There are so many soft-roaders around these days that most have all but forgotten that models like the Nissan Pathfinder are actually very capable off-road vehicles.
The Nissan Pathfinder may not be the best selling car in its segment, but it's a package worth considering if off-road ability means anything to you.
In the whole of 2010 Nissan sold only 1620 Pathfinders, (unfairly) comparing that with the 16,745 Prados or 13,117 Klugers that Toyota sold or even the near-7000 Mitsubishi Pajeros that all found new owners, the Pathfinder is a small player in its segment. Ideally, it's best to compare it against the Mitsubishi Challenger which found 2,195 new owners.
Despite what the numbers tell you, the Nissan Pathfinder is actually a rather brilliant SUV. The perfect buyer would be one that requires off-road capability more often than not and doesn't mind the 'truck-like' driving dynamics.
Nissan has updated the Pathfinder's exterior which is now 80mm longer. From the front it now features a refreshed bonnet and grille plus a more rounded bumper. The rear also gets a revised bumper with squared off edges. All in all it tends to look more modern and similar to the upcoming 2012 Nissan Patrol.
The Pathfinder isn't your friendly looking city-SUV. You can certainly find something better and more city-friendly if all you want is an SUV that will never leave the tarmac. Its looks also reflect this feeling. Based on the Nissan Navara, the Pathfinder is essentially a mini-truck that has been turned into an SUV.
For some, its rugged looks and tough SUV character is its main appeal, for others, it's a major turn off. The same dilemma presents itself for its main rival, the Mitsubishi Challenger (based on the Triton).
The big change to the revised Pathfinder is its engine line-up. Now available with the most powerful diesel engine you can get in a Japanese SUV, the Pathfinder Ti 550 makes use of a 3.0-litre, 170 kW engine mated to a seven-speed auto. Yes, a seven-speed auto. It pumps out an enormous 550 Nm of torque from 1750 RPM which makes it one hell of a drive. It also has a towing capacity of 3,500 kg.
Nonetheless, for a starting price of $75,990, the Ti550 is going to be pushing the budget. The everyday buyer is more likely to pick the only other available engine, a four-cylinder 2.5 litre DOHC intercooled Turbo Diesel. The update brings it an additional 14 kW and 48 Nm of torque.
Unless you really want the fastest Pathfinder money can buy, the 2.5-litre is good enough. Mated to either a six-speed manual transmission or a five-speed auto, with 140 kW and 450 Nm of torque, it can pretty much carry a family of seven around town and the outback without making a big deal of it. It does, however, like to audibly remind you that it's working at all times.
The bigger, more powerful engine returns an impressive fuel economy figure (claimed) of 9.5L/100km (thanks in part to its 7-speed auto) while the 2.5-litre manages 8.5L/100km in manual or 9.0L/100km for the automatic.
Around town the 2.5-litre is easy to live with even if it does occasionally seem to hesitate before it gives you all it has. Real world fuel economy figures are above 10L/100km but even that is pretty darn good for an SUV that weighs more than 2.1 tonnes (about 50kg weight variation depending on variant and gearbox).
When it comes to ride and handling, the Nissan Pathfinder behaves more like a mini-truck than a passenger car. Despite front double wishbone and rear multi-link independent suspension, sharing its foundations with the Navara has kept its driving dynamics closer to its Ute brother than any of Nissan's passenger cars.
Not that it's difficult to drive around town, but its super-soft steering feel and non-existent feedback makes it a bit of a dull drive. On the plus side, its off-road tyres and suspension allow it to absorb Australia's poor-quality roads with ease.
Getting in and out of car parks isn't too hard and with the inclusion of reversing sensors (ST-L) and a reverse camera (Ti) the job is even easier.
Nissan Australia recently held a day out at Mount Cotton 4WD centre in Brisbane where I got to drive the Pathfinder around a relatively challenging off-road course.
What amazes me most about Nissan as a brand is how it has managed to build a reputation for seriously tough and reliable 4WDs and Utes (think Patrol and Navara) as well as challenge the world's best when it comes to sports cars (think Nissan GT-R and Nissan 370Z). What other manufacturer can say they've done that?
Thanks to its body-on-frame construction and a fully boxed all-steel ladder chassis, the Pathfinder's off-road credentials are hard to dispute. With a ground clearance of 232 mm (ST variant, ST-L is 228 mm and Ti is 231 mm), a 30 degree approach and 26 degree departure angle, the Pathfinder can easily navigate itself around some seriously tough terrain.
Although basic four-wheel-driving skill is required, the majority of drivers simply need to point the Pathfinder in the most logical path and the electronically controlled ALL MODE 4x4 control system will tend to do the rest. The Pathfinder is more at home in the outback than anywhere else.
The Pathfinder has never been the sort of vehicle you'd get into and go "wow!". Even after its recent revision, it's still the same story. Nissan has redesigned the central dash cluster, updated the door trims and modified the seat fabric.
The base model ST comes with seven seats (two of which are best used only by children) covered in cloth trim, Bluetooth phone support, auxiliary input connected to a CD-player and four speakers. Dual-zone air-conditioning is also standard across the range, as are the rear air vents (not third row), cruise control and leather trim steering wheel.
Moving up to the ST-L model you'll get leather seat trim and chrome highlights. An extra two speakers and electrically adjustable and heated front seats plus driver seat and door mirror memory settings are also new additions.
Nissan has replaced the relatively unspectacular wood grain trim of the old Pathfinder Ti with a fresh metallic trim which gives the interior a far more elegant look. Ti buyers gain HDD Satellite Navigation with 3D mapping and 7-inch integrated colour display. The system makes use of a 9.3 GB music box to rip your favourite CDs and hold your MP3s. A 7-inch rear seat DVD entertainment system is also standard (9-inch for Ti 550).
Overall, the interior has improved over the years and is built to sustain the daily challenges of an off-road capable SUV. It's a little rough around the edges but it gets the job done. The front seats are comfortable enough (ST-L tested) for long distance drives but don't expect to have seven adults in the car for anything longer than a five minute journey.
The Pathfinder ST doesn't come with front to rear curtain airbags (for second and third row seating) as standard but it does come with driver and front passenger side-impact airbags. This is likely due to the mainly fleet sales of the base model.
The ST-L and Ti variants comes with a full compliment of airbags and all three variants come with the following technologies as standard:
- Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC)
- Traction Control System (TCS)
- Anti-lock Braking System (ABS)
- Brake Assist (BA)
- Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD)
- Active Brake Limited Slip (ABLS)
Being a Nissan, reliability issues are generally unlikely and the Pathfinder comes with a three-year/100,000km warranty. It wil require servicing every 12 months or 15,000km.
The Nissan Pathfinder is not an SUV for everyone. Nissan offers a whole variety of city-friendly SUVs such as the Dualis, Murano and X-Trail for those of us that keep thinking we will go off-road, but know that we never will.
The Pathfinder is for those who are actually in need of some form of off-roading capability. Compared with the Mitsubishi Challenger, the Nissan is more powerful, refined and offers a more modern interior. But it does come at a higher cost.
Nissan Pathfinder Pricing:
- ST Man $48,490
- ST Diesel Auto $51,490
- ST-L Diesel Man $56,490
- ST-L Diesel Auto $59,490
- Ti Diesel Auto $65,990
- Ti 550 Auto $75,990