Pathfinder is also a roomy family vehicle, with all the popular comfort and convenience features. It offers third-row seating for up to seven passengers. If you haven't looked at a Pathfinder in a while, you may be surprised by the large size and bold styling of the current generation. Only a few years ago Pathfinders were compact and understated. Since 2005, however, the Pathfinder has been built on a shortened version of the same superb ladder frame and mechanical package that underpins the full-size Nissan Titan pickup. And to go with its new-found bulk, Pathfinder styling has acquired a great deal of attitude.
In short, the current Pathfinder can go practically anywhere, and get there in style and comfort.
The 4WD Off-Road 4WD model is equipped 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 4.0-liter V6 that powers the Pathfinder is a larger, retuned version of the engine that powers the 350Z sports car. Pathfinder's five-speed automatic transmission is specifically geared to capitalize on the engine's torque characteristics. For 2007, recalibrating has improved this engine's California emissions certification, from LEV2 LEV to LEV2 ULEV, making Pathfinder an Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle. Maximum towing capacity, with proper equipment, is still 6000 pounds.
Also new for 2007: express up-down operation for the passenger-side window (with safety reverse), an auxiliary audio jack for MP3 player compatibility on specific models and packages, and a new exterior color called Desert Stone. The base-level model badge has been changed from XE to S, and the SE Off-Road model is now available only with 4WD.
Nissan Pathfinder S 2WD ($25,600); S 4WD ($27,600); SE 2WD ($26,850); SE 4WD ($28,850); SE Off-Road 4WD ($31,650); LE 2WD ($33,800); LE 4WD ($36,000)
The Pathfinder features rugged body-on-frame construction using a ladder-type frame adapted from Nissan's full-size Armada SUV and Titan pickup. This is the type of construction best suited for heavy-duty towing, serious load-hauling, and ambitious bashing about in the backwoods.
Pathfinder's styling shares visual cues with the Armada and Titan, as well as the Frontier pickup. Up front, angular chrome grille bars vertically bracket the familiar Nissan logo. 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, the fender blisters encircle substantial tires and lend presence to the mostly smooth body panels. Sloping C-pillars with high-mounted rear door handles are angled less severely than on the Armada, but still make Pathfinder's kinship clear. The roof line, mimicking the Armada's, bows slightly over the forward passenger compartment then flattens aft of the C-pillar. A vertical divide 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 Armada's, with a low lift-over between upturns at each end tying into the large taillights. The backlight's (rear windscreen's) bottom edge tracks the bumper's geometry as part of an elongated pentagonal outline, picking up on the geometric theme of the Xterra.
The three-spoke steering wheel with metallic trim is familiar to Nissan owners. A large, round speedometer and tachometer complemented by four smaller gauges 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. The ignition key slot is on the dash, which is preferable to being on the steering column.
The stereo sits uppermost in the center stack, above the climate controls. Both are fitted with delightfully basic, intuitively shaped knobs and buttons and easily deciphered displays. In models with Nissan's All-Mode 4WD system and electronically controlled transfer case, a large rotary selector is positioned 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. The navigation system offers a bird's eye 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 with a bright metallic look. Two cup holders are sandwiched between the shift gate and the 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. These features add convenience and make life just a little easier.
The considerable length of the Pathfinder makes room for a third-row seat, providing space for up to seven passengers. There's even plenty of room in the front seats, where Pathfinder offers generous head, hip and leg space, as well as in the important middle seats.
The front seats are comfortable and supportive, on road and off, but would benefit from a deeper bottom cushion for added thigh support. The rear doors offer easy foot access, and the 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. 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.
The cargo area behind the third row of seats is a mere 16.5 cubic feet, but it's significantly more than the seven-passenger Ford Explorer offers. Collapsing the third-row seats boosts the Pathfinder's cargo capacity to 49.2 cubic feet, about 5 cubic feet roomier than a comparably configured Explorer. Once all seats are folded, however, Pathfinder falls short in cargo space when compared to the Explorer (by almost 5 cubic feet). On the SE and SE Off-Road models, the front passenger seat folds as well, opening up space for objects 10 feet in length, a great feature.
Storage bins, pockets and cubbies abound. Each row of seats gets two cup holders. All four doors have map pockets, and the ones in the front doors have secondary beverage receptacles molded in. The lower level of the glove box easily handles a half-liter beve
The five-speed automatic transmission shifts up and down almost imperceptibly, with smooth gear changes executed by the computerized engine management system. Pathfinder's throttle is drive-by-wire, which allows a more measured tip-in when in 4WD.
An extended exploration in an 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 the Pathfinder in the rough. We crawled over downed trees, crossed axle-deep water holes and descended sloppy slopes without stress, strain or undue slippage. Give credit in part to the SE Off-Road's impressive 9.2 inches of ground clearance.
The available All-Mode electronic transfer case lets the driver switch from 2WD to AUTO 4WD, locked 4WD High and 4WD Low ranges.
Hill Descent Control controls the Pathfinder on steep descents without the constant application of the brake pedal, very useful on muddy grades where locking up the brakes can result in sliding off the trail and into the trees. It's never good when that happens. With HDC, the driver only needs to steer. HDC is engaged by the driver via a switch when the transfer case is engaged in 4HI or 4LO, and it works in reverse as well. It can be activated at speeds up to 31 mph in 4HI and 15 mph in 4LO.
Hill Start Assist allows the driver to stop on a slope, release the brake pedal and not roll back for up to two seconds. HSA is always active and is available in 2WD, 4HI, and 4LO. HSA is designed for rugged, low-speed off-road driving situations.
On the highway, the Pathfinder's steering provided comforting on-center feel. Swiftly executed lane changes were managed well.
Brake pedal feel was also solid. ABS is standard, as is Electronic Brake-force Distribution. The former helps the driver maintain steering control while using the brakes full-force, especially on uncertain surfaces. The latter continuously and instantly shifts maximum braking force to the wheels with the most weight on them, even as the car's weight shifts forward while stopping.
The 2007 Nissan Pathfinder is a truly capable, and truly midsize SUV. All the elements are in place: a robust powertrain, a proper choice of 4WD mechanicals, fresh and eye-pleasing styling, an accommodating interior, and some nice amenities.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report from Bainbridge Island, Washington.