– Manageable size
– Powerful enough engine
– Strongest a/c ever
– Cramped third row seat
– Limited on-road handling
– No locking differentials
Off-roading is a popular activity in this region. That is one reason why 4WDs continue to be popular in these parts. The downside to this is that 4WDs are also popular among people who have a superiority complex and use 4WDs for nothing more than terrorising road-going folks who want nothing to do with the 4WD culture. Among the trendy weapons of choice are the Toyota Land Cruiser, the Hummer H2, the BMW X5 and the Range Rover Sport. The previous Nissan Pathfinder managed to stay out of the hands of reckless yuppies who buy these brat-pack 4WDs. And we sincerely hope that this new Pathfinder manages to do the same.
The new Pathfinder employs a rugged new styling theme, with a wide corporate grille, vertical headlights and seriously edgy corners. Even with all this, the overall styling is still rather non-descript, and only one guy actually noticed this new vehicle as we drove it about town, while everyone else casually ignored it as just another 4WD. We expected a better response, considering the Nissan-supplied vehicle we were driving was the only new Pathfinder we had ever seen on the roads at the time. Anyway, the Pathfinder is one of those 4WDs which are neither too big nor too small, making it easy to manage in traffic while still keeping it intimidating enough on the road.
Accessed by well-placed side steps, the solid interior certainly is pleasantly thought out, with soft edges and clean lines. The dashboard design is easily better than anything from the General Motors camp, and though the dash and door sills are made of hard plastics, it looks nowhere near as cheap as the Honda MR-V cabin treatment. It all looks rather upscale actually, even though none of it is, but the illusion is helped by the faux aluminium on the centre console, as well as the rather elaborately-patterned cloth seats. While the cloth seats in our tester do look interesting, the optional leather interior we saw at the showroom looks even more interesting, and is definitely worth considering. The seats themselves were all manually controlled, but get upgraded with power adjustment knobs when you go for higher trim levels. All the seats in the three rows are rather flat with little bolstering, obviously designed with large people in mind. Headroom is abundant anywhere you sit, but legroom can be an issue for very tall people, even in the front seats. It took us a while to adjust the front seats so that we had enough knee clearance. The second row passengers are comfortable as long as the front seats are not moved all the way back, but the two-seater third row is, as usual, a joke. We managed to fit in there after a back-breaking entry, but we found ourselves feeling sorry for our aching knees which were rubbing against the second row seatback. Leave the third row for kids under 12. On the upside, the second and third row seats were easy to fold down flat thanks to a system of levers, leaving us a gigantic flat area enough to lie down on. Luggage room is still enormous with the second row up, but is reduced to one suitcase-worth with the third row up. A convenient removable net is included to plop small items into so that they do not roll about. No matter what our gripes are with the space situation in this new Pathfinder, it easily has more useful room inside than the old model.
All the usual accessories are present, including power mirrors and windows, keyless entry, cruise control, sunroof, a basic but decent CD stereo, optional CD changer, and one of the best air-conditioning units we’ve ever experienced, complete with controls knobs and a digital readout for the front, and roof-mounted vents and separate control knobs for rear passengers. There are also cup-holders for every row, along with little storage compartments strewn about, as well as a first aid kit in the upward-opening rear door. Front, side and curtain airbags are also available.
Getting to the heart of the matter, the 4.0-litre V6 filling up space under the hood is a potent motor, derived from the V6 that powers everything from the 350Z sports car to the Infiniti G35 luxury sedan. In this case, it churns out an SAE-rated 270 hp at 5600 rpm and a solid 395 Nm of torque at 4000 rpm. Mated to a smooth 5-speed automatic, the V6 is as good as V8 engines found in many American 4WDs, and propels the Pathfinder from zero to 100 kph in about eight-and-a-half seconds, which is not bad for a 4WD. Fuel economy is about average for the class, and to put it in perspective, better than the Toyota Land Cruiser but worse than the Honda MR-V. The engine sounds gruff yet it is still smooth enough to not be annoying, and it makes itself heard very loudly under full throttle, enough to drown out any conversation you might be having, even with the windows up. But once it settles down during highway cruising, the rest of the journey is quiet sailing.
The Pathfinder is one heck of a highway cruiser. It has decent overtaking juice, and grunts its lungs out as it utilizes this power, but otherwise the ride is so quiet up to 100 kph that you can go to sleep at the wheel. Passing cars are audible even though wind and road noise are not, both of which only creep in above 100 kph. The ride is bouncy thanks to its springy off-road-tuned independent suspension, but none of it compromises stability at high speeds. On the road, the view through the rear is good using the central mirror, and the side mirrors are quite big, but they still hide cars that are right next to our vehicle, making us relearn the annoying “shoulder check” technique. The dreadfully thick front A-pillars also hinder visibility around corners, but we just got used to guessing where the edges of the road are. Around town, the Pathfinder is not too big, fitting into most parking spaces, though there are no parking sensors to help with tight situations, such as in a cramped underground lot.
The new Pathfinder has reverted to a truck platform instead of the previous car-like unibody, but this hasn’t changed its handling characteristics–it still turns like the Titanic, just like its low-tech brethren from Toyota and GMC. There is lots of body roll during moderately sharp turn-in, and the tyres howl at the early limit while bearing the punishment of understeer. The Pathfinder moves in rear-wheel-drive mode on the road to preserve petrol, but switching to four-wheel-drive using the knob on the dash offers little extra traction in dry weather, though it will obviously be a blessing in the wet. The brakes are very good, with proper pedal feel and strong stopping power from the ABS-equipped four-wheel discs.
The Pathfinder is more of an off-roader than many other poseur 4WDs, so we slammed it onto the dunes to see what it can do. With a proper transfer case, low-range gearing, impressive ground clearance and beefy tyres, we thought we were ready. It was going great, and it is very capable on loose sand. But then one of our sub-editors, who forgot to read “Dune-Bashing for Dummies,” got the bad boy stuck on a sandy lump. We thought it was a small problem, and switched over to low-range gearing at the turn of a knob. We found one front wheel and one rear wheel spinning freely and the other two weren’t moving. So we started looking for the differential lock controls, and then it hit us–the Pathfinder didn’t have any, other than the standard limited-slip diff. It took an hour of well-placed rocks under the tyres to finally get the car out under its own power. The Pathfinder is a great all-rounder off the road, better than the likes of the Honda MR-V or the BMW X5, but the lack of locking diffs becomes a glaring omission should you manage to get stuck.
The docile Nissan Pathfinder is reborn as a tough new bully in the off-roading scene, with a capable new engine, an unshakeable new chassis and an almost-complete suite of off-roading equipment. It is as good a 4WD buy as anything from class leader Toyota. We just hope it stays out of the hands of road-going Toyota drivers.