Expert Review:Autoblog

Pathfinder Side 425

In the past year or so I think I've only reviewed a few SUVs, the Cadillac SRX, Mitsubishi Outlander and the BMW X3. For some reason there's always been a car coming in and not an SUV that interested me enough to review it. Then of course it is also winter now and the desire for some more suitable vehicles to tackle sub-zero weather makes a bit more sense. So in comes the all-new Nissan Pathfinder.

Even though I like the redesign of this SUV there’s nothing about the genre itself that gets you “excited” to go for a drive. Unless of course you ‘re in a Cayenne Turbo. That’s the unfortunate realization I have at the start of my holiday week in the Pathfinder, no matter how good it is at its job I won’t be white knuckling it around curves or flooring it from a dead stop. Instead I’ll be safely cruising through some of the worst winter weather in recent years. Maybe I have good timing getting this thing in the garage for this particular five days.

Pathfinder wheelFirst impression of the seven-seater is that the interior is nicely done for an SUV. It feels rugged without the sense that anything is missing (unlike the Xterra). My favorite parts of the cockpit, strangely, enough are the two stubby stalks on either side of the steering wheel to control the standard lights, signals and wipers. They’re just very cool and extremely ergonomic and easy to use. I’ll post pictures of them later.

I also think the dual climate control is nicely done and if I wasn’t wearing gloves when entering the car they’d be easier to adjust I’m sure. I even like the placement and small window for the environmental information, it’s neat and military-esque. The seats are also quite comfortable and look rugged enough to repel lots of stains.Pathfinder A/C 425

The 270 horsepower and 291 lb-ft of torque is plenty even for the considerable bulk it has to propel but the engine is also quite loud. Road noise is kept down for the most part if not in 4WD. So far I have been pretty mindlessly driving along taking as many bumps
as the city can throw at it. More observations coming tomorrow.

Pathfinder rearThe Garage has had a rough weekend with holiday travel. The new Pathfinder had to sit at the airport garage for two days but the ride out to the airport and back revealed a few things. Most importantly the Pathfinder's ride is very solid, eliminates most road and wind noise and provides lots of comfort in the front seats.

However, the engine is very loud and has trouble finding gears at highway speeds. It felt like after 50 mph the car couldn’t find that final gear for cruising unless you revved really hard. But if you rev too hard you’re usually not cruising at a constant rate. It’s a frustrating aspect to an otherwise capable large SUV.

Pathfinder cups 250The handling is surprisingly stiff and I like that. When steering such a huge vehicle you don’t want a disconnected feel when turning or changing lanes. There’s also plenty of visibility with huge side view mirrors and lots of glass all around.

Getting luggage in the back was no problem. When I first opened up the rear hatch I saw this tiny cargo area. I took a double take realizing the third row seats were still up. A quick button push and both folded flat in a jiff revealing a hard plastic cargo floor with plenty of room for whatever we had. The floor is a little higher than I’d like, especially if lifting really heavy loads, but it wasn’t as bad as other SUVs we’ve tested like the Cadillac SRX.

I’ll make sure to get some more images for the next post and while you wait check out Day 1.

Pathfinder Interior 250As more time passes in the Pathfinder I find myself actually enjoying the behemoth of an SUV. Folks, the 4x4 SE I'm in gets 15/21 mpg for city and highway and that's not great but could be worse considering I would replace a full size Expedition (14/19 mpg) with this Pathfinder that is almost 20 inches shorter in length.

The biggest change with the all new Pathfinder is the fact that it is based on the Nissan Titan truck. My fiancée actually pointed out how much different it was from the much plusher previous version that acted more refined and less truck-like. Now that Nissan has the Murano for the folks that want a car-like ride the Pathfinder makes sense for those that want more 4x4 action.

Pathfinder Stack 150Inside things are also more truck-ish. All the surfaces are made of a sturdy plastic but the steering wheel and automatic shifter are wrapped in very nice leather. There are compartments everywhere and numerous power outlets (although no 12Vs) for either the camper or techno-geek. The seats are a sturdy fabric and a dark color that will hide the dirt it will inevitably gather.

I’ll admit I haven’t been on authentic off-road courses but I can still tell the Pathfinder would do a great job at it. And I like the ride around town as well. The main faults are the loud engine and questionable transmission. But neither one should prevent buyers in the market for a large SUV.

Staring at the center stack and listening to a few CDs there would be no doubt in my mind I’d add a nice after-market unit and all new speakers. The stock unit isn’t that bad and handled my test CDs fairly well. But the layout lends itself to addition and why not make the thing a moving entertainment system.

There’s also lots of utility with the three rows of seats and hard plastic cargo area. We’ll delve into that on the final day of the test.

Check out Day 1 and Days 2-3.

Pathfinder Front 250The most important aspect of any SUV, at least to me, is how much cargo can it hold and how easily can you fold everything down to fit the latest Ikea, Home Depot or Costco purchase. Because let's face it if you're going camping you have time to figure everything out beforehand. If you're stuck in a rainy parking lot and just bought a new jumbo TV because it was on sale then you're in a hurry.

Pathfinder rear cargo 250

The Pathfinder does the flip down thing really well. Third row seats fold flat in a snap and I’m sure most of us would keep them down at all times unless there are more than two children in the family. This leaves a rather large, hard-floored cargo area. Let me just say I love the hard plastic idea for an SUV. Actually if I had my way the entire interior floors of SUVs, trucks and minivans would be durable hard plastic instead of cheap carpet that is harder to clean. One innovation the Honda Element did right I guess.

Pathfinder Heads down 250Back to the Pathfinder. The second row seats have carpeted backs so when you fold them down there isn’t a complete hard floor and they don’t fold completely flat. There is a trick to get them to swing up against the front seats but the basic pictogram on the seat couldn’t help me figure it out. After ten minutes I was reaching for the manual. I doubt though that most folks would bother with this step because even though the second row isn’t flat, it is flat enough. I’d rather all three rows fold flat with that hard plastic all around though. There’s really no need for the pouches on the second row seats anyway.

Pathfinder Heads up 250The pouches do accentuate that the Pathfinder is packed with useful knickknacks. There are compartments, hooks, nets, cup holders and pockets everywhere.  Also the headrests in the second row seats are built into the seats. This is the neatest idea. When you see it you wonder why everyone doesn’t do that.

If you wanted to you could spend a day configuring the Pathfinder for a long road trip, camp out or tailgating excursion and you’d probably have a good time doing it. I was surprised at how much I liked the vehicle and am looking forward to what Nissan has in store for their next batch of cars. You remember cars right Nissan? Pathfinder gauges

All-new, big and comfortable, but ready for the trail.


The mid-size SUV market is a crowded place. From a handful of competitors 10 or 15 years ago, it's grown in numbers to rival the mid-size car market. How to stand out in such a teeming mass is the challenge Nissan faced when it undertook the update of the Pathfinder, its mainstay in the heavily congested mid-size SUV fray. 

Nissan had the 4X4 technology, but that alone couldn't carry the burden. It needed a stronger drivetrain. The Pathfinder had long been an underdog, with barely competent power and an aging transmission. The new Pathfinder had to step up with a rejuvenated engine and a state-of-the-art gear set. 

The solution turned out to be right at hand: the same V6 powering the 350Z, Nissan's performance star. With the displacement boosted to 4.0 liters and its horsepower and torque curves redrawn to workhorse geometry, the new Pathfinder engine not only substantially bettered its predecessor, it also stepped out ahead of the market's benchmark, the larger V8 in the number one-selling Ford Explorer. Fuel economy is improved, too, by 2 mpg on the highway. The new, five-speed automatic, geared to capitalize on the engine's torque characteristics, completes the package. Electronic stability control comes standard, giving drivers a reassuring safety blanket by controlling skids. 

Get up and go is one thing. Looking and feeling good in the process is another entirely, and Nissan had fallen behind the curve here, too. For years, the Pathfinder had made do with modest, cosmetic makeovers of stale design motifs, while the market was moving toward more expressive exteriors and roomier, more accommodating interiors. 

Again drawing on the new Pathfinder's stablemates, Nissan dumped its predecessor's size-limiting, frame-less body construction in favor of a larger, honest, body-on-frame truck design. This opened the door to a complete re-vamp of the Pathfinder's exterior, to a bold, broad-shouldered shape more in synch with the company's all-new, full-size SUV and pickup. 

Likewise with the interior: With more room, there could be more comfort and more conveniences, not to mention more passengers, something that has become critical as SUVs have grown to keep pace with growing, active families. The new Pathfinder shines inside, with upgraded, less busy, more intuitive digs. 


The 2005 Nissan Pathfinder arrives in four trim levels, each of which can be ordered with two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, the latter either manually or electronically selected. All are powered by the 270-horsepower, 4.0-liter V6 engine with a five-speed automatic transmission. 

The Pathfinder XE ($24,650), the base model, comes with air conditioning; cruise control; power mirrors, windows and door locks with keyless remote; halogen headlamps; AM/FM/CD stereo playing through six speakers; fabric upholstery; adjustable lumbar on the driver's seat; reclining backs on the middle row seats; roof rails; and a pre-wired tow setup including hitch. The XE also comes standard with Vehicle Dynamic Control and aluminum-alloy wheels. A choice of XM or Sirius satellite radio ($400) are available, but few options are available. 

Stepping up to the SE ($25,850) adds power adjustable driver's seat; halogen foglights; running boards; roof rack cross bars; and middle seat fold-down center armrest. Three SE option packages are available. The SE Comfort Package ($1,350) has dual-zone, automatic air conditioning; adjustable pedals; multi-accessorized, auto-dimming rearview mirror; upgraded sunvisors; leather trim (but not seats); and painted silver interior accents. The SE Premium Package ($1,700) adds a two-way power sunroof; automatic headlamps; programmable remote garage door opener; the Bose stereo with six-disc CD changer and eight speakers plus subwoofer; redundant steering wheel-mounted audio controls; and capabilities for MP3 and satellite radio. The Mobile Entertainment System ($1,600) delivers a DVD player with a rear-passenger, seven-inch color monitor and two infrared headphones. 

The Pathfinder SE Off-Road model comes with B.F. Goodrich Rugged Trail P265/75R16 tires on distinctive wheels; Rancho off-road shocks; skid plates. The 4X4 SE Off-Road model ($30,450) also comes with Hill Descent Control (which limits downhill speed without driver intervention) and Hill Start Assist (which briefly holds the Pathfinder on a slope while the driver releases the brake pedal and applies the accelerator). The Off-Road model features robust, waffle-texture fabric upholstery. An optional Leather Package ($1,400) includes leather-trimmed and heated front seats, four-way power adjustable front passenger seat, leather-trimmed doors and heated outside mirrors. The Mobile Entertainment System is also available. 

The Pathfinder LE tops the lineup with leather upholstery, wood-toned trim, a sunroof, the Bose system with six-disc changer, eight speakers and subwoofer, and 17-inch wheels and tires. The LE-exclusive Navigation Package ($2,000) includes a DVD-based navigation system with a seven-inch, color LCD display. 

Safety features include dual, two-stage frontal airbags; antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution; and electronic stability control, which Nissan calls Vehicle Dynamic Control. Available on all four trim levels is an Air Bag Package ($700), providing front-seat side-impact airbags and full-coverage, side curtain airbags. We recommend opting for this last package as it can provide head protection to you and your passengers if someone crashes into the side of your vehicle or you roll over. And we strongly recommend always wearing your seatbelts as they are your first line of defense in an accident. A monitor is included with the Navigation Package that checks the pressure of each tire. 


Nissan wants no one to mistake the re-positioning of the 2005 Pathfinder. Any car-like pretensions previously associated with the Pathfinder are now the sole domain of the Nissan Murano, a sleek, curvaceous crossover utility that was recently introduced. The new Pathfinder is intended to be a no-compromise, fully off-road-capable SUV, and its dimensions and styling make this imminently clear. 

To achieve this, the Pathfinder's underpinnings have been dramatically altered. Its predecessor's car-like unibody, where the various body panels and connectives give the chassis its form and rigidity, has been replaced by truck-like body-on-frame construction based on a ladder-type frame adapted from the car maker's full-size Armada SUV and Titan pickup. Thus, if the new Pathfinder looks larger, that's because it is, by six inches in overall length, and by five inches in wheelbase. It's an inch wider, too, and almost five inches taller. 

Similarly, the bloodlines of the bold, brash front end draw directly on the Armada and Titan, closely mirroring as well the new midsize Frontier pickup. Angular chrome verticals bracket the familiar Nissan logo centered in the grille. Crisply outlined headlight lenses fold around the edges of the fenders. A strong, chin-like bumper houses a wide, low air intake, with small, round sockets for the optional fog lights just inboard of the fender blister creases. 

From the side, those fender blisters encircle substantial tires and give substance to the mostly smooth body panels. The trademark sloping C-pillars with high-mounted rear door handles are angled less severely. The roof line, mimicking the Armada's, bows slightly over the forward passenger compartment then flattens aft of the C-pillar. A vertical track carried over from the previous generation splits the rear side door windows allowing the forward two-thirds of the glass to lower fully into the door, a nice feature. Short overhangs front and rear spotlight the new Pathfinder's off-road promise. Openings in the ends of the roof rails at first seem mere styling exercises, but actually offer convenient hand-holds when loading and offloading sport gear. 

The rear bumper copies the larger Armada's, with a low lift-over between upturns at each end tying into the large taillights. The backlight's (or rear windscreen's) bottom edge tracks the bumper's geometry as part of an elongated pentagonal outline, picking up on the geometric theme first appearing on the company's more assertive off-roader, the Xterra. 


The interior is as new as the exterior, with elements patterned after the full-size Armada and Titan, although appropriately downsized. 

The steering wheel could have come from virtually any recent model Nissan. Two metallic-looking spokes, holding the cruise and redundant audio controls when ordered, at a clock face's 9 and 3 and a broad brace at 6 support a thick rim. Large, round speedometer and tachometer complemented by four smaller gauges, two of which are inset in the lower quarters of the speedo and tach, monitoring the engine's vital statistics fill the top half of the steering wheel opening. A column stalk to the left manages the exterior lights, and one to the right runs the windshield wipers and washers. Outside mirror and pedals are adjusted with buttons located on the lower dash to the left of the steering column. To the right, the ignition key slot has relocated from the steering column to its rightful place in the dash. 

The stereo sits uppermost in the center stack, above the climate control panel, both fitted with delightfully basic, intuitively shaped knobs and buttons and easily deciphered displays. In models with Nissan's All-Mode 4X4 system and electronically controlled transfer case, a large rotary selector sits in a panel at the base below a smallish storage bin. Stacked vertically to the right of this are two of the four accessory power outlets. Atop the dash above the stereo a shallow tray occupies the space reserved for the optional navigation system's pop-up display. That display, by the way, offers one of the cooler perspectives; called the Birds Eye, it shows a quasi-3D point of view, with map details tracking away to a virtual horizon. A bi-level glove box fills the lower part of the dash to the right of the center stack. 

Dash panels are uniformly textured, flowing smoothly out from the base of the windshield around and down on each side of the center stack to the knee bolsters filling the space between the stack and doors. The center console is finished in a bright metallic with two sandwiched cup holders between the shift gate and the center console storage bin. The bin is deep and wide, with receptacles for coins, a power outlet and slots for CDs; the underside of the console lid holds clips for a couple pens or pencils. Cupholders for second-row occupants fold out of the back side of the center console. 

The added inches to the body of the new Pathfinder make room for a third-row seat, allowing it to carry up to seven passengers. But there's also more room in the front seats. Head, hip and leg room is up in the front and, now, middle seats by at least an inch in all measures except middle seat head room, which drops by 0.1 inches. Rear seat hip room grows the most, by fully six inches. 

Front seats are comfortable and supportive, on road and off, but would benefit from a deeper bottom cushion for added thigh support. Rear doors offer easy foot access, and seatbacks are adequately bolstered, at least for the two outboard passengers. Anybody sentenced to the center-row center seat had best hope the trip is short. Access to the third row is gained via a relatively easy folding of the middle seat, but climbing in provides a good gauge of how comfortable it's going to be back there. Put another way, limber, small-to-medium statures fit best. Grab/assist handles are plentiful, except for the driver's door. And the liftgate has an inside pull-down, sparing fingers contact with road grime, although a remote inside release for the liftgate was either non-existent or very well hidden. 

With the rearmost seats upright, cargo area is a mere 16.5 cu. ft. This is, however, nearly 3 cubic feet more than the seven-passenger Ford Explorer will hold. Collapsing the Pathfinder's third-row seats boosts cargo capacity to 49.2 cu. ft., more than 5 cu. ft. roomier than a comparably configured Explorer. Beyond that point, though, those seats exact a price even when folded. 

Driving Impression

Bigger is better as far as interior space and comfort are concerned but could be problematic vis-a-vis ride and handling, given the '05's abandonment of the previous generations' unibody construction. Kudos go to the suspension engineers, then, for taming the new, truck-based foundation. The longer wheelbase, for starters, mellows pavement heaves and minimizes the head toss on rippled roads, while the wider track lessens body lean in turns. Turning circle, though, suffers, as it's almost two feet larger than the '04's. 

Close body panel tolerances and multiple door seals tame wind noise. Strategically positioned sound deadening mutes road and tire noise, including that from the Off-Road model's more aggressive treads. The roof rack's cross bars generate some whistle, which is most noticeable with the sunroof's inside shade retracted. 

Transmission shifts, up and down, are smooth, virtually invisible, executed by the slick computerized engine management system that now incorporates drive by wire. This latter allowed programming the throttle for a more measured tip in when the Pathfinder is in 4X4 mode. An extended exploration in the SE Off-Road of a muddy, technical, single-vehicle track in a heavily wooded area on Bainbridge Island across the bay from Seattle proved not only the effectiveness of this alternative throttle programming, but also the surprising dexterity of this larger and heavier Pathfinder in the rough. Crawling over downed trees, crossing axle-deep water holes and descending sloppy slopes were accomplished without stress, strain or undue slippage, with credit due in part to the SE Off-road's impressive 9.2 inches of ground clearance. 

Power from an enlarged and truck-tuned version of the 3.5-liter V6 in the Nissan 350Z, while not in the stump-pulling class, is more than adequate. In fact, in horsepower it's 31 up on the Explorer's V8, in torque up nine lb. ft. Power builds smoothly, too, pulling solidly to the upshift limiter, programmed to step in at 5600 revolutions per minute. A welcome side benefit is the healthy exhaust note accompanying the engine's ups and downs. 

At highway speeds, steering fed back a comforting on-center feel. The engine moved the Pathfinder's nearly two-and-one-half tons at significantly extra-legal speeds with the same aplomb as slogging through muddy ruts. Swiftly executed lane changes excited no disconcerting tail wagging. Brake pedal feel was solid. 


The 2005 Nissan Pathfinder is what the original promised and should have become, had the market's sirens not distracted its creators: a truly capable, and truly midsize, SUV. 

All the elements are there: A robust powertrain, with the proper choices of 4X4 mechanicals. Fresh and eye-pleasing styling. Accommodating interior. And some nice-to-have amenities. 

New Car Test Drive correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report from Bainbridge Island, Washington. 

Model Lineup

Nissan Pathfinder XE 4X2 ($24,650); XE 4X4; SE 4X2 ($25,850); SE 4X4; SE Off-Road 4X2 ($28,450); SE Off-Road 4X4 ($30,450); LE 4X2 ($32,550); LE 4X4. 

Assembled In

Smyrna, Tennessee. 

Options As Tested

Airbag Package ($700) includes front seat side impact and side curtain airbags; SE Premium Package ($1,700) includes power tilt-and-slide sunroof, automatic headlamps, programmable remote garage door opener, Bose 8-speaker and subwoofer AM/FM/CD stereo with 6-disc changer, steering wheel secondary audio controls and MP3 and satellite radio capabilities. 

Model Tested

Nissan Pathfinder SE Off-Road 4X4 ($30,450). 

*The data and content on this web site is subject to change without notice. Neither AOL nor any of its data or content providers shall be liable for errors in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.

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