PROS Powerful engine, True off-road avenger, Plenty of passenger and cargo space
CONS Poor fuel economy, Large turning radius, Jumbled audio and climate controls
Until gas hit $4 a gallon, midsize SUVs were all the rage. These large-but-useful vehicles comprised the fastest growing model segment year-over-year for nearly a decade. Obviously that's all changed, but that doesn't mean the midsize SUVs are any less relevant to people who need them.
The Nissan Pathfinder was one of the first four-door midsize SUVs. With its most recent redesign in 2005, it was given new styling and stretched to allow for a third row of seats that grew passenger capacity to from five to seven. This year, Nissan adds a V8 engine to the mix.
Pathfinder comes in S, SE, and LE trim. All come standard with a 266-horsepower 4.0-liter V6. Optional on the SE and LE is a 310-horsepower 5.6-liter V8. Both engines come with a five-speed automatic transmission. Towing capacity is 6000 pounds with the V6 and 7000 pounds with the V8.
All models are available with rear- or four-wheel drive. V6 models come with a part-time system that is not designed for use on dry pavement. Optional on the LE V6 and standard on V8 is a four-wheel-drive system controlled by a dashboard dial that can be switched between two- and four-wheel drive on the fly. It also has an automatic mode, so it can be left in four-wheel drive on dry pavement. Both four-wheel-drive systems have a low range for off-road slogging.
Standard safety equipment on all models includes antilock four-wheel disc brakes, stability control, tire-pressure monitor, and dual front air bags. Standard on the LE and optional on other models are front-side and curtain-side airbags. A rearview camera is standard on SE and LE.
S models come with air conditioning, tilt steering wheel, cruise control, cloth upholstery, front bucket seats, height-adjustable driver seat with lumbar adjustment, center console, second- and third-row split folding seats, power mirrors, power windows, power door locks, keyless entry, AM/FM/CD player, rear defogger, theft-deterrent system, rear privacy glass, roof rails, tow hitch receiver, wiring harness, skid plates, and 16-inch alloy wheels.
SE models add dual-zone automatic climate controls, rear air conditioning, leather-wrapped steering wheel with radio controls, eight-way power driver seat, fold-flat passenger seat, power-adjustable pedals, AM/FM radio with in-dash 6-disc CD/MP3 changer, digital-media player connection, automatic day/night rearview mirror, outside-temperature indicator, illuminated visor mirrors, running boards, fog lights, roof rack, front tow hook, and 17-inch alloy wheels on V6 or 18-inch alloy wheels on V8.
2008 NIssan Pathfinder SE V8
Base Price: $32,850
As-Tested Price: $38,260
Built in Smyrna, Tennessee.
XM Satellite Radio
SE Premium Package
Air Bag Package
SE Leather Package
Engine: DOHC 5.6-liter V8
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Drive Wheels: four-wheel drive
LE adds to SE leather upholstery, heated front seats, four-way power passenger seat, memory system (driver seat, mirrors, pedals), heated power mirrors, sunroof, Bose sound system, satellite radio, universal garage door opener, and automatic headlights.
Available for the SE is an off-road package that includes hill-descent control, hill-ascent control, sunroof, Bose sound system, satellite radio, universal garage door opener, automatic headlights, additional skid plates, off-road suspension, and 265/75R16 all-terrain white-letter tires.
Options include navigation system, Bluetooth cell-phone link, music hard drive, keyless access and starting, satellite radio and DVD-based rear-seat entertainment system. Prices start at $25,920 for a two-wheel-drive S and climb to $38,920 for the four-wheel-drive LE V8. All models have a $745 destination charge and are built in Smyrna, Tennessee.
Get up and Go Most drivers will find that the 4.0-liter V6 has adequate power. Pathfinder's so equipped are peppy away from a stop and have decent passing power. They labor a bit going up hills, but are otherwise among the quicker V6-powered SUVs with a 0-60 mph time that's likely 8.0 seconds. The engine has a hearty growl in acceleration, but is quiet in gentile cruising.
The V8 is another animal altogether. If you're not careful, a hard stab on the accelerator will send you on a quick trip to the chiropractor for a neck adjustment. Calling the engine hearty would be appropriate as it provides energetic acceleration at any speed. It does feel slightly less refined than the V6 though, as it has a lumpy idle and throaty exhaust tone in hard acceleration.
The automatic transmission can't match the smoothness found on front-drive based competitors but certainly isn't harsh or balky. There's a slight hesitation in downshifts that's more noticeable on V6 models.
Pathfinder is one of the few remaining off-road-ready SUVs. Its four-wheel-drive system is designed for rugged off-road use. In addition, Pathfinder has ample wheel travel and protective underbody skid plates.
The V8-powered Pathfinder is EPA rated at a dismal 12 mpg city and 18 mpg highway. Those numbers fall well short of V6-powered competitors like the GMC Acadia, Honda Pilot, and Toyota Highlander though they are on par with V8 powered SUVs like the Chevrolet Tahoe and Ford Explorer.
In routine driving expect to average about 15 mpgwith the V8. In straight highway driving that number might climb as high as 17. Nissan recommends premium-grade fuel for both the V6 and V8.
On the Road Given its rugged off-road heritage, Pathfinder can't hope to be as comfortable on road as car-based SUV competitors. It trails vehicles like the Acacia, Pilot, and Highlander in overall ride comfort. Still, the absorbent suspension does a good job at filtering out most road impacts. There's more bobbing and head toss in Pathfinder than you might like but the overall feel is composed without being bouncy.
Because of its taller tires and off-road-ready suspension Nissan engineers faced a tough task in making the Pathfinder capable on road. Still, the vehicle is more nimble than you'd expect, thanks in part to direct and communicative steering and powerful brakes. Yes, there's ample body lean in quick lane changes and too much understeer in tight turns, but Pathfinder takes a confident set when navigating expressway on ramps and twisty roads. Pathfinder's biggest on-road downfall might be its overly large turning radius.
Pathfinder is subtly quiet in around-town cruising. There's a fair amount of exhaust noise with either engine when accelerating, but otherwise the tires and engine remain quiet. Wind noise rises markedly at highway speeds, but it's never overbearing.
Behind the Wheel Pathfinder's off-road roots show though in an interior that's more tough than luxurious. Materials are appropriate for the price, but a few more padded surfaces would be appreciated, especially on the LE.
Gauges are easy to read and well lit at night. Audio and climate controls are somewhat jumbled on the center stack, requiring a long look away from the road. Ditto for the navigation system that takes a while to figure out.
Front seats are flat and soft, lacking in long-haul comfort. At least there's ample head and leg room for large adults. Drivers are likely to find an excellent driving position thanks to available power-adjustable pedals. The steering wheel adjusts up and down and doesn't have a telescope feature--leaving long legged/short armed adults reaching uncomfortably for the steering wheel.
NHTSA Crash-Test Results, 2008 Nissan Pathfinder
|Front Impact, Driver
|Front Impact, Passenger
|Side Impact, Driver
|Side Impact, Rear Passenger
Outward visibility is good to the front, fair to the sides, somewhat restricted to the rear. Thankfully a rearview camera is standard on SE and LE. Step-in is higher than in car-based SUVs, but is somewhat offset by large and well-placed grab handles.
Second-row seats are surprisingly roomy--given the vehicle's seven passenger capacity. Head room is ample and leg room adequate. The seats are comfortable and provide plenty of support. Third-row seats are kid sized, but still have decent head room. They are somewhat difficult to access, even though the second-row seats fold and tumble forward.
Pathfinder has a roomy and versatile cargo area. With all seats in use there's more than enough room for a couple of suitcases and a cooler. Folding the third-row seats is easy and the second-row seats fold flat without removing the headrests. When folded, the seats create and flat load floor that makes loading long items a snap. Another nice feature is a separate-opening rear glass that allows you to grab small items without opening the tailgate.
Interior storage cubbies abound and are highlighted by a large center console and twin gloveboxes. There's also a clever in-floor compartment under the second-row seats.
Bottom Line Taken at face value, Pathfinder trails car-based competitors in ride quality and fuel economy. It makes up for that by being a true SUV with off-road capabilities, 7000-pound towing capacity, and an available V8 engine.
Shoehorning that 5.6-liter V8 from the Titan pickup into the Pathfinder seemed like a great idea two years ago, but with gas prices hovering at the $4 mark, it's doesn't make as much sense. Still, it does give Pathfinder bragging rights in the class and owners that extra muscle to pull a boat out of the water if necessary.
It all comes down to pricing and finding the right vehicle for the right buyer. If you are looking for a seven-passenger SUV to run to the soccer field or car-pool the kids to school, Pathfinder might not be the best bet. If you occasionally tow a boat, live off the beaten path, or make frequent trips to Menards, Pathfinder is less expensive than a full-size SUV but more than up to the task.