2009 Nissan Pathfinder Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Trevor Wild Trevor Wild Author
July 11, 2009

The 2009 Nissan Pathfinder is a top-notch choice for towing or serious off-roading, but otherwise there are more comfortable vehicles.

Experts at TheCarConnection.com have scoured the Web to bring you an inclusive review of the 2009 Nissan Pathfinder, presenting some of the most useful pieces of advice to one place. Editors have also driven the Pathfinder and offer their overall impressions and to give you the most shopping information.

Nissan's mid-size, truck-based Pathfinder is a comfortable, luxurious SUV for those who need traditional truck ruggedness, either for off-roading or heavy towing.

The Pathfinder can be equipped with a V-6 or a V-8; both engines are available with either rear- or all-wheel drive. The standard 266-horsepower, 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. A 310-horsepower V-8 ramps up the torque and allows the truck to pull up to 7,000 pounds. With the V-8 and four-wheel drive, the 2009 Nissan Pathfinder is rated a dismal 12 mpg for city driving.

The Pathfinder's suspension doesn't have the wheel articulation needed for more precarious boulder-scrambling. Other than that, however, the 2009 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.

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A 200-pound-capacity roof rack is standard on the 2009 Nissan Pathfinder, including a handle to help in step-up and loading. 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. Seating isn't as comfortable as it could be in the 2009 Nissan Pathfinder, due to front seats that are rather small and skimpily cushioned.

As is the case with most truck-based SUVs, the Pathfinder's ride is firm and a bit choppy. It handles well, but on rough pavement or tight, twisty roads, it's less settled than modern crossover designs.

The base S model only comes with the V-6, but the sportier SE and uplevel 2009 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. A DVD entertainment system is also available, along with Bose audio, power seats, rear air conditioning, and wood trim. 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.

Electronic stability control is standard across the line, and side impact and side curtain airbags are newly standard for 2009. The 2009 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 awards the Pathfinder top "good" ratings for frontal and side impact, but "marginal" in its seat-based rear-impact test.

7

2009 Nissan Pathfinder

Styling

The 2009 Nissan Pathfinder is nicely styled on the exterior, though some reviewers quibble over details.

Experts at TheCarConnection.com find that the 2009 Nissan Pathfinder offers acceptable styling both inside and out.

The exterior of the 2009 Nissan Pathfinder scores fairly well. 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." Though Edmunds states that the 2009 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."

Inside the Nissan 2009 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."

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2009 Nissan Pathfinder

Performance

The 2009 Nissan Pathfinder offers strong engine choices, but handling is choppy and gas mileage is abysmal.

Experts at TheCarConnection.com love the power that comes with the 2009 Nissan Pathfinder. It's well suited for the vehicle's main callings in life. Unfortunately, however, the performance makes the vehicle very thirsty.

The 2009 Nissan Pathfinder is available with two engine options. Kelley Blue Book reviewers list your choices as a "powerful and torque-happy" 4.0-liter V-6 that produces 266 horsepower and 288 pound-feet of torque, and "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." Edmunds characterizes the Nissan Pathfinder's performance as "vigorous even with the standard V6." Car and Driver describes the engines as "terrific and beefy."

In order to transfer the engine power to the wheels, Edmunds finds that "both engines pair to a five-speed automatic transmission." Kelley Blue Book adds that, during their tests, the Nissan Pathfinder "shifted smoothly." The automatic generally fares well with reviewers, although ConsumerGuide claims "passing maneuvers require a brief moment for the transmission to downshift, but power is ample thereafter."

The EPA fuel economy estimates range from 15 mpg city, 22 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.

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." 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. 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 2009 Nissan Pathfinder.

The 2009 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.

On the road, the Nissan 2009 Pathfinder has decent handling characteristics. Kelley Blue Book says 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." 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. ConsumerGuide also notes that "bumps and expansion joints can cause some bounce," and overall the 2009 Nissan Pathfinder doesn't offer a particularly comfortable ride. On the plus side, they report that the brakes provide "smooth, progressive stopping control."

7

2009 Nissan Pathfinder

Comfort & Quality

The 2009 Nissan Pathfinder is spacious for both passengers and cargo, but fit and finish are subpar.

The 2009 Nissan Pathfinder is reasonably comfortable, but the interior comes across as cheap, even if it looks good from a distance.

The 2009 Nissan Pathfinder is a "seven-passenger midsize SUV," but its dimensions tend toward the large side of its class. 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 a high step-in on the 2009 Nissan Pathfinder. Overall, there is "ample legroom and headroom for most occupants" up front, according to ConsumerGuide, but "step-in is lofty." 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 2009 Nissan Pathfinder don't afford a tremendous amount of passenger room in the rear seats, it does allow for exceptional cargo room. 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. 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." 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 2009 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 2009 Pathfinder faces similar problems. ConsumerGuide says that the "LE's wood-tone trim lends a classier look," but the overall buzz is less positive. Cars.com states that the interior "isn't the prettiest around," and ConsumerGuide contends that the "mostly hard plastic" found throughout much of the cabin "imparts a low-budget ambiance."

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 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

2009 Nissan Pathfinder

Safety

With this year's addition of standard side airbags, the 2009 Nissan Pathfinder is a good bet for safety.

The Nissan Pathfinder rates as a pretty safe vehicle overall, and for 2009, all the expected safety features finally come standard.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) awards the Nissan Pathfinder a "good" rating, the Institute's highest, for frontal offset impacts. They also bestow upon the 2009 Nissan Pathfinder a "good" rating for side impact protection, provided it is equipped with side-impact airbags. However, if the Nissan 2009 Pathfinder does not have those optional airbags, the IIHS rating drops to "marginal," due to what the IIHS describes as "inadequate" head protection.

After subjecting the Nissan 2009 Pathfinder to its full battery of crash tests, the federal government's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) awards 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.

In addition to generally good crash-test ratings, the 2009 Nissan Pathfinder also comes equipped with a generous list of safety features. 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 the "enhanced technology in itself" makes for "a safe off-road system." Edmunds reviewers report that "every 2009 Nissan Pathfinder comes with antilock brakes and stability control." Side and side curtain airbags are newly standard for 2009.

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.

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2009 Nissan Pathfinder

Features

The 2009 Nissan Pathfinder has plenty of features—especially if you're willing to tack on an expensive options package.

The 2009 Nissan Pathfinder has a much better feature set than most other truck-based SUV models; tech-savvy shoppers will be happy with what's inside.

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 2009 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 reports, but it also adds "leather, wood trim and power seats." For 2009, the LE also includes updated wheels.

Even with a long standard features list, the designers at Nissan decided that 2009 Nissan Pathfinder owners should be able to add more to their SUVs. 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 2009 Navigation Package that adds, appropriately, a "navigation system, wireless cell phone link, hard drive, [and] keyless access and starting," according to ConsumerGuide. The Auto Channel reports that "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."

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