The improved third-generation Nissan Pathfinder SUV was introduced in 2005, but it has been partly left out in the cold because it has lacked a V-8 to compete with rivals from Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota.
The 2008 family-friendly Pathfinder finally gets a V-8, and it's a strong 5.6-liter engine with 310 horsepower and nearly 400 pound-feet of torque. Towing capacity rises from 6,000 to 7,000 pounds to better meet needs of midsize SUV buyers.
Middle America has an active, affluent group that likes midsize SUVs for family use and good towing capacity to haul, say, boats to the lake. It's a lucrative market.
The Pathfinder debuted in the late 1980s as a rugged, functional SUV. It has become more mature and luxurious, with such features as wood-tone trim and options including leather upholstery, heated front seats and a rear DVD entertainment system.
A big change came when the larger third-generation Pathfinder arrived with such things as a much longer wheelbase for more ride comfort, stability and roominess. The Pathfinder is very rugged, having much in common with the tough, large Nissan Armada SUV and Titan pickup trucks.
The standard Pathfinder engine is a gutsy 4-liter V-6 with 266 horsepower and 288 pound-feet of torque. It provides lively acceleration (0-60 mph in 7.5 seconds) but occasionally labors when working hard. There's no such problem with the quieter, smoother V-8 (0-60 mph in 6.8 seconds).
List prices are $25,780-$27,780 for the entry, but well-equipped, S model to $34,880-$38,780 for the top-line LE. In between is the mid-range $29,080-$33,980 SE.
The SE comes as the especially tough off-road $33,980 Off-Road model with such things as hill descent and ascent control, additional skid plates, off-road suspension and all-terrain tires.
The Off-Road doesn't have the running boards of higher-line Pathfinders because they'd probably be torn off in rugged off-road terrain, but they're too narrow, anyway, for those with large shoe sizes. Still, they assist getting in and out of the tall Pathfinder if the shoe size fits.
Large outside and interior door handles and hefty front assist interior grips on the windshield posts help entry and exit. Once aboard, occupants sit high with good all-around visibility, but there's no surplus of legroom for second-row occupants.
The Pathfinder is a seven-passenger SUV with three rows of seats, although the third row is hard to reach and is really suited only for two kids.
There's little cargo room with third-row seatbacks in their upright position. But the split second- and third-row seatbacks fold flat as pancakes to provide a spacious cargo area. And the SE also has a fold-flat front passenger seatback for extra-long objects.
The Pathfinder comes with rear-drive or several four-wheel-drive (4WD) systems that have low-range gearing for serious off-road use. It weighs more than 4,500 pounds, so is no fuel miser. Estimated economy with the V-6 and rear-drive is 15 mpg in the city and 22 on highways and 14 and 20 with four-wheel drive. Figures with the V-8 are 13 city and 18 highway with rear drive and 12 and 18 with four-wheel drive. Premium-grade fuel is recommended.
The Pathfinder has especially good off-road prowess with its 4WD systems. Nissan's All-Mode 4WD system can be left engaged on dry pavement, but 4WD on other models shouldn't be left engaged on dry roads.
Nissan was able to install a larger, stronger five-speed automatic transmission. It upshifts smoothly, but quicker downshifts would be appreciated.
The ruggedly handsome, nicely built Pathfinder gets a restyled nose and tail, besides new wheels and color, but keeps its signature integrated, high-mounted rear door handles.
The quiet interior has been upgraded. Gauges can be easily read, while climate controls are large and smaller sound system controls are fairly easy to use. The optional navigation system doesn't absorb climate or audio controls, which is a plus. There are plenty of cupholders and storage areas.
However, the power front windows move up and down so quickly that I found them difficult to stop with the door-mounted window controls.
While the Pathfinder has body-on-frame construction like Nissan's big trucks, not a car-based platform, its carlike all-independent suspension provides a pretty good ride, although you never forget you're in a truck.
Steering is quick and communicative, although the turning radius is wide in tight spots. Handling is arguably sporty, and the brake pedal has a smooth, progressive action.
Standard for the S are air conditioning, tilt steering wheel, cruise control, AM/FM/CD player and power mirrors, windows and door locks with remote keyless entry. The SE adds rear air conditioning, dual-zone automatic climate control, power driver seat, power-adjustable pedals, CD/MP3 changer, running boards and newly standard color information dashboard screen with a rearview camera for safer backing up.
The LE adds heated front seats, leather upholstery, power front passenger seat, power sunroof, Bose sound system and satellite radio.
Safety items for all Pathfinder models include an anti-skid system, rear traction control and anti-lock all-disc brakes. The LE adds front- and curtain-side air bags with rollover deployment. Those items are in a $700 option package for other Pathfinders.
An $1,850 package contains the power sunroof and Bose sound system. The Leather Package costs the same and contains leather upholstery and heated front seats and a power front passenger seat. The $2,400 Navigation Package for the LE has the "nav" system and keyless access and starting.
The Pathfinder does everything well with no significant disappointments, and its new V-8 makes it more competitive.
Jedlicka's take: Nissan Pathfinder
Likes: First V-8 available. Fresher styling. New five-speed automatic. Rugged. Nice ride and handing. Good off-road and towing abilities.
Dislikes: High step-in. No fuel-miser. Third seat just for kids. Too-narrow running boards. Racy power windows.