Truck based 2005 Pathfinder — another feather in Nissan’s cap

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Over the past three years Nissan has reinvented its truck lineup, and it now holds the bragging rights to the most up-to-date fleet in the industry.

The second-largest Japanese automaker entered the full-sized truck ranks three years ago with the Titan pickup and Armada sport utility vehicle.

And over the past year it has completely revitalized its mid-sized lineup with all-new versions of the Frontier pickup, the rugged Xterra sport utility and premium Pathfinder sport ute.

All three trucks are based on what Nissan calls the F-Alpha platform. In other words, all use the same major parts and underpinnings. The platform was developed for the new full-sized trucks, including the Infiniti QX56 sport utility, and then it was scaled down for the three mid-sized trucks.

We drove the Pathfinder for a week and found it a pleasant companion for all types of driving events from city streets to open freeway. The SE version we drove offered a comfortable ride, a good driving position, confident handling and noteworthy performance.

In fact, performance is at the top of our “likes” column. In recent years, Nissan has taken the position that more horsepower is better. And that philosophy is evident in the Pathfinder, which is powered by a new 4.0-liter V-6 generating 270 horsepower and 291 pound-feet of torque mated to a five-speed automatic transmission.

The engine is standard across the Pathfinder lineup, giving it a leg up on much of the competition, that require pricey trim level upgrades to get a comparable engine and equal performance. For instance to get similar muscle, you would have to upgrade to the V-8 models in the Ford Explorer, Toyota 4Runner and Jeep Grand Cherokee at a premium of several thousand dollars.

Considering the V-6 is required to pull a curb weight of 4,500 pounds in the 2-wheel drive model, it acquitted itself quite nicely at all speeds from start and stop nuisance driving to high-speed passing and interstate merges.

According to the test results of a major auto magazine, the Pathfinder all-wheel drive model will climb to 60 miles per hour in 7.3 seconds and finish off a quarter mile in 15.7 seconds at 88 miles per hour.

That respectable track performance translates into very pleasing street performance.
And for those people who tow things such as boats and trailers, the Pathfinder will pull up to 6,000 pounds.

The previous car-based Pathfinder was one of our favorite mid-sized sport utilities for several years offering a smooth ride and a comfortable and quiet interior.

Nissan decided to take the Pathfinder back to its truck-based mid-1980s roots, but in so doing Nissan engineers succeeded in retaining the un-truck-like ride of its predecessor, partly through the use of four-wheel independent suspension. So the new Pathfinder has new-found off-road ruggedness, but without perceptible loss in ride and handling qualities that we appreciated on the older model.

For those few who actually take their trucks off road, the Pathfinder has 9.2 inches of ground clearance, near tops in the segment, with good approach and departure angles. An automatic transmission and part-time four-wheel drive, with a low gear, together with hill descent control and hill start assist, make the Pathfinder a confident off-road workhorse.

But most people will use their Pathfinder to commute to work, take the kids to ball practice, pick up the groceries and go out for Saturday night dinner. And for those daily chores the new Nissan is a comfortable companion.

It is slightly larger than its predecessor, and that’s good, because more passenger space was needed. For comparison purposes, it has a slightly larger passenger volume than the 4Runner and a bit less than the Ford Explorer. Tall second-row passengers may need to negotiate leg room with the front-seat passengers.

The Pathfinder has a standard split third row seat, but it is not adult friendly. The young soccer players can clamber pack there out of the way. But keeping the seats folded yields excellent storage space — 49 cubic feet — with a hard plastic easy-to-clean load floor.

Dump the second row seats and storage increases to 79 cubic feet.

We liked the front seats and found the dashboard layout attractive and intuitive. Materials appeared of good quality, and fit and finish in our test truck was excellent.
What we can’t get used to is the exterior styling. The Pathfinder is styled to resemble a slightly smaller version of the Armada, and the smaller size does wonders to improve the chopped up look of the bigger sport utility. But we still can’t bring ourselves to think the Pathfinder is a handsome SUV.

We realize, however, that we could be in the minority. A friend thinks the new truck is a knockout. In fact, he purchased one just a few weeks after it reached showrooms. And people are buying the Pathfinder in big numbers, another indicator that we may be looking at the truck through out-of-focus lenses. Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder.

More than 46,300 copies left showrooms through the first seven months of 2005; an increase of 175-percent over the same period in 2004, putting the Pathfinder on track to record its best-selling year since 2000 when nearly 69,000 were sold.

The Pathfinder comes in four trim levels — XE, SE, SE Off-Road and LE.

Our test model, a two-wheel drive SE carried a base price of $26,660 and totaled out at $31,310 when premium package, comfort package and mobile entertainment package were added. The entertainment package includes a rear DVD system with a 7-inch screen. Included with the premium package is a nice-sounding Bose stereo system with six-disc changer.

If you are careful, you can get a nicely equipped mid-sized sport utility for less than 30 grand. If money is not so much of an object, the Pathfinder can be outfitted with a truck-load of good stuff to make the daily driving routine a rewarding experience.

The Pathfinder appears to be another success story for Nissan, a company which is riding a wave of success stories the past few years.