The mid-1980′s saw the rise of the mid-size off-road capable sport utility vehicle, able to tackle rough terrain while carrying a family of four and their gear. It was a great idea. Credit the Jeep Cherokee, followed by the Toyota 4Runner, and then, in 1986, the Nissan Pathfinder. The recipe? Very simple. Take a Nissan Hardbody pickup truck, extend the wheelbase and add a permanent cab. Whammo, instant Pathfinder. Within a couple years the Pathfinder would become a four door, and added all the luxury features you could dream of. But at the heart of it, the Pathfinder was a truck, with serious off-road cred.
Then, in 2000, things got a little strange at Nissan. The Xterra made its debut. The Xterra was a modern incarnation of the original Pathfinder, which had moved upmarket. Still, I wondered why Nissan needed two seriously capable SUV’s of similar size, in addition to the full-size Armada fighting for buyers. My answer came in the form of the all-new, fourth generation Pathfinder. It is not only all new, it is a different kind of vehicle. No longer a proper SUV, the Pathfinder is now a bona fide crossover. Purists and car geeks, you have my permission to sob at the Pathfinder’s transformation. I liken it to people who consider themselves Elton John fans. On the one side, you have fans who prefer ‘Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting’, and on the other, weepy 1990′s bland ballads. I can’t even think of a song title, they all sound the same. But, that is the case with the Pathfinder-same name, but now speaking directly to an entirely different audience.
Remember, this is a business, and Nissan wants to appeal to as many people as possible. And turning the Pathfinder into a crossover has proven an overnight sales success. Last year, Nissan sold two Pathfinders for every one XTerra. This year? The XTerra sales are flat, but Nissan now sells FIVE Pathfinders for every single Xterra. Sure, the Pathfinder traded in its mojo in order to become kid tested, and mom approved, but Nissan is laughing all the way to the bank.
The Pathfinder now rides upon a platform shared with the Altima and Murano. So, any resemblance to Pathfinders of the past are long gone. Nissan even abandoned the Pathfinder’s trademark rear door handles integrated into the door pillar. What we’re left with is a fairly attractive, unoffensive and utterly forgettable shape. If not for the Nissan grill treatment, it would be impossible for most people to identify what kind of vehicle they are looking at. Our test car, finished in a somber Dark Slate did not help matters. The Pathfinder virtually disappeared in crowded parking lots.
While the original Pathfinder’s cabin offered all the luxury and refinement of an abandoned cabin in the woods, the current Pathfinder is quite the opposite. Three rows of seating, plenty of space make for a versatile and easy to live with interior for families. Fit and finish are impeccable, quality of materials are excellent, and despite offering all the latest technology, the Pathfinder is simple and intuitive to use. However, I cannot help but think whoever at Nissan ordered this particular Pathfinder was feeling down that day. Complimenting the Dark Slate exterior was a Charcoal interior. With no sunroof, and privacy glass surrounding most of the car, the Pathfinder’s interior was, like the exterior, rather somber and serious. White stitching on the comfortable leather seats, faux wood trim and silver trim help to break up the monotony, but the overriding feeling is sitting in the dark.
The new Pathfinder is available with a 3.5L V-6, rated at 260hp, paired to a Continuously Variable Transmission. Buyers can choose either front wheel or all-wheel drive. Our test car was equipped with all-wheel drive. Acceleration from a start was a little lethargic, but then the car seemed to wake up and go. Most people agree that Nissan makes the best CVT’s in the business, and I am one of them. That said, it’s like a restaurant in your town saying they make the best liverwurst. With the Pathfinder’s engine wailing uphill, droning endlessly until quieting down, I am gritting my teeth, knowing damn well you used to be able to buy a Pathfinder with a manual transmission. But that’s me. In the real world, most people either won’t notice or care. Fuel economy figures from the EPA show 19/25 MPG City/Highway. Not bad for a an all-wheel drive car of this size. And Nissan’s argument for putting in a CVT. Around town, the Pathfinder has enough torque the motor boating effect inherent of CVT’s is a non-issue. For a seven passenger crossover, the ride is obviously geared toward comfort, and the Pathfinder proves itself to be a very smooth cruiser. Finally, our Pathfinder had a towing limit of 5,000lbs, which is pretty generous for a crossover.
The Pathfinder can be had in S, SV, SL and Platinum trim levels. Our test car was an all-wheel drive SL. Standard features included 18″ alloys, power driver and passenger front seats, front and rear heated leather seats, push button ignition, three-zone auto climate control, six speaker audio with SiriusXM satellite radio, Bluetooth, 7″ color monitor, RearView Monitor, rear sonar, power lift gate and fog lights. Adding some minor accessories like splash guards, roof rail cross bars, floor mats and the Trailer Tow Package, our Pathfinder rings in at $37,945USD, including destination charges.
As I conclude my review of the Pathfinder, it is with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I am a car guy, and I get emotional about cars. Nissan took the fabled Pathfinder name and applied it to a car that bears absolutely no resemblance to its ancestors. In other words, they sold out. On the other hand, they had no choice but to sell out. The Pathfinder as we knew it had become a dinosaur, and was becoming irrelevant. The Xterra remains for those who demand a true SUV ready tackle anything, and the Murano crossover, stylish as it is, does not offer the practicality and utility offered by the latest Pathfinder. Yes, at the expense of personality and character, the Pathfinder suffered greatly at the hands of Nissan during this transformation, but in doing so, has found itself a new and larger buyer base. And remember, Nissan is in the business of selling as many cars as they can.
As for the Pathfinder faithful who want go-anywhere capability with a luxurious interior to boot? Well, the XTerra is all business and no frills. The Toyota 4Runner Limited offers all the luxury and capability of the Pathfinders of yore, and now owns that market. Nissan, are you listening?