Sometimes it's good to be a pretender.
by Jill Amadio
If Nissan's 2001 Pathfinder is still en route to its destination, it should travel a lot faster and easier this year. The sturdy sport-utility vehicle has an all-new engine with enough ponies to give it the highest horsepower in its class.
A subcompact that has evolved into a compact-size urban vehicle with room for five passengers, the Pathfinder is one of those safely styled SUVs you can take anywhere - preferably on pavement. Its off-road capabilities have never been meant for more than a dirt road, but otherwise it fulfills one's need to own a large vehicle that boasts four-wheel drive without ever having to engage it, unless you're at the North Pole.
On dealer showroom floors in March, the 2001 Pathfinder will be sold in the same three trim versions as its predecessor: the XE, SE and LE. All are available with either two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive.
The real story here is power. Common to all three versions, the new aluminum block 3.5-liter, 24-valve V-6 engine is 35 lb lighter than last year's model, yet pumps out 240 horsepower (250 hp with the manual transmission) and is based on the VQ engine series currently in Nissan's flagship Maxima sedan. Torque has been increased by 65 ft-lb to give you more push when you need it on take-off, and there are two more valves per cylinder for more efficient engine operation.
Not too much separates the models from each other aside from convenience features such as seat adjustment systems, suede or cloth seat fabrics, fender flares, flash guards, and a luggage rack. Leather seats, side airbags, and power/heated seats are options only on the SE and LE.
The newly powerful 2001 Pathfinder will be featured heavily on the Web because that's where Nissan believes its buyers are. Targeted at tech-savvy 18 to 34-year-olds who may be first time SUV owners but longtime Web surfers, the compact Pathfinder has been engineered to satisfy the demands of those already replacing their lightning-fast Pentium III chips.
Sensible, and slightly rugged
Understandably, if swift is the word for under the hood, then sensible is the most fitting description for this four-door SUV's styling. Okay, throw in rugged, too, but Nissan isn't taking any chances with a design that has stayed basically the same and popular for the past two years. While a luggage rack provides that ready-for-a-trip look, the full frontal view is the most striking. A massive double grille and bumper flanked by headlamps hog the entire front end. The rear tailgate styling is clean and body-hugging, and the quarter-panel rear windows reach from sill to roof.
Inside, the passenger compartment is more car than truck, aside from a few macho accents such as big and bold black-on-white gauges on the newly designed instrument panel. Controls are at your fingertips both on the dash and on the steering wheel, and a new center console and armrest is wide enough for the beefiest elbow. Overhead are compass and temperature readings. On the 4x4 models an indicator light reminds you when four-wheel drive is engaged. Anti-lock brakes are standard on every Pathfinder.
Like most of this century's new SUVs and trucks, interior comfort is high and conveniences are many so that weaning yourself from a sedan or coupe is as painless as possible. Plenty of glass gives you wraparound visibility. The tailgate is easy to lift, and the cargo area is cavernous, a full 85 cu ft with the rear bench folded down.
High desert winds and tall SUVs don't always mix too well at speed because of the vehicles' high centers of gravity, but the Pathfinder held its own most of my drive time except for a couple of wobbles when a sudden gust swept across our bow.
I'd rolled out of Las Vegas behind the wheel of a 2001 Pathfinder prototype headed for the Valley of Fire state park. Freeway driving for the first several miles meant we could let it out and that new, more potent engine responded so well I had to keep a lookout for Smokies. A later ride in the earlier 2000 model with the smaller, noisier engine brought home the advantages of the new V-6.
Although our route presented no off-road challenges except for the shingle driveway leading to Nevada's Lost City Museum and its ancient Pueblo Indian red sandstone dwellings, the state park is blessed with one section of road that resembles a short-track roller-coaster. The Pathfinder tackled it like a well-tuned sedan, the suspension and shocks easing up and down for a beautifully balanced ride that didn't once give way to float. Steering was relatively precise, although I had no opportunity to test on sharp curves or over boulders. (What's an SUV test drive without straddling a couple of rocks?) Still, the drive route was enough of an experience to realize that this 2001 model provides calm comfort, and power when you need it.
Getting in and out of the Pathfinder is no stretch, a fact that women, who are expected to buy the vehicle in large numbers, will find agreeable. Adjusting the seat forward was quick and simple, although I wish designers would junk those large wheels on the side of the seat to adjust the seatback. I have a hard time not only getting my hands around the big wheels but also cranking them. They're too stiff. My vehicle came with a sunroof, a recommended option if you like lots of light.
If you're looking for a vehicle for serious off-roading, this isn't it. But if you want a civilized SUV that lets the world know you get the drift of the sport-ute lifestyle then the Pathfinder is a good place to begin.
2001 NISSAN PATHFINDER
Base Price: Approx. $25,100 (TBA later)
Engine: 3.5-liter DOHC V-6, 240 hp
Transmission: electronically controlled four-speed
Wheelbase: 106.3 in
Length: 182.7 in
Width: 71.7 in
Height: 67.9 in
Cargo volume: 38 cu ft
Towing capacity: 3500 lb (manual), 5000 lb (automatic)
Fuel economy: 15 city / 19 hwy
Major Standard Equipment:
Power windows, door locks
Tilt steering column
AM/FM cassette/CD audio system
Split fold-down rear bench
© 2000 The Car Connection