Pros: Front seats, steering better than the class average, checks off all the boxes
Cons: Nothing much to get excited about, rear seats short on room
During the first ten months of 2004, for every Pathfinder Nissan sold Toyota sold four 4Runners and Ford sold a dozen Explorers. In pursuit of a bigger slice of the profit-rich midsize conventional SUV pie, the Pathfinder has been thoroughly redesigned for 2005. Among the changes, the Pathfinder now has a truck-type body-on-frame architecture (albeit with an independent rear suspension) rather than its previous car-like unitized construction. Does the new more trucky truck have what it takes? I took a top-of-the-line LE 4WD for a test drive to find out.
Note: A redesigned Xterra based on the same architecture was introduced a few months after the Pathfinder. My review of the Xterra compares it with the Pathfinder.
Since its introduction in 1987, the Pathfinder's styling has alloyed a brawny overall theme (remember the "hardbody" campaign? Nissan probably hopes you don't) with touches of sportiness and sophistication. A signature detail: on four-doors the rear door handles were "hidden" in the C-pillar to lend the vehicle the sportier look of a two-door. For 2005 the rear handle is still in the pillar, but the styling is otherwise pure big brawny TRUCK. Dodge Durango-like bulging fender arches keep the Pathfinder from the delivery vanish ultra-boxiness of the (also new) Land Rover LR3, yet it still looks quite boxy and just plain massive to my eye. This appearance isn't entirely deceiving. The 2005 is five inches longer, three inches wider, and about an inch taller than the 2004. But it looks bigger still.
My personal tastes run more to the sportiness and sophistication of past Pathfinders. But I suppose Nissan has allotted the car-based ultra-curvy Murano for me. Put another way, now that it has the Murano Nissan can afford to give the Pathfinder the truckier styling many conventional SUV buyers could well prefer.
Inside the Pathinder's styling is utterly conventional. No Questesque weirdness here. Again, probably well-suited to what much of this segment wants. The materials aren't up to Toyota levels but are a match for the rest of the competition, and they are much nicer than those in the related Xterra. Sadly, the Armada's cheap-feeling climate control knobs can also be found in the Pathfinder.
The interior does have one particularly bright spot: the front seats. Many seats these days feel undersized to me (and I'm not a big guy). Not these. Upholstered in perforated leather (standard on the LE, optional on the SE Off-road), they look and feel worthy of a luxury sedan. Neither overly firm nor overly mushy and contoured nicely, they provide outstanding support and comfort.
This being a tall SUV, you sit well off the pavement. But the instrument panel is also tall, so the view forward is merely good, not great.
Move to the second row and you'll find second-class seating. None of the extra inches found there way here; the 2005's second row is just as cramped as the 2004's was. Knees and feet are short on space, and the cushion is too low to provide good thigh support. The Toyota 4Runner and Jeep Grand Cherokee do no better, but competitors from GM, Ford, and Dodge are roomier in back.
All the 2005's extra length was clearly allocated to the new third row, but even with an independent rear suspension to enable a low floor this seat, like the third rows in most competitors, is unsuited for extended adult habitation. The headroom is there, but the legroom is not. The seat cushion is very low to the floor, forcing a knees-high seating position. In the Pathfinder's defense, only the largest SUVs (most notably the Ford Expedition) do significantly better.
Both the second and third rows fold completely flat, with panels to cover the gaps. However, the second row cushion must be tipped forward before the seatbacks can be folded, and this requires that the front seats not be all the way back. In some trims the front passenger seat also folds forward, but this feature is not available with the comfy leather seats lauded above. Maximum cargo volume is around the segment average at 80 cubic feet.
There might not be enough room for people, but there's plenty of space for stuff. You'll be hard-pressed to find a vehicle with more interior storage compartments. In addition to a large center console, the Pathfinder has two glove compartments and storage compartments beneath both the second row seats and the cargo floor.
The compartment beneath the second row is hard to get to, as the seat must be tipped forward. (And I personally couldn't figure out how to tip the seat's center section forward.) If only this brick-sized compartment were lockable; then it would be the perfect location for a "secret stash." I wouldn't be surprised if many Pathfinder owners never even know it's there.
On the Road
Nissan produced a brief blip in Pathfinder sales a few years ago by enlarging the V6 from 3.3 to 3.5 liters and bumping horsepower from 168 to 240 in the process. But in subsequent years the competition caught up. For 2005 the six has been enlarged once again, to 4.0 liters, but the extra thirty horses only offset the extra mass of this year's larger vehicle. Consequently, while the Pathfinder feels satisfyingly gutsy at initial tip-in, with a spunkier feel than Toyota's 4Runner, I wouldn't advise high stakes street racing. More important than full-throttle acceleration for most likely buyers, the large six enables the new Pathfinder to top three tons.
I was most surprised by the sound of the big six. Despite being endowed with dual overhead cams and other high-tech bits, when prodded it sounds much like the considerably less sophisticated sixes in Ford and Chryler/Jeep SUVs. The powerplants in the GM and Toyota SUVs sound richer but no less suited for trucky duty.
I never venture off the pavement in these tests, so I can only guess at the Pathfinder's off-road abilities from the fairly impressive spec sheet. Although only the LE's four-wheel-drive system is the full-time sort, serious off-roaders will want the SE Off-road. In addition to a plethora of skid plates, this trim line includes hill ascent and hill descent control. Translation: sophisticated electronics should keep the pace slow and steady over the really rough stuff. These features are not available on the larger Armada, marking the Pathfinder as the more serious off-road vehicle. I suspect a more gradual throttle like that in the 4Runner would also help here, though.
In SUVs handling is very relative. Compared to a car the Pathfinder handles like, well, a truck. But compared to other truck-based midsize SUVs it feels almost nimble. Okay, nimble is pushing it, but compared to the new Pathfinder the Ford Explorer feels crude and the Toyota 4Runner feels numb and massive. Lean in turns is up there with the segment norm, but the steering is well-weighted and reasonably quick. All in all, unlike the related Armada the Pathfinder doesn't feel quite as big as it looks.
Like the Armada and Ford's SUVs, the new Pathfinder has an independent rear suspension. Theoretically this should enable a smoother ride, yet all of these vehicles possess a busier ride than the rigid-axled competition from GM, Jeep, and Dodge. Consider me puzzled. The Pathfinder's ride is far from abusive, but it's not the magic carpet you'll find in a TrailBlazer, Grand Cherokee, or Durango. A considerable amount of tire patter over patchy pavement deserves some of the blame. It's possible the the Pathfinder's independent suspension and stiffer springs prove their worth over truly awful surfaces.
Though not objectionable, wind, road, and engine noise levels are higher than the class average. Many recent midsize SUVs have impressed me with almost luxury-car-levels of silence, solidity, and smoothness lately. Not this one. Its more comparable to a good family sedan.
Overall, the performance of the Pathfinder left me neither impressed nor disappointed.
Nissan Pathfinder Price Comparisons and Pricing
For quick, up-to-date pricing, and especially user-specified price comparisons, check out the website I created: www.truedelta.com. Why yet another vehicle pricing website? Well, I personally lacked the patience to keep using the others. They were too slow and required too much effort, especially when trying to compare prices. So I taught myself some programming and created a site where there is no need to dig through option packages, prerequisites, and the like one by one -- the TrueDelta algorithm figures these out for you in one swift pass.
A few examples:
Compared to a similarly equipped 4Runner, the Pathfinder LE lists for about $2,000 less despite significant additional standard features like a power sunroof. Adjust for these features, and the gap widens to roughly $3,000. Compared to a similarly equipped Explorer the Pathfinder lists for about $1,500 less--even though the Ford has a $2,000 rebate (which could well be different at the time you're reading this). Based on these two examples, the Pathfinder is priced to sell.
Maybe too well. The new Xterra is based on the same architecture. In the past the Xterra has been priced much lower than the Pathfinder. Not anymore. After adjusting for equipment differences, the two are less than a grand apart. The Pathfinder is easily worth this premium.
My test drive found little to get excited about aside from the front seats. At the same time, it found no serious shortcomings (with the possible and highly subjective exception of the exterior styling). The 2005 has the third row many buyers now demand, and generally performs up to and even slightly above the segment average. Throw in a reasonable price, and it's at least worth a look for those who need the towing and/or off-road capabilities only a conventional truck-based SUV can provide.
A Note on Nissan Pathfinder Reliability
I cannot practically cover reliability within the context of this review. However, many people are interested in such information, so I've started collecting my own data. Results, once they are available, will be posted to my site, www.truedelta.com, with updates every three months.
Unlike other sources, TrueDelta will clearly identify what difference it will make if you buy a Pathfinder rather than another vehicle by providing "times in the shop" and "days in the shop" stats (among others). You will be able to specify the number of years, annual miles, and types of repairs to include in Nissan Pathfinder reliability comparisons.
Before I can report results, I need data on all cars--not just the Pathfinder--from people like you. To encourage participation, those who help provide the data will receive free access to the site's reliability information. Non-participants will have to pay an access fee.
For the details, and to sign up, visit www.truedelta.com.
A link to this website and alphabetized links to my other vehicle reviews can be found on my profile page.
Some of my reviews of related vehicles:
Chevrolet TrailBlazer review
Dodge Durango review
Dodge Nitro review
Ford Explorer review
Jeep Grand Cherokee review
Land Rover LR3 review
Nissan Armada review
Nissan Murano review
Nissan Xterra review
Toyota 4Runner review