Car reviews - Nissan - Pathfinder - range
Roomy interior, turbo-diesel power delivery and performance, silky V6 gearshift, off-road ruggedness, reassuring gravel road behaviour
Room for improvement
Ladder frame chassis eats into interior packaging, flat and unsupportive seats, lifeless steering, lack of steering wheel reach adjustment, unrefined on-road suspension behaviour
12 Jul 2005
WE reckon Nissan has had an each-way bet with the new Pathfinder.
On one level it's a serious, capable off-roader which boasts a rugged ladder-frame chassis, true low-range ability and load-lugging powerful 2.5-litre turbo-diesel for towing.
On another, there's the silky 4.0-litre V6 petrol engine and lush five-speed automatic for urban wannabees who talk about going off-road but never venture beyond the pony club carpark.
Never mind. The latest Pathfinder boasts seven-seater capacity, good equipment levels and standard of fit and finish that will please even the most critical buyer.
Pleasing too, in our eyes, is the chunky exterior styled in Japan and North America with its deeply sculptured glass area and bold wheel-arch blisters.
The Pathfinder is based on the handsome Dunehawk concept car revealed at the 2003 Frankfurt motor show.
Although the masculine design is clearly aimed at the SUV crazy North American market, it manages to provide some all-important street cred here too.
Five models are offered locally in ST, ST-L and Ti guises.
Nissan is claiming the Pathfinder is tilted towards the Mitsubishi Pajero, Toyota Prado and Land Rover Discovery - there was no mention of Ford's all-consuming Territory - with sales expectations running at around 600 a month.
The base ST six-speed manual turbo-diesel comes in at $44,990, ST V6 $47,990 and upper-spec ST-L turbo-diesel $48,990 and ST-L V6 $51,990.
The range-topper is the leather-wrapped, sunroof-equipped auto-only Ti V6 at $58,990.
The entry ST diesel boasts, 16-inch alloys, air conditioning, ABS, dual airbags, remote central locking, electric mirrors and windows, cruise control and in-dash CD stereo.
Nissan expects the ST-L to be the volume model. It adds 17-inch alloys, vehicle dynamic control, luxury cloth seat fabric, leather trimmed steering wheel and shift lever, dual-zone air-conditioning, roof rails, side steps, foglights and six-stacker CD with steering-wheel mounted audio controls.
Equipment levels clearly offer plenty for every buyer but trying please everyone does come with some compromises, namely in the way the Pathfinder handles.
The rugged ladder-frame chassis means its on-road behaviour is more truck-like than car-like - partly explained by the fact that it's based on the Navara utility.
Although the ride and handling is quiet and cosseting on the highway, once you hit corrugated surfaces or undulating country roads there's plenty of shuddering through the steering wheel, some pitching and bodyroll through corners.
The rack-and-pinion steering too feels a little lifeless and lacks some on-centre feel.
Of the variants driven, the base diesel version, with its 16-inch alloys, felt less harsh than the 17s fitted to the up-spec models. The independent all-round suspension tries its best to deliver but, as we said, with some compromises.
And that's the spoiler, the Pathfinder's true forte is in the back country, where we suspect few will venture.
Here it feels more at home, eating up marginal gravel roads and extreme off-road trails. The simple All-Mode selectable four-wheel drive, similar to that fitted to the X-Trail, takes the worry out of off-roading.
On gravel the big, grippy tyres makes the car feel more surefooted but you remain keenly aware that this is a truck-based passenger vehicle.
From the driver's seat, the view over the bonnet is commanding. Only the thick A-pillars intrude but the Pathfinder is easy to point and its squarish body means you can pick the extremities when parking.
With more than two tonnes to haul around the turbo-diesel was our pick of the litter but the standard six-speed manual lacked precision.
The diesel pumps out 128kW at 4000rpm and 403Nm at 2000rpm versus the 4.0-litre V6's silky-smooth 198kW at 4000rpm and 385Nm at 4000rpm.
In the engine stakes it's horses for courses - the diesel for off-road work and the V6 for highway cruising.
Inside, there are few surprises. The Nissan is well built and offers the expected number of accoutrements for a fussy buyer.
The three-spoke steering wheel looks sporty and the centre-stake housing the heating, ventilation and audio systems is clearly defined.
There are also plenty of cubbie areas, including a dual glovebox and cargo tie-downs. The rear hatch glass also lifts up for small packages.
Cabin accommodation is roomy and flexible. However, the seats appear to be designed for barge-arsed Americans rather than Aussie posteriors. They are flat and unsupportive.
The seven-seats may also offer functionality but bring compromises as well for adults forced to sit in the back.
Although the middle row has plenty of legroom for grown-ups, the seat cushion sits low, forcing your knees upwards. The seats also lack any decent contouring and the seatback cushioning is too thin.
The third-row is kids-only territory, and once in place there's a modest amount of luggage space behind.
In fairness to the Pathfinder though, the two rear rows do flip and fold easily, can be stowed flat with the headrests in place. The second row seatbacks fold on a 40/20/40 basis while the third row has a 50/50 split and disappears into the floor.
Adding to this is a fold flat front passenger seat, which then boosts load length to 2.8 metres, handy for timber or that Malibu surfboard.
With some reservations, the Pathfinder can certainly hold its off-road head high in the company of the Prado, Disco and Pajero.
It will plug through all manner of boggy situations and the short overhangs and sturdy chassis suggest it will go as far as its rivals. The car's towing capability cannot be overlooked either.
If mud's your main game, the Nissan newcomer is a commendable option. But for every day applications we'd have to look elsewhere.
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