Like almost every new sport-utility vehicle, the redesigned 2005 Nissan Pathfinder has more power and is bigger, inside and out -- besides being heavier and offering seating for seven.
The Pathfinder is the senior member of the Nissan SUVs, debuting for the 1987 model year and becoming an immediate success. It was stylish and had a carlike ride and good on- and off-road capabilities. The 2005 version is the third-generation Pathfinder.
The latest Pathfinder is no styling knockout like the sportier five-passenger Nissan Murano or Infiniti FX from Nissan's upscale division. The previous Pathfinder was better looking but had become too old. It was lighter and more maneuverable than newer rivals, but had less interior room and no third-row seat -- and a lot more competition.
The new Pathfinder's wheelbase (distance between axles) is about 6 inches longer at 112. 2 inches for better ride comfort, stability and roominess. It's 4.9 inches longer overall, 3.1 inches wider and considerably heavier, at up to approximately 4,800 pounds.
Four trim levels are offered -- base XE, SE, SE Off-Road and luxury LE. List prices range from $24,650 to $34,750. Even the XE is well equipped with comfort and convenience features, while the LE has such standard items as leather upholstery and power, heated front seats, along with a power sunroof and killer sound system.
Option packages contain such items as dual-zone automatic climate controls and navigation and DVD entertainment systems.
The Pathfinder's former unibody construction is gone, replaced by more rugged body-on-frame construction, with an all-steel frame based on the platform of the full-size Nissan Armada SUV and big Titan pickup truck.
A new independent rear suspension helps provide a smoother ride and better roadability, but rough roads leave occupants no doubt that they're in a truck -- not a car-based crossover vehicle.
Standard safety items include anti-lock all-disc brakes and anti-skid/traction control systems. Advanced off-road traction systems are available. Front side air bags and curtain side air bags for side-impact and rollover protection for all seating rows are standard in the LE, optional for $700 on the other versions.
The redesigned Pathfinder could be called ruggedly handsome and looks like the Armada. It still has the Pathfinder's signature, integrated high-mounted rear door handles, which look like custom units. Large front door handles are easy to use even while wearing thick gloves.
Occupants sit high, and available power adjustable pedals help drivers of various heights get more comfortable. But sliding in and out of this tall SUV calls for extra effort for average-size folks, and its running boards are too narrow -- especially for those with larger shoes. Once inside, there's room for up to five tall adults in the first two seating rows, although four are more comfortable. The third seats are hard to reach and only suited for several kids.
There isn't much cargo room with the third seatback in its upright position, but the split second- and third-row seats fold flat as pancakes to provide an enormous cargo area. There's no need to remove headrests, which means you need not search for a place to put those necessary-but-clumsy items.
Flipping the third-row seatbacks forward can be done from the rear of the Pathfinder's cargo area, but returning them to their normal upright positions calls for climbing into the cargo area or doing that task from the second-row-seat area. All but the LE version has a fold-flat front passenger seat.
An updated rear hatch design allows easier cargo loading.
The latest Pathfinder lacks the low-range punch of an American V-8, although its sophisticated 4-liter V-6 provides strong acceleration off the line and is tuned to provide good mid-range response. It has 270 horsepower and 291 pound-feet of torque. That's up from 240 horsepower and less torque from last year's 3.5-liter V-6.
The new engine works with a responsive automatic transmission, which upshifts smoothly and quickly downshifts to help allow fast passing. It also lets the engine loaf at 2,200 rpm at 70 mph. Towing capacity is 6,000 pounds.
The larger engine is smoother but calls for slightly more fuel, delivering an estimated 16 mpg in the city and 23 on the highway with rear-wheel drive and 15 and 21 with two available four-wheel drive systems, which have low-range gearing for tough off-road use. One of the systems can be left in use on dry roads, but not the other. Off-Road versions have such items as special shock absorbers, hill descent control and hill-start assist.
The power rack-and-pinion steering is responsive, with the right amount of effort for a tall, heavy mid-size SUV. Handling is good, but maneuvers such as sudden lane changes make occupants aware that they're in a tall, heavy SUV. The brake pedal is soft, but its linear action allows smooth stops.
The gauges in the quiet, nicely finished interior can be easily read, and sound system and climate controls are commendably large and easily reached. Comfortable front seats provide good side support, large front and rear cupholders are handily located and the front windshield posts have sturdy, thoughtful grab handles to assist entry and exit.
The latest Pathfinder is a good, strong mid-size SUV because it's partly derived from a good, strong, full-size one. It's certainly a lot more competitive than its predecessor.
2005 NISSAN PATHFINDER
Nicely redesigned. Larger. More powerful. Roomy. Seating for seven.
Average styling. High step-in. No V-8. Mediocre fuel economy.