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Car reviews - Nissan - Pathfinder - range

Our Opinion

We like
Looks, on-road comfort, off-road ability, build quality, gutsy, refined, versatile cabin
Room for improvement
Thirst, cramped rear for larger folk

20 Jun 2003

NISSAN launched the sports utility Pathfinder in late 1986 in response to the spectacular success of the similar Toyota 4Runner.

Both the Pathfinder and 4Runner were two-door wagons based on light utilities - the Pathfinder on the Navara and the 4Runner on the HiLux. Both were later replaced by more practical four-door versions.

The all-new second-generation Pathfinder four-door wagon found its way here in November, 1995, building on the success of the 1986 original. A mildly face-lifted version was released in February 1999.

Like the earlier Pathfinder, it was styled at Nissan's design studio in California, the acknowledged epicentre of recreational sports-utility vehicles.

The current Pathfinder benefits from a tighter, roomier body, a bigger 3.3-litre version of the original's V6 engine and much enhanced on and off-road abilities thanks to the adoption of a more car-like monocoque body construction and suspension system. The Pathfinder is a truck no more.

Discarding the separate chassis body means more refinement and three times greater stiffness compared to the old version enhanced handling and manoeuvrability are welcome benefits.

The car-like rack and pinion steering also adds to the responsiveness of the Pathfinder, as does the lower centre of gravity afforded by Pathfinder being closer to the ground compared to rivals like Jackaroo or Discovery.

Although no powerhouse, the 125kW, 3.3-litre V6 is smooth and flexible through to its 6000rpm limit, admirably hauling the portly 1835kg Pathfinder about.

But being a fat 4WD, there is not the typical Nissan fuel economy.

Nissan limited the Pathfinder's appeal by not offering a manual transmission model, opting for a smooth four-speed automatic only.

Two Pathfinder versions are available, the entry level RX and Ti - Nissan-speak for luxury.

The Ti builds on the RX's standard air-conditioning, central locking and power steering by adding anti-lock brakes, twin airbags, alloy wheels, flared wheel arches, tubular side-steps, CD player, electric windows, climate control, roof racks and sunroof.

But no amount of comfort features can fix the Pathfinder's biggest problem - lack of rear-seat space.

While the driver and front seat passenger luxuriate in comfortable, supportive multi-adjustable seats, admiring the well-built, professionally executed dash and cabin, people sitting on the rear bench will wonder where the foot space has gone.

At least the luggage has room to move and even extend thanks to the split/fold rear seat while items can be accessed quickly and easily through a nifty hatch-like rear window.

Between the front seats there is a small power socket for use with items such as portable fridges.

Noise levels are also low, unless the engine is wrung out mercilessly, at which time it will become a little rowdy and less smooth.

The auto is also of the old school - it kicks down a little too reluctantly then drops into too low a gear with a resultant roar from the engine.

A distant whine from the drivetrain was also evident when cruising on smooth tarmac.

The longer travel suspension gives the Pathfinder a smooth ride, although it can be made to lean heavily when pushed hard into a corner, tyres squealing slightly in protest.

Nissan's venerable 3.3-litre V6 engine is a durable workhorse requiring only routine servicing and maintenance to keep it running sweet.

A service record from a reputable garage or Nissan franchise is desirable as the camshaft belts in the high-revving engine need to be replaced between 60,000 and 80,000km.

Also look for signs of lower panel and under-carriage damage as enthusiastic owners may have tackled tough off-road terrain not suited to the relatively low-slung Pathfinder.

The Pathfinder is an ideal stepping stone for drivers unaccustomed to the compromises of full-sized four-wheel drives. It offers car-like refinement and performance in the fashionable lifestyle format.

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