In addition, it's not often we comment about OEM tires, but the 235/70R15 Bridgestone Dueler HTs deserve some note. Clearly biased for street performance and fuel economy, they were remarkably quiet during moments where other tires we've tested sung out high and loud. Even on the trail, we found the aired-down HTs gave us enough traction at the right moments to keep things predictable. To compensate for a more street-biased tread, we took our 235s down to 15 psi for more contact patch to combat the rocky terrain. It seemed to help, and certainly improved our ride quality-but we also lost an inch and a half of overall ground clearance. That made us thankful we removed the factory sidesteps.
There were other aspects of the new Pathfinder, usually at moments on the trail, that left us wanting. Specifically, the Pathfinder was left at the previous-generation's rather highly geared 2.02:1 low-range. With the manual transmission, we found ourselves stalling the engine occasionally, and desperately searching for the clutch defeat switch. There is none. As it stood, where the rear limited-slip couldn't help, we played the E-brake like a violin to get us through the rough spots. The rack-and-pinion setup, generally a subject of debate among trail-oriented buyers, has so far been no problem. The unibody has not shown any tendency to flex on the trail when doors are opened. We have no paint chipping or other symptoms to report in that regard.
Thus far, our Pathfinder has performed quite well, with only one regularly scheduled dealer service stop at 7,500 miles. With the exception of a recalibrated airbag sensor (flashing dash light) and a CD-player sensitivity adjustment (it was skipping when we changed lanes), our lube, filters, and oil change totaled $69.95. With close to 8,500 miles under its belt, our Pathfinder rarely ran below 15 mpg, with a best tankful running 17.9. Our "worst" (we did do most of this tank in low-range on a high-elevation mountain trail) was 11.5 mpg. After 30 fuel pump stops, with an average price per gallon at $1.35, we never needed more than a $20 bill at the fill-up station.
As with any significant redesign, risks must be taken and compromises made. The new Pathfinder is now a more refined sport-ute, still very sporty and easy to drive. More interior creature comforts, a surprisingly compliant chassis and suspension, as well as an on-road-biased, civilized start and stop strategy, all combine to make the new Pathfinder just right for those who don't want their four wheelers too hot or too cold. In the import arena, it could the on-road standard others will try to match.