wish the rear seat offered more leg room.

Very little needs to be added to complete the Pathfinder's cabin, especially when it's an SE or LE; most of us will be quite well served by an SE with added air conditioning. In fact, we prefer the lesser model's cloth upholstery -- especially for the first sit-down on cold winter mornings. On the other hand, we like the LE's power glass sunroof and excellent Bose sound system.

One standard feature that might work better on the option list is the heavily tinted privacy glass for rear doors, quarter windows and liftgate. Some buyers might find it a trifle dark for night driving.

On the plus side of the driver sightline ledger, the 1996 redesign moved the spare tire from the liftgate to an underbody storage nook, a change that also makes it easier to get in and out of the rear cargo hold.

Ride & Drive

Though not quite up to Rolls-Royce legendary quietness standards -- neither are Rolls-Royces, for that matter -- the Pathfinder is a quiet operator on paved roads. Wind noise is exceptionally low, and the engine is well-muted. The tires generate some sound (unavoidable with all-season rubber) but even that is minimal.

On pavement, the Pathfinder's suspension delivers a comfortable ride. Soft springs and generous wheel travel smooth out all but the worst bumps; the sole negative in this area is body roll during cornering, a common trait for sport-utility vehicles. Steering is good as well, striking a nice balance between precision and low effort.

Performance is still another Pathfinder plus. Even with a load of passengers and/or cargo, acceleration is brisk and there's enough torque to pull a 5000-pound trailer.

Good as the five-speed manual transmission is, the four-speed automatic (standard with the LE) struck us as a better all-around match to our tester's luxo character. It shifts crisply yet unobtrusively, and subtracts less from straight-ahead performance than many automatic-equipped sport-utes. We put this down to the power traits of the V-6 engine. Its peak horsepower output isn't extraordinary, but its robust torque comes on early and peaks at a relatively low 3000 rpm.

Like virtually all sport-utility vehicles, the Pathfinder's fuel economy is just so-so, even with a manual transmission. But that doesn't seem to matter much to most SUV buyers.

Final Word

In most respects, the Pathfinder seems to be exactly what a new generation of sport-utility buyers is looking for. It has style and comfort in abundance, and combines them with the stance of a traditional go-anywhere vehicle. There are better choices for truly demanding off-road use, but the Pathfinder is a good choice for the vast majority of owners who will never use their vehicles for stump-jumping or cliff-crawling.

Pricing qualifies as premium, nudging into the luxury range for the LE, but standard equipment levels are commensurately high, and, like all Nissans, the quality quotient is first rate.

Order our 200+ page magazine of reviews. Send $8.00 (S&H included) to New Car Test Drive, 2145 Crooks Rd. Suite 200, Troy, MI 48084

© 1997 New Car Test Drive, Inc.

Printable Version

1997 Nissan Pathfinder Sport Utility

Safety Features & Equipment

Braking & Traction

4-Wheel ABS Std

Passenger Restraint

Driver Air Bag Std
Passenger Air Bag Std
Child Safety Locks Std

Road Visibility

Intermittent Wipers Std
Variable Inter. Wipers Std
Printable Version

1997 Nissan Pathfinder Sport Utility

Original Warranty  help
Original Warranty
An original warranty is the warranty associated with a vehicle when it is brand new. In addition to the original warranty, select items, like tires, are typically covered by respective manufacturers. Also, an act of Federal law sometimes provides protection for certain components, like emissions equipment.
The original warranty is often broken down into multiple sections, including:
Basic Warranty:
Typically covers everything except for parts that wear out through normal use of the vehicle. Examples of non-covered items are brake pads, wiper blades and filters.
Drivetrain Warranty:
This warranty covers items the basic warranty does not protect. Wear and tear items such as hoses will not be covered, but key items like the engine, transmission, drive axles and driveshaft often will be.
Roadside Assistance:
The level of service differs greatly with this warranty, but many manufacturers offer a toll-free number that helps provide assistance in case you run out of gas, get a flat tire or lock your keys in the car.
Corrosion Warranty:
This warranty focuses on protecting you from holes caused by rust or corrosion in your vehicle's sheet metal.
Please check the owner's manual, visit a local dealership or look at the manufacturer's website to learn more about the specifics of the warranties that apply to a vehicle.

Basic 3 Years/36,000 Miles
Drivetrain 5 Years/60,000 Miles
Corrosion 5 Years/Unlimited Miles

Nissan Certified Pre-Owned Warranty  help
Certified Pre-Owned Warranty
To be eligible for Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) status, vehicles generally must be recent models with relatively low mileage. CPO vehicles must also pass a detailed inspection, outlined by the manufacturer, which is measured by the number of inspected points.
Warranty coverage can vary from one manufacturer to the next. While most certified pre-owned programs transfer and extend the existing new car warranty terms, others offer a warranty that simply represents an additional year and mileage value. Always check with the manufacturer for the specific warranties they offer.
Common features and benefits of Certified Pre-Owned warranties include:
Age/Mileage Eligibility
To even be considered for certification, a car must be a recent model year and have limited mileage. The exact requirements are established by individual manufacturers.
Lease Term Certified
Some manufacturers offer certified pre-owned cars for lease. The length of the lease is often shorter than a new car lease, but it will cost you less.
Point Inspection
These inspections entail a comprehensive vehicle test to ensure that all parts are in excellent working order. The point inspection list is simply a numbered list of exactly what parts of the car are examined. While many inspections range from a 70- to 150-point checklist, most are very similar and are performed using strict guidelines. Ask your local dealer about specific details.
Return/Exchange Program
Some manufacturers offer a very limited return or exchange period. Find out if you will get the sales tax and licensing/registration fees back should you return or exchange the car.
Roadside Assistance
Most certified pre-owned programs offer free roadside service in case your car breaks down while still under warranty.
Special Financing
Reduced-rate loans are available through many certified pre-owned programs. Manufacturer-backed inspections and warranties help eliminate the risks involved with buying pre-owned, so buyers who qualify can take advantage of the great offers.
Transferable Warranty
When a new car warranty transfers with the certification of the car and remains eligible for the next owner, it is known as a transferable warranty. Once the original transferable warranty expires, an extended warranty takes effect.
Warranty Deductible
This is the amount for which you are responsible when repair work is performed under the warranty. Some manufacturers require a deductible while others don't, so always ask.

7-year/100,000 mile limited warranty. Only Nissan models less than 6 years old and under 80,000 miles qualify for the Nissan Certified Pre-Owned program. The CARFAX® Vehicle History Report ensures your vehicle has a clean title history.
Age/Mileage Eligibility 6 model years or newer & less than 80,000 miles.
Lease Term Certified Yes
Point Inspection 167 point comprehensive Certified Pre-Owned Inspection and reconditioning. Inspection includes OEM service bulletins and recalls, diagnostic trouble codes, powertrain/chassis, body frame, road test, interior and body exterior.
Return/Exchange Program No
Roadside Assistance Yes for the duration of the 7 year/100,000 mile limited warranty from the original in-service date of the vehicle.
Special Financing Yes
Transferrable Warranty No/Yes with the purchase of the CPO Wrap Coverage at time of sale. Fee to transfer is estimated to be $50
Warranty Deductible $50 per claim

Learn more about certified pre-owned vehicles

Printable Version

1997 Nissan Pathfinder Sport Utility

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