Nissan's Pathfinder debuted in the mid-1980s as a real, truck-based sport utility vehicle. Like its numerous competitors, it has grown and expanded its offerings over the years. Now, for 2008, Nissan has introduced the first V8-powered Pathfinder.
The new 5.6-liter V8, shared with the truly large Armada SUV and aptly named Titan full-size pickup, provides 300 horsepower with a stump-pulling 380 lb.-ft. of torque. The less mighty models get a perfectly strong 4.0-liter V6 that pumps out a not insubstantial 266 horsepower with 288 lb.-ft. or torque. That engine, in a 3.5-liter size, powers several other Nissan products quite successfully and gets 4 to 5 miles-per-gallon better ratings from the EPA.
The V8 averaged 14.2 miles per gallon, which straddles the new, more realistic 2008 EPA numbers of 12 City, 18 Highway. That's pretty much what you can expect with a vehicle like this, but to give it credit, when you pack in seven people and luggage, the miles-per-gallon-per-person ratio is quite favorable. And the comfort of the passengers is notable, too.
The EPA Green Vehicle list gives the Pathfinder V8 four-wheel-drive model a 6 for Air Pollution and a 2 for Greenhouse gases.
Nissan makes no bones about the fact that this Pathfinder is built on a sturdy fully-boxed high-strength steel frame. This is no sissy car-based crossover for the smart set.
Although you can buy a Pathfinder in rear-wheel drive, you also can order four-wheel drive for greater safety on the road. Nissan offers several different four-wheel drive systems. Models with a V8 get the full-time "XN All-Mode" system that instantly sends torque to wheels that need it for safer driving in rain, snow, sand, and mud.
If you're more serious about riding trails, the SE-V6 Off Road model comes with the 4-Wheel Limited-Slip system. You also get Hill Descent Control, which lets you ease down a slope without having to work the brake pedal. Conversely, you can climb upwards without sliding backwards when you use the Hill Start Assist system.
My time was spent piloting a Desert Stone SE level V8 model with four-wheel drive. The weather was clear so I never experienced any need to use the four-wheel-drive system at all. Sitting in the Café Latte interior, all I felt was serenity as I traversed freeways and dashed around town.
The Pathfinder is substantial, weighing in at 5,030 pounds, and is cavernous enough for a standard three rows of seats. However, short front and rear overhangs keep it from feeling like a barge or being too difficult to park. Towing capacity with the V8 is 7,000 pounds, up 1,000 from the V6.
You can get a plain S model with a V6 or jump to the luxurious LE model (with either engine), but my rig was nicely equipped in the middle SE range. That pleasantness was greatly enhanced by more than $6,000 worth of options, including XM Satellite Radio, a leather package (leather seats with power adjustments and heat), a DVD mobile entertainment system, and the SE Premium Package. This package features a 10-speaker Bose audio system with dual subwoofers and a power sliding moonroof. My tester also had the Air Bag package, which added side impact bags for front passengers and roof-mounted curtain side-impact bags with rollover protection. In all, a $32,850 SUV came to $38,860 when all was tallied up. The most basic Pathfinder starts at $25,780.
Interior styling is 21st-century truck, with strong, masculine shapes in soft, calming feminine shades of tan. Something for everyone, apparently. Sitting up high in comfortable seats is a basic with any SUV, and this one felt substantial, well crafted, and fully featured.
I especially liked the 40/20/40 folding second row seats. With just the slim center section lowered and the third row dropped flat, I was able to slide my big bass in there with room for two second-row riders preserved. I'm sure the same applies to surfboards and ladders. Nissan offers an "Easy-Clean" rear cargo area and 12 utility hooks so you can secure your gear and not worry about making a mess.
I was a little annoyed by the dash controls. The center console, though attractively styled and laid out, featured a heater control knob that felt and looked like the radio volume knob, which, for some reason, was to the left of the center panel. I kept changing the temperature when I wanted to adjust the radio. And the tuning knob is way over on the passenger side-a long reach in a car of this size. The only thing that made it tolerable is that you can adjust volume and skip from preset to preset from the steering wheel.
Despite its Japanese name, the Nissan Pathfinder is built in Smyrna, Tennessee, and the V8 engine is made just down the road in Decherd. It's about as all-American as you could want.