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With Pathfinder’s edgy little brother, the Xterra, getting a much needed supercharging for 2002, Nissan gives the ol’ upward market repositioning to its mainline SUV. Pathfinder’s base XE line is axed for 2002, leaving the sport SE package and the full-dress LE. We drove a fully-kitted out edition of the latter, and we remain impressed with Pathfinder’s packaging and value.
Minor interior and exterior refinements are all that’s new for this year, including a new front grille, steering wheel, and a revised audio system with new faceplate and faster functioning in-dash six-disc CD changer. The 2002 SE model, now the standard Pathfinder, features a new titanium-accented step rail and roof rack with integrated air dam, body-color bumpers and fender flares, new 16-inch aluminum-alloy wheels and new seat cloth. Other changes for 2002 include new exterior colors (Chrome Silver, Merlot and White Pearl) and standard 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels on the LE model.
Leaving it be
There’s just no way Nissan is going to mess with this package. Men and women alike swoon at the combination of muscular sheet metal and right-now responsiveness of the Maxima-derived V-6 (240 hp and 265 lb-ft of torque, with our electronically controlled four-speed automatic). Even with the automatic, you can burn rubber on takeoffs, and describing power delivery with the phrase “torque curve” lacks accuracy—“torque plane” is more the sensation.
The Pathfinder’s appearance belies a fairly low center of gravity, leading to admirable handling characteristics that have been sharpened by the 17-inch wheels and rubber on the LE—as long as you’re on smooth pavement. It still has a solid rear axle, with multi-link trailing arms and coil springs, so rear-wheel hop will rear its head. The short wheelbase exacerbates this tendency, no doubt.
Steering feedback steers a tricky course between bump isolation and vagueness, with acceptable results. The engine’s smoothness at all speeds, along with great drivetrain and suspension isolation on the unibody platform, also contribute to a quiet, comfortable cabin. This also contributes to a 4,304-lb total weight, and given that the 21.1-gallon gas tank devours the finest premium fossil fuels at a 15/19 mpg clip, owners will want to double-check their credit limits when pulling out of the garage.