The Nissan Pathfinder is among the few SUVs available today that offers real off-road capability. We've driven over some extremely rugged terrain in Pathfinders, including off-road test tracks, and it's in the same capability class as the Toyota 4Runner, Jeep Grand Cherokee, and Land Rover LR4.
The 2010 Pathfinder comes with a superb V6 engine and we highly recommend it. Pathfinder is also available with the 5.6-liter V8 engine from the Titan full-size pickup, with 310 horsepower.
Built like a truck and practically unstoppable, the Pathfinder is a seven-passenger mid-size SUV for those who require a genuine truck yet still want style and comfort during the week.
If your off-road driving consists of graded dirt roads, you desire all-wheel drive for bad weather, or tow something as light as personal watercraft, Nissan's Murano crossover will likely do the job. But if your path has tree stumps, rocks, ruts or mud, or if your boat or trailer weighs a couple of tons the Pathfinder may fit.
Yet the Pathfinder offers good handling on the road. With its independent rear suspension and large tires, the Pathfinder rides well and the rack-and-pinion steering works precisely and turns tighter than many mid-size sedans. The Pathfinder will fit easily in garages and standard parking spaces. Also, the Pathfinder doesn't require a climb to get into. Once inside, the driver and passenger are treated to luxurious accommodations and a plethora of convenience features.
Pathfinder's exterior styling has become familiar, yet remains striking, with its prominent nose and smooth panels showing a near total absence of superfluous character lines. The large fender arches are integral with the sheetmetal and set off by indentations around their periphery to promote the muscular attitude.
The clean nose sweeping into the front arches reminds of a Dodge Nitro, but Pathfinder's minimal overhangs, angular edges, semi-concealed rear door handles and vertical hatch maintain its roots as a genuine off-road worthy four-wheel drive.
Side steps (on all but the base S) are well-integrated and allow easier entry/exit for shorter occupants without dirtying trouser cuffs of taller riders, the roof rack mounts are open at the ends for hand-holds and securing of cargo (the non-skid surface on rear bumper and side steps helps, too), and the aft-angled rear doors simplify access to the third-row seats.
Stylish wheels have always been a part of Pathfinder and the wheels on our example were no different, with machined spokes and painted backgrounds, all clear-coated.
Just a few mid-size SUVs remain with a combination of a truck-style frame and independent rear suspension (IRS), and not many can compete with the Pathfinder when the going gets rough. Look underneath a Pathfinder and you'll find steel, and lots of it: a fully boxed frame, steel suspension arms, plenty of bracing, and all the important bits tucked up out of harm's way. Despite a V8 underhood there is still sufficient space for do-it-yourself maintenance or quick belt replacement. Among the few vehicles that can compete with the Nissan Pathfinder off road: Toyota 4Runner, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Land Rover LR4.
Since it's based on a truck and not a minivan, the mid-size Pathfinder won't have the room of the minivan. But inch-by-inch it's an efficient layout. Third-row room is more comfortable than the numbers suggest and better than many longer three-row SUVs such as the Jeep Commander that use a solid rear axle. And unlike the sloping hatch of many crossovers, the Pathfinder's upright hatch doesn't impinge on cargo room and sheds snow and ice much better.
Jump into a Pathfinder and you are greeted by luxurious perforated heated leather front seats, mercurial-looking pewter console trim, and a central control area that appears capable of landing an aircraft.
It's a style that impresses the eyes without adding confusion. Interior room is typical of a mid-size SUV, with legroom diminishing as you head rearward.
Front seats provide support and a good view all around, though a few may complain about the thick pillar just behind the driver's door. A tilt steering wheel complements adjustable pedals for a wide range of driver positions and sizes. Steering column stalks are nicely positioned and damped and logically laid out.
Materials appear well-crafted and chosen, with easy-clean surfaces on the indented door panels. The shifter would feel at home in an expensive luxury car, though we would prefer the shifter on the left side of the console rather than the far side. The central screen displays images from the rearview camera whenever you shift into Reverse, a feature that's available even if you don't order the optional navigation system. Two gloveboxes are provided, and one of them locks.
A bank of white-on-black switchgear for audio and climate falls mid-pack for intuitiveness (non-navi models have two adjacent Back buttons) yet is quickly mastered. In a system more manufacturers should consider, radio stations are memorized in three lettered groups and not by AM, FM, or XM, so you can mix and match bands as you choose. That's much better for switching among your favorites.
The second row seats three, with only a modest bulge in the center floor and scalloped front seatbacks for more knee room. With full roll-down windows and overhead AC ducting (controlled from front or back, driver's choice) there's no claustrophobia, partial recline improves comfort, and third row riders have a good view and their own vents. Every rear seat has an adjustable headrest that keeps a low profile and, unless there's a center passenger, the view through the well-swept deep rear window is preserved for the driver. Each section of the middle row folds individually, and a simple latch pull pops the outer seats forward for third row access.
The third row is split 50/50 and raised or dropped with one touch from the cargo area. You can put small adults back there because of the low floor line, or if you want the skis indoors, fold the left side seats and sit on the right.
Cargo space is moderate when all three rows are up but expands exponentially as seatbacks drop. There are small netted pockets to the left and in the hatch (along with the first aid kit), a full-width grocery net, room for some small gear or your personal effects under the floor, a rubberized deck material for fast clean-up, and tie-down points in the floor, sides, and roof to restrain anything you load. A side benefit of the independent rear suspension is a load floor just 30 inches from the ground, and the hatch glass can be opened separately for tossing lighter stuff in.
The invigorating drive that characterized the first Pathfinders remains, it's just been refined without giving up the performance the Pathfinder-faithful crave, both on trail and on highway.
Nissan's 4-liter V6 is a proven performer and award winner, similar to the engine used in the 370Z, G37, and every moderate-size Nissan and Infiniti sedan. Properly tuned for truck use by favoring torque over horsepower, it makes 266 hp and 288 pound-feet of torque here, about the same as some domestic V8s, and is more than capable of propelling the Pathfinder with verve, smoothness, efficiency (bearing in mind these are 2.5-ton trucks, on big tires, etc.) and noise only when you get on it. In short, the V6 is a great engine and we recommend it highly.
However, a V8 is offered for Pathfinder owners who want to tow or to make the power statement. This is a walk softly and carry a big stick kind of statement.
Stolen right from the Titan and Armada, the 5.6-liter V8 purrs quietly in the background until the reins are let go and all 310 hp and 388 pound-feet of torque come on line. These numbers obliterate most in the mid-size frame-and-body SUV class and any with IRS, and with the five-speed automatic ideally matched the Pathfinder goes quickly, right now. Of course there is a penalty with EPA numbers of 13/18 mpg City/Highway for a 4WD V8, but our example bettered 17 mpg in mixed use. For a 5,000-pound four-wheel-drive, that's quite competitive.
Genuine 4WD SUVs don't typically deliver the utmost in cornering prowess because the required responses and tires are often contradictory to off-highway traction. Just because a Pathfinder has the same 50/50 weight distribution of a BMW doesn't mean it changes directions like one; conversely, if a BMW tried to follow a Pathfinder down a rocky trail, it would soon come to a grinding halt. However, trail tuning and four-wheel drive do often deliver a surprisingly soft ride on pavement (relative to the truck-based design and aggressive tire tread), especially on pot-holed, frost-heaved or otherwise neglected roads. Body/frame isolation is good and with big tires with big sidewalls, small impacts like lane-divider dots tend to imperceptibility.
A V8 lifts the tow rating from the V6's 6,000 pounds to 7,000. We didn't test that but would recommend a different vehicle for trailers over 5,000 pounds.
We did manage to fully load a Pathfinder and found the rear suspension touched the bump stops a bit earlier, as expected, yet composure remained stable and not one of the passengers complained about the ride.
The steering wheel is answered promptly and thick anti-roll bars minimize body roll (lean) without limiting the axle articulation desired for off-road use; there are vehicles that use more sophisticated devices for the best of both worlds but they cost much, much more than a Pathfinder and frequently will get no farther down the trail. If you've ever driven a softly sprung French car, many designed for also-marginal roads, you'll feel right at home.
Brakes respond equally well, and hitting them hard will produce some nose-dive typical of well-sprung SUVs; repeated heavy braking produced no fade even with a full load on board.
The Nissan Pathfinder brings ample interior amenities, clean style inside and out, and offers a testosterone-laden V8 for power freaks and routine trailer pullers. If you need a capable seven-seat mid-size utility able to go beyond most drivers' requests, it deserves consideration.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent G.R. Whale test drove the Pathfinder V8 in rural Wisconsin and not-so-rural Southern California. With Tom Lankard reporting from Bainbridge Island, Washington.