With Pathfinder’s edgy little brother, the Xterra, getting a much needed supercharging for 2002, Nissan gives the ol’ upward market repositioning to its mainline SUV. Pathfinder’s base XE line is axed for 2002, leaving the sport SE package and the full-dress LE. We drove a fully-kitted out edition of the latter, and we remain impressed with Pathfinder’s packaging and value.
Minor interior and exterior refinements are all that’s new for this year, including a new front grille, steering wheel, and a revised audio system with new faceplate and faster functioning in-dash six-disc CD changer. The 2002 SE model, now the standard Pathfinder, features a new titanium-accented step rail and roof rack with integrated air dam, body-color bumpers and fender flares, new 16-inch aluminum-alloy wheels and new seat cloth. Other changes for 2002 include new exterior colors (Chrome Silver, Merlot and White Pearl) and standard 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels on the LE model.
Leaving it be
There’s just no way Nissan is going to mess with this package. Men and women alike swoon at the combination of muscular sheet metal and right-now responsiveness of the Maxima-derived V-6 (240 hp and 265 lb-ft of torque, with our electronically controlled four-speed automatic). Even with the automatic, you can burn rubber on takeoffs, and describing power delivery with the phrase “torque curve” lacks accuracy—“torque plane” is more the sensation.
The Pathfinder’s appearance belies a fairly low center of gravity, leading to admirable handling characteristics that have been sharpened by the 17-inch wheels and rubber on the LE—as long as you’re on smooth pavement. It still has a solid rear axle, with multi-link trailing arms and coil springs, so rear-wheel hop will rear its head. The short wheelbase exacerbates this tendency, no doubt.
Steering feedback steers a tricky course between bump isolation and vagueness, with acceptable results. The engine’s smoothness at all speeds, along with great drivetrain and suspension isolation on the unibody platform, also contribute to a quiet, comfortable cabin. This also contributes to a 4,304-lb total weight, and given that the 21.1-gallon gas tank devours the finest premium fossil fuels at a 15/19 mpg clip, owners will want to double-check their credit limits when pulling out of the garage.
2002 Nissan Pathfinder
At least they’ll feel fairly wealthy sitting inside the Pathfinder LE. Entry and egress are simple, thanks to a low stepover height and wide doors. Our LE came with the Leather Package ($1,999, includes automatic transmission, perforated leather seated surfaces, heated front seats, eight-way/four-way power adjusting driver’s/front passenger’s seats, memory driver’s seat, simulated leather door trim) which provided all of the ego-elevating smells and comforts one could ask for. Highly visible, white-faced analog instruments sit under a gracefully arched dash reminiscent of that found on the Maxima. Large, sensible HVAC dials sit atop the central dash, although those who like to fiddle with their stereos might complain about its lower position (the steering wheel-mounted controls do help here). Rear passengers were royally entertained by the roof-mounted Mobile Entertainment System, available in either VCR or DVD flavors, that features a 6.4-in. LCD screen.
Standard features such as 8.3-in. ground clearance, a gas tank skid plate, and shift-on-the-fly 4WD control make the Pathfinder a major player in the off-road world, although the limited-slip differential is a $249 option on automatic-equipped vehicles. Deep puddles at high speed, bumps, ruts, and steep muddy inclines in monsoon conditions are confidently navigated.
The effects on Nissan’s own market segmentation on this aging, but highly competent design remain to be seen. A major redesign is supposedly in the works, but for now, few SUVs put it all together as well as the Pathfinder LE 4x4.
2002 Nissan Pathfinder LE 4x4
Base price: $32,039
Engine: 3.5-liter, 24-valve, DOHC V-6, 240 hp
Transmission: Four-speed electronic automatic, four-wheel drive
Fuel economy: 15 mpg city/19 mpg highway
Wheelbase: 106.3 in
Length: 190.7 in (w/outside tire carrier)
Width: 71.7 in
Height: 70.9 in (w/roof rack)
Curb weight: 4,304 lb
Safety equipment: Dual front supplemental airbags; front seatbelts with pretensioners, load limiters and adjustable upper anchors; child safety rear-door locks; energy-absorbing steering column; front and rear crumple zones; side-door guard beams
Major standard features: One-touch power glass sunroof; Bose audio systems with six-disc in-dash changer and steering wheel controls; cargo cover, automatic temperature control; double sun visors with dual/illuminated mirrors; push-button All-Mode 4WD system; HomeLink universal transceiver; titanium-accented roof rack and step rails; halogen fog lamps; LED outside temperature gauge/compass
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles
story posted 11/12/01