The Nissan Pathfinder was winning SUV comparison evaluations long before SUV became a household word, and this heavily updated fourth-generation version merely puts it in a bigger, seven-seat house. Built like a truck and unstoppable by most reasonable endeavors (Baja, anyone?) the Pathfinder is a capable mid-size SUV for those who require a genuine truck, compete rather than watch, yet still want some degree of style and comfort during the week.
If your off-road driving consists of graded dirt roads, you desire all-wheel-drive for bad weather, or tow something as light as personal watercraft, Nissan's Murano might be better. But if your path has tree stumps, rocks, ruts, mud or all of the above, your boat or RV weighs a couple of tons, or you like your Xterra but want more luxury, the Pathfinder may fit.
However, don't let the truck talk fool you. Thanks to independent rear suspension and large tires, the Pathfinder rides well and the rack-and-pinion steering works precisely and turns tighter than many mid-size sedans. Also, the Nissan Pathfinder doesn't require a climb to get into and will fit easily in garages and standard parking spaces.
The mid-size SUV market isn't as huge as it once was, but many of the contenders, such as the Chevy TrailBlazer, Dodge Durango, Mercedes-Benz M-Class, Mitsubishi Montero, and Toyota 4Runner, can't offer the mechanical combinations, nor in some cases the aggressive styling, that the Nissan Pathfinder does.
The Nissan Pathfinder received a makeover and a stronger V8 engine for 2008. For 2009, all models receive standard side and curtain airbags in addition to some packaging changes. In contrast to the previous year, the V8 is only available in LE trim with 4WD.
The Nissan Pathfinder is offered in several trim levels with two-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive. The V8 engine is available in SE or LE trim levels with two- or four-wheel-drive. Expect to add $2,000-$2,200 for 4WD.
Pathfinder S ($27,210) includes a 4.0-liter V6, five-speed automatic, cloth upholstery, air conditioning, power windows and locks, cruise control, immobilizer, 40/20/40 reclining middle-row and 50/50 third-row that both fold flat, active front head restraints, alloy wheels, roof rack, rear wiper, rear glass and hatch opening, four map lights, seven assist grips, full instrumentation, CD player, and twelve cargo area tie-down points. It's also available with 4WD ($29,210).
Nissan Pathfinder SE ($30,510) adds an eight-way power driver seat, 17-inch wheels, fold-flat front passenger seat, seven-inch display with rearview monitor, power adjustable pedals, dual-zone climate control and rear air, easy-clean cargo area, fog lamps, leather wheel and shifter, tow hook, running boards, body-color power mirrors, 6CD satellite-ready sound, and extendable visors with illuminated mirrors. The SE is available with 4WD ($32,510). SE models offer a wide range of options.
Pathfinder SE Off-Road ($35,410) comes with 4WD (electric-switched part-time), the V6, nominal SE bits, plus 265/75R16 B.F. Goodrich Rugged Trail tires, Bilstein shocks, unique blue seat fabric, hill climb and descent electronic assists, three skid plates, and the SE premium package including moonroof, HomeLink, and Bose sound system. Leather upholstery and DVD entertainment are optional.
Nissan Pathfinder LE ($36,310) comes with 18-inch wheels, leather upholstery (except the kid's third row) and woodgrain trim, driver memory system, side and curtain airbags, heated steering-wheel/front seats/mirrors, and the Bose 6CD 10-speaker sound system. LE 4WD ($38,510) and LE V8 4WD ($40,210) are All-Mode. Navigation is optional, along with XM Satellite Radio, Bose sound with 9.3-gigabyte Music Box hard drive and Intelligent Key.
Safety features on all Pathfinders include VDC electronic stability control, tire pressure monitors and ABS. Front side-impact airbags (for torso protection) and side-curtain airbags (for head protection) are extra-cost options on all but the LE where they come standard; we recommend getting them.