Hot new engine makes it better than ever.
by Ted West
Base Price (MSRP) $26,399
As Tested (MSRP) $34,217
Perhaps more than any other single truck, the Nissan Pathfinder is responsible for the current popularity of sport-utility vehicles. More than a decade ago, when other manufacturers were only beginning to take note of SUVs, the compact, sturdy Pathfinder was already established with the knowledgeable, influential buyers who set such megatrends in motion.
Nissan is doing everything possible to keep its trendsetter at the forefront of SUV-buyers' minds. Last year marked the debut of a handsome new contemporary look for the Pathfinder, and in the odd way that Nissan does things, this year they have introduced the 2001 model with a new and dramatically more powerful engine. The combination of fresh looks and excellent power is certain to confirm Pathfinder's strong position in the market for years to come.
The 2001 Pathfinder line is divided into two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive models. Three trim levels are available: XE ($26,399); SE ($27,349); LE ($29,299). Add $2,000 to all prices for 4x4 versions of the same models. XE and LE come standard with a four-speed automatic transmission. SE comes standard with a five-speed manual gearbox; add $1,000 to SE for automatic.
The base model is the Pathfinder XE, now fitted with a long list of standard features formerly available only as options. XE comes standard with power windows, heated mirrors and door locks, remote keyless entry, a rear cargo cover and rear cargo net, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
A sportier and more performance-oriented alternative, especially suitable for drivers who actually intend to use their Pathfinders off the pavement, is the rugged SE. The top-of-the-line LE provides the longest list of luxury amenities. A limited-slip differential can be ordered for SE or LE for $249. When equipped with the manual transmission, the SE delivers 250 horsepower - 10 more horsepower than its stable mates do.
Pathfinder SE and LE come with alloy wheels, larger P255/65R16 mud & snow tires and interior provisions not supplied in the base XE. SE adds painted six-spoke alloy wheels, body-colored fender flares and mirrors, a chrome grille surround, automatic on/off headlights, halogen fog lamps, driver's seat with memory, wood-tone trim, Bose audio system with in-dash six-disc CD changer, outside temperature gauge and compass, steering wheel audio controls and dual lighted vanity mirrors. Options include leather, a one-touch sunroof, and eight-way power seats.
Pathfinder's body and interior accommodations were redesigned for the 1999 model year; the new styling represents an evolutionary rather than revolutionary change from the previous generation. Winsome and efficient, the Pathfinder's styling has a square-jawed galoot look in front. Elsewhere it has been nicely modernized and smoothed out, while not losing any of its former ruggedly functional demeanor.
Our test vehicle was the performance-oriented SE 4X4. It featured body-colored wheel flares and painted rearview mirrors, and its alloy wheels contributed to its purposeful, well-integrated appearance. Under the hood was the newly enlarged 3.5-liter twin-cam V6, which offers a whopping 70 more horsepower than its forebear. This engine was coupled with Nissan's excellent 4-speed automatic transmission.
Our SE had a step rail for climbing into and out of the truck. The tailgate lifts up from the bottom, and there is a separate release to allow for opening just the rear window. The liftgate can be released from the driver's position, but opening the window requires unlocking it at the rear gate. The truck had a rear bug-deflector, as well as a standard rear washer and wiper. The spare tire is mounted underneath the rear of the truck; this provides more interior space, but may result in more of a struggle changing tires. The luggage rack has adjustable sliding tie-downs, and the radio antenna is wrapped in swirled wire to reduce wind noise at speed.
Just as the exterior was redone in 2000, so was the interior. A new console and instrument panel replace the showier, more dramatic controls from the 1999 model. In place of wood trim, the new instrument panel is black, straightforward, all business. The main instruments follow Nissan's trademark black-on-white pattern and are extremely easy to read. The steering wheel of our SE had cruise-control buttons on the right of the hub and audio controls for on/off, mode, and seek-up on the left.
The center of the Pathfinder's dash contains the usual heating/air conditioning controls, using a conventional, entirely satisfactory three-knob layout. Audio controls are mounted below the heater controls, and in our SE, these controls included the aforementioned, excellent in-dash six-CD changer. (No more groping around with remote CD changers located in the trunk.) Our SE had heated leather front seats and not two but three power take-offs - one in the dash, one in the center console and one inside the tailgate - for running external electrical equipment.
In addition to central/remote locking, the Pathfinder had one-touch up/down windows and a one-touch open/close sunroof. These are a welcome convenience, because the vast majority of the time we want to open or close the windows or sunroof all the way. Mounted in our SE's overhead console was an outside temperature readout and a digital compass. Our eight-way power front seats were excellent, and the truck's black leather upholstery was sumptuous. The Pathfinder had four cupholders, two in front, two in back, and convenient grab handles for climbing in through both rear doors.
The Pathfinder has always been a comfortable and attractive truck, but with the new 2001 powerplant, it has become something more - a startlingly powerful, quick performer. Indeed, the new combination offers almost sedan-like acceleration, especially in 4x2 models with the manual transmission. In that configuration, the Pathfinder has an enormous 80 more horsepower than the previous model, recording impressive 0-60 mph acceleration times of only 7.6 seconds.
Our SE 4x4 was equipped with the automatic transmission and thus had only 70 additional horses. Nonetheless, with 240 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, it produced 0-60 times in the mid-8 second range, vastly more spirited than most foot-dragging SUVs.
Just as surely, if you are the one in a hundred who intends to use your Pathfinder as an off-road vehicle, the 2001 model's more powerful drivetrain delivers enormous utility and flexibility in rough terrain. It remains rugged and ready to go anywhere, especially if you order the all-business limited-slip differential. But more likely than not, you will be using the Pathfinder exclusively on pavement. And with its vigorous new powertrain, there is no need for you to be one of those SUVs that is forever in the way. With the 2001 Pathfinder, you can lead the way.
Since the beginning of the SUV boom, buyers of these vehicles have been willing trade mediocre performance for utility and crash safety. But with the 2001 Pathfinder - and the new SUVs from BMW, Mercedes-Benz and other luxury makes - the performance of these trucks has suddenly become competitive with conventional automobiles.
In achieving this advance, the 2001 Pathfinder has sacrificed none of its earlier truck strengths. It is a modern, all-purpose sport-utility of the first order, delivering comfort, toughness and that tall, looking-down-atcha stature that SUV buyers value so highly.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.