Nissan Pathfinder History
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The Nissan Pathfinder is now a seven-passenger crossover SUV that's spun off from Nissan's Altima sedan. In the past, though, it's been a truck-based sport-utility vehicle; since the 1980s, it's made a gradual transformation from a hardcore off-roader into the family wagon it became in the 2013 model year. Family-friendly features and car-like handling are now its strengths, versus off-road capability and towing capacity.
For more on the newest version, see our full review of the 2013 Nissan Pathfinder.
The Pathfinder's current competition includes vehicles like the Chevy Traverse, Ford Explorer, and Honda Pilot, though in the past it's also been a rival of the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Toyota 4Runner.
When it was launched, that first Pathfinder in the '80s 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 for 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.
A brand-new Pathfinder arrived for the 2013 model year, and it's a more carlike crossover vehicle that shares some of its running gear with Nissan's Murano. With either front-wheel drive or four-wheel drive (really all-wheel drive, but with a 4WD Lock mode), and a 260-hp V-6 engine with continuously variable transmission (CVT), the 2013 Pathfinder responds and handles well on streets and highways, while accommodating up to seven. The new Pathfinder trades in much of the former model's off-road and towing ability for seating space, versatility, and on-the-road ride and handling.