2008 Nissan Pathfinder Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
July 22, 2008

If you tow and off-road with the family, the 2008 Nissan Pathfinder is one of the better traditional truck-based SUVs available.

To bring you this comprehensive review covering the 2008 Nissan Pathfinder, the experts at TheCarConnection.com consulted some of the most respected review sources. TheCarConnection.com’s editors also drove the Pathfinder to add more driving impressions and details where they provide you with the best information possible.

Nissan's mid-size, truck-based Pathfinder is a comfortable, luxurious SUV for those who need traditional truck ruggedness for heavy towing or moderately strenuous off-roading. Newly available on the 2008 Nissan Pathfinder is a 310-horsepower, 388-pound-feet version of the 5.6-liter V-8 used in the larger Titan and Armada trucks. This first V-8 ever offered in the Pathfinder helps it tow up to 7,000 pounds, and it offers 100 more pound-feet of torque than the 4.0-liter V-6 edition.

The standard 266-hp, 4.0-liter V-6 provides adequate power for most types of driving and gets significantly better fuel economy, yet still offers a tow capacity of up to 6,000 pounds. Both engines are available with either rear- or all-wheel drive. With the V-8 and four-wheel drive, the 2008 Nissan Pathfinder is rated a dismal 12 mpg for city driving.

Review continues below

The 2008 Nissan Pathfinder has the toughness, along with short overhangs and good ground clearance, for off-roading, and its four-wheel-drive system has an electronically controlled transfer case with a separate low range and Auto mode that switches to four-wheel mode once slip occurs. The system is aided by electronics such as Hill Descent Control and Hill Start Assist, which help maintain traction when off-roading. The one letdown is that the Pathfinder's suspension doesn't have the wheel articulation needed for more precarious boulder-scrambling.

The interior is configured to make the most of the Pathfinder's space, with a flat-fold passenger seat in front, a 40/20/40-split second row, and a 50/50-split third row. Both the second and third rows can fold down to the same level, enabling a long, flat cargo surface, and by folding the front passenger seatback forward against the lower cushion, the Pathfinder can reach a cargo length of up to 10 feet. There is a large storage area hidden away under the second-row seats and a handy small storage area inside the back door. A 200-pound-capacity roof rack is standard on the 2008 Nissan Pathfinder, including a handle to help in step-up and loading.

As is the case with most truck-based SUVs, the Pathfinder's ride is firm and a bit choppy, and it handles well, but on rough pavement or tight, twisty roads, it's less settled than modern crossover designs. Seating isn't as comfortable as it could be in the 2008 Nissan Pathfinder, due to front seats that are rather small and skimpily cushioned.

The base S model only comes with the V-6, but the sportier SE and uplevel 2008 Nissan Pathfinder LE models are available with either the V-6 or V-8. The SE Off Road model is offered only with the V-6; it brings tougher stuff such as skid plates, a tow hook, Bilstein shocks, a stronger alternator, and upgraded equipment inside. New options include a nav system with a 9.3GB Music Box entertainment system, new front and rear styling, and new 17- and 18-inch wheels, along with Bluetooth compatibility and Intelligent Key security. A DVD entertainment system is also available, along with Bose audio, power seats, rear air conditioning, and wood trim.

The 2008 Nissan Pathfinder has been crash-tested by the federal government, receiving four-star ratings for frontal impact and top five-star ratings for side impact. The IIHS also awarded the Pathfinder top "good" ratings for frontal and side impact, but "marginal" in its seat-based rear-impact test. Electronic stability control is standard across the line; however, side impact and side curtain airbags are standard on only the top LE models and optional on the other models.

7

2008 Nissan Pathfinder

Styling

For better or worse, the 2008 Nissan Pathfinder looks like the rest of Nissan's large SUVs.

The last fully redesigned Nissan Pathfinder debuted in the 2005 model year, and for Nissan, 2008 brings "new exterior front-and-rear styling and wheel designs," according to The Auto Channel. The interior has also been restyled, and while the Nissan Pathfinder's age shows in some places, it's still an attractive vehicle overall.

The exterior of the 2008 Nissan Pathfinder scores fairly well in reviews read by TheCarConnection.com. While Edmunds writes that the 2008 Nissan Pathfinder "comes in four trim levels: S, SE, SE Off-Road, and LE," there aren't a lot of exterior differences among them, aside from the "exclusive off-road shocks and tires" and "skid plates" on the SE Off-Road. Edmunds also notes "its body is far larger than past models," which is part of Nissan's effort to make the Pathfinder "suitable for mainstream multiple passenger transport." Cars.com is disappointed to find that "the most unusual feature of the side view--the rear door handles mounted vertically and higher than the front door handles--hasn't changed," as those handles are placed such that "kids can't reach them." Other than that gripe, however, most reviewers side with Kelley Blue Book, which says that the Nissan Pathfinder boasts a "rugged, purposeful exterior befitting the vehicle's lineage and ability." Kelley Blue Book informs those not familiar with the Nissan lineup that "the new front end mimics other Nissan models such as the Armada and Frontier, tying in a familial theme."

Inside the Nissan 2008 Pathfinder's rugged exterior is a functional cabin, though Cars.com says it "isn't the prettiest around." ConsumerGuide praises the Nissan Pathfinder for its "well-placed gauges with user-friendly controls," and they approve of the fact that while "the available navigation system takes time to learn," it "doesn't absorb audio or climate functions--a plus." Other revamped interior touches include what Autoblog calls a "classier-looking rounded" shifter in the center console that replaces the "squared-off" unit on previous Nissan Pathfinders.

7

2008 Nissan Pathfinder

Performance

The 2008 Nissan Pathfinder accelerates well with either engine, but it's plagued by poor fuel economy and, at times, a hard ride.

SUV performance is typically spoken of in terms of towing capacity and off-road capability, but on the 2008 Nissan Pathfinder, you can add acceleration to that list. Unfortunately, the prodigious power in the 2008 Nissan Pathfinder makes for one thirsty engine.

The 2008 Nissan Pathfinder is available with two engine options. Kelley Blue Book reviewers list these options as a "powerful and torque-happy" 4.0-liter V-6 that produces 266 horsepower and 288 pound-feet of torque, while "for those who need extra horsepower and towing capacity, the optional 5.6-liter V-8 is the obvious answer, adding an additional 100 foot-pounds of torque and 44 more horsepower." Driving impressions in reviews read by TheCarConnection.com indicate that both engines provide high levels of performance. Car and Driver describes the engines as "terrific and beefy," and Edmunds characterizes the Nissan Pathfinder's performance as "vigorous even with the standard V6."

In order to transfer the engine power to the wheels, Edmunds finds that "both engines pair to a five-speed automatic transmission." The automatic also fares well with reviewers, although ConsumerGuide claims "passing maneuvers require a brief moment for the transmission to downshift, but power is ample thereafter." Kelley Blue Book adds that, during their tests, the Nissan Pathfinder "shifted smoothly." In addition to the automatic transmission, Edmunds notes "all but the 4WD-only SE Off-Road offer a choice of rear- or four-wheel-drive." Edmunds reviewers appreciate that "Nissan built in up to 9.1 inches of ground clearance," a practical trait that improves the off-roading credentials of the 2008 Nissan Pathfinder. In terms of towing capacity, Cars.com says that the V-8's "towing capacity is 7,000 pounds, compared with 6,000" for six-cylinder Pathfinders.

The EPA estimates fuel economy ranges from 15 mpg city and 22 mpg highway on the V-6 with 2WD to 12/18 mpg for V-8-equipped 4WD Pathfinders. In between those two, the 4WD V-6 gets 14/20 mpg and the 2WD V-8 returns 13/18 mpg.

The 2008 Nissan Pathfinder has the toughness, along with short overhangs and good ground clearance, for off-roading, and its four-wheel-drive system has an electronically controlled transfer case with a separate low range and Auto mode that switches to four-wheel mode once slip occurs. The system is aided by electronics such as Hill Descent Control and Hill Start Assist, which help maintain traction when off-roading. The one letdown is that the Pathfinder's suspension doesn't have the wheel articulation needed for more precarious boulder-scrambling.

As is the case with most truck-based SUVs, the Pathfinder's ride is firm and a bit choppy, and it handles well, but on rough pavement or tight, twisty roads, it's less settled than modern crossover designs. On the road, the Nissan 2008 Pathfinder has decent handling characteristics. Kelley Blue Book says that its Pathfinders "turned confidently," while Edmunds praises the "surprisingly sharp" steering response. However, many reviewers find fault with some of the Pathfinder's handling qualities, as ConsumerGuide notices the "noseplow and body lean typical of truck-type SUVs." ConsumerGuide also notes that "bumps and expansion joints can cause some bounce," and overall the 2008 Nissan Pathfinder doesn't offer a particularly comfortable ride. On the plus side, they write that the brakes offer "smooth, progressive stopping control."

7

2008 Nissan Pathfinder

Comfort & Quality

The 2008 Nissan Pathfinder affords lots of room but also a cheap-looking interior.

For Nissan, 2008 brings an updated interior on the Nissan Pathfinder with nicer materials and a more stylish overall look. Occupant comfort, however, could still use some attention from Nissan designers.

The 2008 Nissan Pathfinder is a "seven-passenger midsize SUV," but its dimensions tend toward the large side of its class. Fortunately, this allows for "ample legroom and headroom for most occupants" up front, according to ConsumerGuide, but "step-in is lofty." Edmunds also finds that "the front seats are very comfortable" on the upper trim levels, but on all Nissan Pathfinders, "the rear falls short on room for both feet and shoulders." Furthermore, "only kids will fit in the third row, and younger ones might have trouble entering the cabin to begin with," thanks to the aforementioned high step-in on the 2008 Nissan Pathfinder. In the middle seats, ConsumerGuide says to expect "good 2nd-row headroom, even beneath the sunroof housing, but legroom is tight for tall riders."

While the dimensions of the 2008 Nissan Pathfinder don't afford a tremendous amount of passenger room in the rear seats, it does allow for exceptional cargo room. Cars.com finds that cabin storage consists of "two glove boxes, one above the other beneath the passenger side frontal airbag module," along with "the obligatory bottle and cup holders" that appear "in sufficient quantity." In the rear, many reviews read by TheCarConnection.com, including the one at Kelley Blue Book, mention that "the Pathfinder's third-row folds completely into the floor, and center and third-row seats fold flat without requiring removal of the head restraints." With both seats folded, the Pathfinder offers "a 79-cubic-foot cargo hold--about average for the class," says Edmunds. There's a rather large storage area hidden away under the second-row seats and a handy small storage area inside the back door. A 200-pound-capacity roof rack is standard on the 2008 Nissan Pathfinder, including a handle to help in step-up and loading.

Materials and assembly quality have plagued a number of Nissan's larger vehicles of late, and some reviewers feel that the Nissan 2008 Pathfinder faces similar problems. Cars.com writes that the interior "isn't the prettiest around," while ConsumerGuide contends that the "mostly hard plastic" found throughout much of the cabin "imparts a low-budget ambiance." However, ConsumerGuide also says that the "LE's wood-tone trim lends a classier look."

When it comes to a quiet ride, the Nissan Pathfinder is probably not the first place you should look, especially in SE Off-Road trim. ConsumerGuide testers find that while the Nissan Pathfinder is "quiet for a truck in gentle cruising," the "wind rush rises markedly with speed." Furthermore, they say that the "V6 sounds coarse and strained at full throttle," and the "SE Off-Road's all-terrain tires are quite noisy, much more so than the regular treads."

8

2008 Nissan Pathfinder

Safety

If you're looking to buy a 2008 Nissan Pathfinder, make sure to check the box for side impact airbags.

The 2008 Nissan Pathfinder is a comfortingly safe vehicle, provided that you spring for the optional side airbags. Even without the airbags, however, the 2008 Nissan Pathfinder comes loaded with myriad safety features.

After subjecting the Nissan 2008 Pathfinder to its full battery of crash tests, the federal government's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) awarded the Nissan Pathfinder four out of a possible five stars for front impact protection and a full five stars for side impact protection. Less appealing is the Nissan Pathfinder's three-star rollover rating, but a weak rollover score is not uncommon among SUVs.

The other authority on crash testing in the United States, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), also tested the Nissan Pathfinder and gave it similarly high scores. The IIHS awards the Nissan Pathfinder a "good" rating, the Institute's highest, for frontal offset impacts. They also bestow upon the 2008 Nissan Pathfinder a "good" rating for side impact protection, provided that it is equipped with side-impact airbags. However, if the Nissan 2008 Pathfinder does not have those optional airbags, the IIHS rating drops to "marginal," due to what the IIHS describes as "inadequate" head protection.

In addition to generally good crash-test ratings, the 2008 Nissan Pathfinder also comes equipped with a generous list of safety features. Edmunds reviewers write that "every 2008 Nissan Pathfinder comes with antilock brakes and stability control," but they also note that "only the LE comes with a full set of six airbags; all other models require buyers to order front-side airbags and full-length curtain airbags as an option package." Kelley Blue Book adds that a "tire pressure monitoring system" is standard on all Pathfinders, along with "hill descent control and hill start assist" on the SE Off-Road model. In reference to those SE Off-Road features, The Auto Channel says that the "enhanced technology in itself" makes for "a safe off-road system."

While most reviews read by TheCarConnection.com approve of the 2008 Nissan Pathfinder's safety characteristics, one gripe that does appear is that the Pathfinder offers poor driver visibility. ConsumerGuide claims that visibility over the shoulder is "impeded by thick roof pillars, rear windshield wiper, and rear stop lamp." In parking lots and other tight spaces, the poor visibility is mitigated somewhat by the backup camera that comes standard on all but the base S trims, according to Edmunds.

9

2008 Nissan Pathfinder

Features

The 2008 Nissan Pathfinder offers the latest features, but many are bundled in more expensive packages.

It may be getting a bit long in the tooth, but the 2008 Nissan Pathfinder is still cutting-edge when it comes to the features list.

Standard features on the 2008 Nissan Pathfinder vary significantly across the trim levels, but even the base S comes with a respectable list of features. ConsumerGuide finds that the base Nissan Pathfinder S comes with a "tilt steering wheel, cruise control...height-adjustable driver seat w/lumbar adjustment," and "2nd- and 3rd-row split folding seats," along with full power accessories. Moving up to the SE trim on the Nissan 2008 Pathfinder, Edmunds says to expect "a roof rack, 17-inch alloy wheels, a power driver seat, a 7-inch screen with multi-information display, a back-up camera, dual-zone climate control and a CD/MP3 player with an auxiliary input jack." For those who plan on getting dirty in their Nissan Pathfinder, the SE Off-Road trim boasts "exclusive off-road shocks and tires, skid plates, Hill Descent Control and Hill Start Assist, plus a moonroof and Bose stereo," according to Edmunds. At the top of the Nissan Pathfinder lineup, the "Pathfinder LE shares the moonroof and stereo," Edmunds writes, but it also adds "leather, wood trim and power seats."

Even with a long standard features list, the designers at Nissan have decided that 2008 Nissan Pathfinder owners should be able to add more to their SUVs. Accordingly, they offer a variety of options packages, which The Auto Channel appreciates, because "Nissan has a no-frills approach to the most basic trims, meaning you don't get much of an interior if you don't buy some of their offered packages." ConsumerGuide lists some of the most noteworthy options bundles as a Premium Package on the SE trim that includes "power sunroof, Bose sound system," and "universal garage door opener." All trim levels but the S can also be upgraded with a DVD entertainment system, and the LE boasts the Nissan 2008 Navigation Package that adds, appropriately, a "navigation system, wireless cell pone link, hard drive, [and] keyless access and starting," according to ConsumerGuide.

Edmunds adds that the hard drive features a "9.3GB 'music server'" that can store and play music files over the Nissan Pathfinder's stereo.

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