The Pathfinder, bigger and tougher than in the past, has developed into more of a family adventure vehicle and less of a passenger-oriented, crossover SUV. As such, it becomes more trucklike, more functional in a straightforward manner. It's been updated with performance, convenience and entertainment features-and it looks completely modern-but not necessarily littered with gadgets. Elaborate complexity, a design trend especially among manufacturers of luxury SUVs, has been set aside by Nissan in the Pathfinder, in which there is nothing too fancy.
The Pathfinder, following an industry trend, has grown in nearly every dimension, moving from a five-passenger configuration to a seven-passenger capability. Bucking another industry trend, the unitized body has been replaced with a fully boxed steel ladder frame. It's a platform similar to the Nissan Armada fullsize SUV. It's a rugged way to go, and convenient for Nissan, which makes good use of existing components at its Smyrna, Tennessee, manufacturing plant.
A new engine, a 4.0L V-6, is a stroked version of the 3.5L VQ V-6 found in the 350Z, Murano SUV and Quest minivan, among others. With a longer stroke, the V-6 now makes more torque (291 lb-ft) than horsepower (270), and becomes more suitable for truck use. It's an advanced engine, with variable valve timing, variable induction control, microfinished surfaces on the camshaft and crankshaft and molybdenum-coated pistons. To reduce weight, the intake manifold is resin, and the block is aluminum. The engines are also a local product, supplied by Nissan's engine plant in Decherd, Tennessee.
All '05 Pathfinders will come with a five-speed automatic transmission, as ours did. It's electronically controlled, and combined with the 4.0L engine and longer wheelbase, is rated to tow up to 6,000 pounds.
The suspension is an independent double-wishbone design, front and rear. In front, there are coilover shocks and a stabilizer bar, and the rear uses coil springs with coils located on the toe control link and a stabilizer bar. It's intended to improve ride and handling on rough terrain. You get Rancho shocks, standard, on the SE Off-Road model.
Right away, testers commented on the simplicity of the dash layout and controls. They are easy to understand, and for most of us, simple is good, as long as it works. Several testers commented that they liked the new styling, which is unusual for our staff.
There is a single tow hook in the front-not always convenient, but all you need, really. There is no tow hook in the back, but an integrated tow hitch is standard, and with the right clevis, that represents a solid recovery point. Those two pieces of equipment, perhaps not the ultimate in off-highway equipment, mean you don't have to be afraid to go places where you will get stuck. There are three skidplates, and the front passenger seat folds down, so you could sleep in the Pathfinder if you wanted to.
Taller drivers appreciated the extra room afforded by the new, longer wheelbase. There is conspicuously improved room for a taller driver's knees. The seats are eight-way adjustable with enough range to stay comfortable on longer hauls.
We found the engine and transmission to be normally good, adequate when challenged, but definitely noisy and harsh at the top of the rev range. Pushed hard on long uphill grades, the transmission would hunt between gears, and the engine makes a lot of noise starting at about 5,000 rpm. The redline is at 6,000 rpm, and the power is there, but extracting it when needed does not always make for completely relaxed driving.
The flip side of dash simplicity is that the layout can seem sparse, maybe even a bit crude, compared to some of the more polished entries in our fleet. Several testers also commented on marginal rearward visibility.
The Pathfinder was just average on most off-highway terrains, and in some cases, below average. We liked that the transfer case engaged and disengaged readily, but the suspension felt stiff on rocky trails and did not offer much flex. In ramp travel testing, our test of suspension flex, the Pathfinder ranked seventh. The Pathfinder worked pretty well on dunes, where the lack of suspension travel actually worked to reduce tramp and keep the tires up on top of the crust.
Testers deducted points for the suspension, having fewer hook points than some, and for an interior that was functional and versatile, but not tremendously well executed. By comparison to the more expensive vehicles in the test, the driveline and other mechanical componentry was uninspiring, and scores reflected that. We still think the new Pathfinder is adequate in every way, with enormous built-in value. It has enough power to be quick off the line, enough room to carry people and gear, and enough versatility for people who go places and do things. At the price, it is realistically accessible to normal families, something we can't say for all the vehicles in this fleet.
* "The Pathfinder seems like an amazing value for the dollar."
* "It may not have as many gadgets as the others, but I don't see that as a detriment."
* "With the traction control off, the Pathfinder works well in the sand dunes. Seems to have the right combination of weight and power."