New & Used Nissan Pathfinder: In Depth
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The latest generation of Nissan Pathfinder has been improved significantly, from the previous truck-based utility vehicle with off-roading abilities to a seven-seat, third-row mid-size crossover that drives and feels more like a car and is made for on-road family use.
Competitors in this new segment include the Chevrolet Traverse (and perhaps its twin the GMC Acadia), the Ford Explorer, the Honda Pilot, and the new-for-2014 Toyota Highlander. Previously, the older and tougher Pathfinder competed more against the off-road-capable Jeep Grand Cherokee and Toyota 4Runner.
For more on the newest version, see our full review of the 2014 Nissan Pathfinder.
The brand-new Pathfinder that arrived for the 2013 model year is a more carlike crossover vehicle. It shares some of its running gear with the smaller Nissan Murano, including the 260-hp V-6 engine with continuously variable transmission (CVT). It's offered with standard front-wheel drive or optional four-wheel drive (really all-wheel drive, but with a 4WD Lock mode). The latest Pathfinder handles and responds well on streets and highways, and trades the earlier models' towing and off-roading abilities for on-road ride and comfort, versatility, and seating space for seven.
New for 2014 is a Pathfinder Hybrid model; it replaces the V-6 with a supercharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and a 15-kilowatt (22-hp) electric motor sandwiched between the engine and a modified CVT. Output for that powertrain is 250 hp, but the hybrid system can't run the big crossover on electric power alone--it just assists the engine, improving rated fuel economy by about 20 percent.
When that first Pathfinder was launched back in the '80s, it was a hardscrabble truck model with a very basic interior, crude appointments, and a rough ride. It wasn't until 1996 that it began to take on trappings of passenger friendliness. The previous-generation Pathfinder had been closely related to Nissan's Hardbody compact pickup, but that mid-Nineties Pathfinder traded the truck-based body-on-frame design for a new unibody with better ride and handling—though it still shared its 168-horsepower, 3.3-liter V-6 with the pickups.
The Pathfinder became a much better vehicle in 2001, when a 240-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 replaced the older engine. It had been joined in Nissan's lineup the previous year by the Xterra, which picked up the more rugged, trucklike side of the Pathfinder that had been downplayed since its last redesign. Still, that Pathfinder retained the off-road ability, strong tow ratings, and a rather hard, choppy ride, along with a less refined ride and tight backseat.
Before the current model, the Pathfinder had last been completely redesigned for 2005, returning to body-on-frame construction that was once again closely related to that of the Frontier pickup, along with the Xterra. A 270-hp, 4.0-liter V-6 is standard, providing plenty of power for most needs, but a 310-hp, 5.6-liter V-8 was optional beginning in 2008. Those tempted by the V-8 should be forewarned that fuel economy is particularly atrocious with this engine.
Safety ratings and features have been top-notch ever since the 2005 redesign. The Pathfinder got a styling refresh for 2008, with the new V-8 option, upgraded interior trim, and a slightly different front end but remained otherwise unchanged through the 2012 model year. Special SE Off-Road models for 2008 and 2009 wrapped up all the features that trail hounds would need, including Bilstein shocks, trail tires, and upgraded skid plates.