New & Used Nissan Pathfinder: In Depth
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The Nissan Pathfinder has been part of Nissan's utility vehicle lineup since the 1980s and older and tougher Pathfinders competed more against the off-road-capable Jeep Grand Cherokee and Toyota 4Runner. Competitors for the latest Pathfinder include the GMC Acadia and Chevy Traverse twins, the Honda Pilot, the Toyota Highlander, and the Ford Explorer. The Pathfinder is currently twinned with the Infiniti QX60 crossover, which uses the same mechanicals but offers different styling, trim, and features.
The Pathfinder, though always a mid-sizer, has changed pretty radically over the decades, reincarnating itself from rugged SUV roots into a polished crossover that can seat up to seven passengers, with several steps in between. Once one of the toughest SUVs around, the Pathfinder is now more of a very car-like tall wagon.
The brand-new Pathfinder that arrived for the 2013 model year is a more carlike crossover vehicle than it had been in the past. It shares some of its running gear with the now previous-generation Nissan Murano, including the 260-hp V-6 engine and 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.
A Pathfinder Hybrid crossover was added to Nissan's lineup for the 2014 model year, though it lasted only one year. The six-cylinder engine found in other versions was replaced in the Hybrid by a supercharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder and an add-on electric motor good for 15 kilowatts (22 hp) of power. The motor was located between a modified CVT and the engine, and the two power sources combined for a net of 250 hp. Unlike some other hybrids, the gas-electric Pathfinder couldn't run on electric power alone, but the assistance the motor provides helped to improve gas-mileage ratings by about 20 percent. That said, the Pathfinder Hybrid felt noticeably slower than the V-6 model, so the economy improvement was certainly a trade-off.
The same basic design can be found in the related Infiniti QX60, which was originally named JX when it debuted around the same time as the Pathfinder. The Infiniti offers a slightly higher level of luxury and features, though the two models drive very similarly. Because of the similarities, Nissan's version is certainly the better value for anyone considering the two.
The current Pathfinder scores fairly well in crash testing, with a five-star overall rating (though four stars in front and rollover tests) from the NHTSA and a Top Safety Pick nod from the IIHS. It includes many safety features as standard or optional equipment, including blind-spot monitoring and lane-departure warning, but lacks some of the modern active safety features that are filtering down from luxury vehicles.
For the 2015 model year, Nissan made only a few minor changes to the Pathfinder, dropping the Hybrid model, updating the CVT with stepped gear ratios, and shuffling equipment. For 2016, it also gets very minor changes, including a standard heated steering wheel on the SL model and a revised Almond interior color with black and beige contrasting materials.
When that first Pathfinder was launched back in the 1980s, it was a hardscrabble truck model with seating for five in 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-'90s Pathfinder traded the truck-based body-on-frame design for a new unibody that helped provide better ride and handling—though it still shared a 168-horsepower, 3.3-liter V-6 with the pickups.
Things changed significantly in 2001 when the Pathfinder got a more modern engine. A 3.5-liter V-6 making 240 hp arrived to solve the power problem. While the Pathfinder was still capable off-road, the Xterra joined it in the Nissan lineup, offering a more rugged alternative to the ever-more-civilized Pathfinder. The Pathfinder retained its ability to tow and its somewhat stiff suspension, however, as well as its tight rear seat.
Before the current model, the Pathfinder was last completely redesigned for 2005, returning to body-on-frame construction that was once again closely related to that of the Frontier pickup as well as the Xterra. A 270-hp, 4.0-liter V-6 was 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 in used examples should be forewarned that fuel economy is particularly atrocious with that engine.
That newly optional V-8 was accompanied by a design overhaul for the 2008 model year. Nissan gave the Pathfinder's front end a slight visual adjustment and made upgrades to the interior that year. The crossover saw few big changes through the 2012 model year, though the lineup did include SE Off-Road models in 2008 and 2009 with features aimed at trail enthusiasts, including a skid-plate package, off-road tires, and longer-travel Bilstein dampers.