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At a time when many mid-size sport-utility vehicles have become somewhat softer and more carlike, the 2012 Nissan Pathfinder stands out as a "real" truck—with body-on-frame construction, appealing to those who need sturdy traditional truck underpinnings for regular towing or off-roading. At the same time, while the Pathfinder might make some sacrifices in comfort, it's definitely up for family duty.
There's no way around it: The Pathfinder's design is dated. That said, the styling has proven timeless and straightforward. In a nod to Pathfinder models of the past, the rear door handles are located higher up along the back doors—a feature that looks looks fashionable (making the doorline look two-door) but creates a tough reach for kids.
The standard engine—and way to go in the Pathfinder, in our opinion—is the 266-horsepower, 4.0-liter V-6, which provides plenty of power for most types of driving and is only somewhat winded at high speed with a full load. Get the optional 310-hp, 5.6-liter V-8 and you'll get gobs more torque, as well as a towing capacity of 7,000 pounds, versus 6,000 pounds, but it's very thirsty, even among V-8s, with EPA city ratings as low as 13 mpg.
Off-road ability is a strength, and if you really need that—or towing capacity—the Pathfinder is a good choice over more passenger-oriented crossovers like the Ford Edge or Chevrolet Traverse. Short overhangs and good ground clearance keep it up to the task, 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. One issue, however, is that the Pathfinder's suspension doesn't quite have the wheel articulation for precarious boulder-scrambling—resulting in a lot of side-to-side motion.
Body-on-frame SUVs tend not to have quite as much usable passenger space as car-based crossovers or minivans of the same footprint, and the same is true here. That said, the Pathfinder is reasonably 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—with the third row only good for kids. 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. But thanks to a 200-pound roof rack, flat cargo floor, and easy-to-fold rear seatbacks, you can fit quite a bit of gear in the Pathfinder.
For this sort of vehicle, the Pathfinder has a relatively quiet cabin, though you hear the engine a bit too much; overall, trims and materials leave a lot to be desired. Ride quality can become choppy on tough pavement, and it's less settled in general compared to newer crossover designs. And we find safety a bit worrisome compared to other models in this class; the IIHS has given the 2012 model only 'marginal' scores for roof strength and rear impact.
The Pathfinder remains offered in S, SV, and LE models, with a Silver Edition slotting above the SV. The SV is probably the best deal for the value-minded, with 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. The new Silver Edition adds Bluetooth, heated seats, leather upholstery, power-adjustable pedals, and a long list of appearance extras. On uplevel models, the Pathfinder gets flashier wheel, 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. For 2012, the LE includes navigation, and the Silver Edition can be optioned with a moonroof and DVD player.
- Serious truck toughness
- Strong, torquey powertrains
- Good versatility for cargo
- Three rows of seating
- Impressive lux features on offer
- Choppy ride
- Skimpy, thinly padded seats
- Poor gas mileage
- Subpar interior materials
- LE has luxury-brand pricing