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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.
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.
- Real off-road toughness
- Towing/hauling ability
- Responsive base V-6 engine
- Tech options include Bluetooth and Music Box
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- Stiff, choppy ride
- Surprisingly pricey
- Seats feel skimpy