2011 Nissan Pathfinder Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
January 24, 2011

The 2011 Nissan Pathfinder is a workhorse SUV that also offers decent comfort and an impressive feature set.

While most mid-size sport-utility vehicles have, over the past few years, become softer and car-based, the 2011 Nissan Pathfinder continues to buck that trend. Among rugged poseurs, the Pathfinder sticks it out as a "real" truck, with body-on-frame construction for those who need traditional truck ruggedness, either for off-roading or heavy towing, but who don't want to skimp too much on comfort.

There's nothing groundbreaking about the design of the 2011 Nissan Pathfinder, but most shoppers will find the look reasonably handsome inside and out. Even though the Pathfinder hasn't seen a completely redesign for many years, the exterior is timeless and straightforward. The single most distinctive design detail on the Pathfinder is its rear door handles. And while they might give the Pathfinder the look of a two-door—and be a somewhat reto nod to previous versions of this ute—they're awkwardly out of kids' reach and harder to use with hands full.

The standard 266-horsepower, 4.0-liter V-6 provides adequate juice for most types of driving; it's quick off the line and only feels somewhat winded at high speed with a full load. It also gets significantly better fuel economy than the larger V-8, yet still offers a tow capacity of up to 6,000 pounds. Opting for the 310-horsepower V-8 ramps up the torque and allows the truck to pull up to 7,000 pounds.

Review continues below

If you're willing to overlook its rabid thirst for gasoline (official city ratings come as low as 13 mpg), the Pathfinder is a good choice for those who do need to tow frequently, or take on rutted back trails on the way to remote work sites. The tough Pathfinder features short overhangs and good ground clearance, 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 only issue our editors have found is that the Pathfinder's suspension doesn't have the wheel articulation needed for more precarious boulder-scrambling—which means your head will be tossed from side to side over tough terrain.

Body-on-frame SUVs are typically not quite as good for passenger space as more modern car-based crossovers or minivans; but overall, the 2011 Pathfinder is quite passenger-friendly. There's a flat-fold passenger seat in front, a 40/20/40-split second row, and a 50/50-split third row. The only real issue with the interior is that the seats themselves just aren't as comfortable as they could or should be—they're quite short in front, and skimpy padding all around means the Pathfinder isn't such a great long-distance choice. Also, the tall step up to get into the Pathfinder might be challenging for kids, pets, or grandparents. Speaking of kids, the third row is for kids only; it's just too tight, and hard to get into. The 2011 Nissan Pathfinder is able to swallow up a large amount of gear, both on top of and inside the car, thanks to a flat cargo floor, easy-folding seats, and a 200-pound capacity roof rack.

As is the case with most truck-based SUVs, the Pathfinder's ride is firm and a bit choppy, and on rough pavement or tight, twisty roads, it's less settled than modern crossover designs. And while the interior is quite hushed from wind and road noise, you hear the engine far too much—even under light acceleration.

New this year is the Pathfinder SV, which replaces the Pathfinder SE and slots just above the base Pathfinder S. The Pathfinder S comes with an ample but unremarkable list of features, but the new SV adds a lot, including a multi-function display, power driver's seat, power-adjustable pedals, upgraded seat fabric, illuminated steering-wheel audio controls, rear climate control, fog lamps, running boards, a garage-door opener, and a rear-view monitor. On uplevel models, the Pathfinder gets flashier wheels, heated seats, Bluetooth hands-free, Intelligent Key, XM Satellite Radio, and upgraded Bose audio with ten speakers—and even a heated steering wheel, leather seats, and wood trim on the top LE.

6

2011 Nissan Pathfinder

Styling

Pleasant but somewhat plain, and macho all around, the 2011 Nissan Pathfinder follows SUV tradition and eschews any hint of the crossover trend.

There's nothing groundbreaking about the design of the 2011 Nissan Pathfinder, but most shoppers will find the look reasonably handsome inside and out. Even though the Pathfinder hasn't seen a completely redesign for many years, the exterior is timeless and straightforward.

The single most distinctive design detail on the Pathfinder is its rear door handles. And while they might give the Pathfinder the look of a two-door—and be a somewhat reto nod to previous versions of this ute—they're awkwardly out of kids' reach and harder to use with hands full.

Inside, the Pathfinder is strictly business. The look all around is straightforward and upright, and while it might be appreciated for its masculine style, up close the hard, drab materials feel a step behind.

7

2011 Nissan Pathfinder

Performance

Strong, torquey engines and serious towing and off-roading ability is the priority here, and the Pathfinder excels.

The 2011 Nissan Pathfinder is available with V-6 and V-8 engines, but despite the significant power and torque difference between the two the driving experience isn't that much different. The base Pathfinder S comes only with the V-6, but sportier SE and LE models are offered with either engine. And throughout the lineup, rear- or all-wheel drive can be had with either.

The standard 266-horsepower, 4.0-liter V-6 provides adequate juice for most types of driving; it's quick off the line and only feels somewhat winded at high speed with a full load. It also gets significantly better fuel economy than the larger V-8, yet still offers a tow capacity of up to 6,000 pounds. Opting for the 310-horsepower V-8 ramps up the torque and allows the truck to pull up to 7,000 pounds.

If you're willing to overlook its rabid thirst for gasoline (official city ratings come as low as 13 mpg), the Pathfinder is a good choice for those who do need to tow frequently, or take on rutted back trails on the way to remote work sites. The tough Pathfinder features short overhangs and good ground clearance, 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 only issue our editors have found is that the Pathfinder's suspension doesn't have the wheel articulation needed for more precarious boulder-scrambling—which means your head will be tossed from side to side over tough terrain.

With all that taken into account, the 2011 Pathfinder is surprisingly deft on the road. Among true trucks, the Pathfinder's steering is sharp and precise, and while you won't want to push it hard around corners or examine its dynamic limits, it's quite confidence-inspiring.

6

2011 Nissan Pathfinder

Comfort & Quality

The 2011 Nissan Pathfinder has a roomy interior, but don't expect soft crossover-wagon levels of smoothness and refinement.

Body-on-frame SUVs are typically not quite as good for passenger space as more modern car-based crossovers or minivans; but overall, the 2011 Pathfinder is quite passenger-friendly. There's a flat-fold passenger seat in front, a 40/20/40-split second row, and a 50/50-split third row.

The only real issue with the interior is that the seats themselves just aren't as comfortable as they could or should be—they're quite short in front, and skimpy padding all around means the Pathfinder isn't such a great long-distance choice. Also, the tall step up to get into the Pathfinder might be challenging for kids, pets, or grandparents. Speaking of kids, the third row is for kids only; it's just too tight, and hard to get into.

The 2011 Nissan Pathfinder is able to swallow up a large amount of gear, both on top of and inside the car. Both the second and third rows can fold down to the same level, enabling a long, flat cargo surface, and by stowing the front passenger seatback forward against the lower cushion, the Pathfinder can reach a cargo length of up to 10 feet. There's a large storage area hidden away under the second-row seats and a handy small storage area inside the backdoor, as well as a double glovebox. On the outside, a 200-pound-capacity roof rack is standard on the Pathfinder and includes a handle to help when loading.

As is the case with most truck-based SUVs, the Pathfinder's ride is firm and a bit choppy, and on rough pavement or tight, twisty roads, it's less settled than modern crossover designs. And while the interior is quite hushed from wind and road noise, you hear the engine far too much—even under light acceleration.

6

2011 Nissan Pathfinder

Safety

The 2011 Nissan Pathfinder has a decent set of safety equipment, but a few of its safety ratings are cause for worry.

Compared to other types of vehicles, SUVs have long had some of the most complete rosters of safety features—which in part helps ease worry over the greater concerns about rollover.

Electronic stability control is standard in the 2011 Nissan Pathfinder, and side impact and side curtain airbags are standard.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) awards the Nissan Pathfinder a "good" rating, the Institute's highest, for frontal offset and side impacts, but the Pathfinder scores a very worrisome 'marginal' in both the seat-based rear-impact (whiplash) test and its new roof-strength (rollover) test. The Nissan Pathfinder hasn't yet been crash-tested by the federal government, but in the previous test methods it 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 rear impact protection as well as the new roof-strength protection

In addition to the Pathfinder's on-road safety features, it includes some off-road ones as well. Hill descent control and hill start assist help maintain control on steep slopes in the SE Off-Road model.

As is the case for many tall SUVs, visibility can be an issue in the Pathfinder—especially when backing up. But with 2011, all Pathfinders above the base S now come with a rearview camera system.

7

2011 Nissan Pathfinder

Features

The 2011 Nissan Pathfinder has a respectable list of features, though the focused off-road features are gone and the top LE trim can still push past $45k.

The 2011 Nissan Pathfinder has a strong feature set compared to most other truck-based SUV models. Most tech-savvy shoppers will be happy with what's inside, and Nissan allows even those who want a focused off-road vehicle quite a level of luxury.

New this year is the Pathfinder SV, which replaces the Pathfinder SE and slots just above the base Pathfinder S. The Pathfinder S comes with an ample but unremarkable list of features, but the new SV adds a lot, including a multi-function display, power driver's seat, power-adjustable pedals, upgraded seat fabric, illuminated steering-wheel audio controls, rear climate control, fog lamps, running boards, a garage-door opener, and a rear-view monitor.

Above the SV, the Pathfinder Silver Edition gets dressed up with machine-finished alloy wheels, heated outside mirrors, and special badging, plus heated seats, Bluetooth hands-free, Intelligent Key, XM Satellite Radio, and upgraded Bose audio with ten speakers. The LE model is worth checking out if you want a more luxurious driving experience; it offers an optional DVD entertainment system that is not available on any other models, plus leather, a heated steering wheel, and wood trim.

Options for all models include a nav system with a 9.3GB Music Box entertainment, DVD entertainment, and a power sunroof.

5

2011 Nissan Pathfinder

Fuel Economy

With city fuel economy ratings in the 13 to 15 mpg range, this truck has a thirst that might lead some to cross it off their list.

In ways green, the 2011 Nissan Pathfinder seems a little stuck in the 1990s. With city fuel economy ratings in the 13 to 15 mpg range, it's anything but green. And fuel misers beware, with the V-8 and four-wheel drive, the 13/18 mpg ratings feel if anything a little optimistic; Nissan's 5.6-liter V-8 is a guzzler.
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Styling 6.0
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