The midsize Nissan Pathfinder was introduced in the late 1980s as a rugged SUV. After the third-generation model was introduced in 2005, this family-friendly hauler finally gets a V8 for 2008. The Pathfinder has become more mature and posh, with such standard or optional items as wood-tone trim, heated front seats and a DVD entertainment system. The third-generation Pathfinder already received improvements such as a longer wheelbase for more ride comfort and room.
The four-door Pathfinder SUV has much in common with the larger Armada SUV and Titan pickup truck. Nearly all trim levels come with rear-wheel drive or several four-wheel-drive (4WD) systems with low-range gearing for serious off-road use. An entry S trim level is followed by SE and SE Off-Road versions, and the top-line LE. Newly available are SE V8 and LE V8 trim levels. The V6 trim levels have 16-inch wheels, while the SE V8 has 18 inchers. There are no tire options.
The especially tough SE Off-Road version only comes with 4WD and has hill descent and ascent control, additional skidplates, an off-road suspension and all-terrain tires. This version lacks the running boards of higher-line Pathfinders because they'd likely be torn off or damaged in rugged off-road terrain. The new Pathfinder has a restyled nose and tail, besides new wheels and colors, but keeps its signature integrated, high-mounted rear door handles.
Under the Hood
The new V8 has 310 horsepower and 388 lb-ft of torque, while the standard V6 produces 266 horsepower and 288 pound-feet of torque. The V6 occasionally labors when working hard, but both the V6 and V8 are sophisticated dual overhead camshaft engines. The V6 provides lively performance in the city and on the freeway (at least with two occupants), while the V8 delivers appreciably more punch no matter what the load.
Both engines shoot power through a five-speed automatic transmission, with the SE getting a manual-shift feature. The transmission upshifts smoothly, but faster downshifts would be appreciated. The Pathfinder has exceptional off-road prowess with its 4WD systems. Nissan's All-Mode 4WD system can be left engaged on dry pavement, but this is not recommended with the part-time 4WD setups in other trim levels.
The Pathfinder is a seven-passenger SUV with three rows of seats, although the third row is difficult to reach and is best suited for a pair of kids. Large outside and interior door handles and hefty interior grips on windshield posts help entry and exit, but the running boards are too narrow for those with larger shoe sizes. Occupants sit high with good visibility, but there's no surplus of legroom for second-row occupants.
The quiet, businesslike interior has been thoroughly upgraded from early Pathfinders. The front seats provide good support, and second- and third-row seats have a split-folding feature. Gauges can be read quickly, while climate controls are large and smaller sound system controls are fairly easy to use. I had no difficulty seeing dashboard items at night. The optional navigation system doesn't absorb climate or audio controls, which is a plus. Cupholders and storage areas are plentiful, but the front power windows can be annoying because they move up and down so quickly they're hard to stop anywhere in between.
Standard for the S are air conditioning, a tilt steering wheel, cruise control, an AM/FM/CD player and power mirrors, windows and door locks with remote keyless entry. The SE adds rear air conditioning, dual-zone automatic climate control, a power driver seat, power-adjustable pedals, a CD/MP3 changer, running boards and a newly standard color information dashboard screen with a rearview camera for safer backing up.
Heated front seats, leather upholstery, a power front passenger seat, a power sunroof, a Bose sound system and satellite radio are added to the uptown LE. It's doubtful that many thought the Pathfinder would come this far when it was first introduced.
Safety features for all trim levels include a stability-control system, rear traction control and anti-lock all-disc brakes. The LE also adds front-seat side and side-curtain airbags with rollover deployment. They're in a $700 option package for other Pathfinders.
Major options include an $1,850 package for the SE with the power sunroof and Bose sound system. The same-cost Leather Package for the SE and SE Off-Road has leather upholstery and heated front seats and a power front passenger seat. The $2,400 Navigation Package for the LE has the "nav" system and keyless access and starting.
There's little cargo space with the third-row seatbacks in their upright position. But the split second-and third-row seatbacks fold flat to provide a spacious cargo area, and there's no need to remove headrests. Moreover, the SE has a fold-flat front passenger seatback for extra-long objects, and there's a handy in-floor compartment under the second-row seats.
On the Road
My test Pathfinder SE had the new V8, although I've experienced the V6. The V8 provides a 0-60 mph time of just 6.8 seconds, while the V6 manages to hit 60 in a respectable 7.5 seconds.
The Pathfinder weighs more than 4,500 pounds and is no fuel miser with either engine. Estimated EPA fuel economy with the V6 and rear-wheel-drive is 15 mpg in the city and 22 on highways and 14 and 20 with 4WD. Figures with the V8 are 13 city and 18 highway with rear-wheel drive, and 12 and 18 with 4WD. Premium-grade fuel is recommended.
The Pathfinder has body-on-frame construction like Nissan's big trucks, though its car-like all-independent suspension provides a generally good ride. But you'll never forget you're in a truck and not in a car-based crossover.
The direct steering provides decent road feel, although the turning radius is wide. Handling is arguably sporty, although body lean sets in if you push too hard through corners because this is, after all, a high SUV. The brake pedal has a smooth, progressive action, and stopping distances with the 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes are acceptable.
Right for You?
The Pathfinder is reasonably priced, from $25,780 for the rear-wheel-drive S V6 to $38,780 for the 4WD LE V8. This Nissan does everything it's supposed to do with no significant disappointments. It promises to be more competitive with the V8, although $4-a-gallon gasoline prices may cause more Pathfinder buyers to opt for the V6.