All-new for 2005, the third-generation Pathfinder has grown larger and more capable while morphing back from unit-body to its original body-on-frame configuration. Built on a scaled-down version of Nissan's rugged F-Alpha truck chassis employed by the Titan, the new Pathfinder nets 6.2 inches more wheelbase--to 112.2--over the compact model it replaces, plus gains a fully independent suspension like its full-size kin, the Armada. Available in XE, SE, SE Off-Road (Rancho shock absorbers, Hill Descent/Start Assist controls, bespoke wheels/tires/suspension, skidplates), and LE trim, and 2WD or 4WD, all share a common 4.0-liter V-6 engine and offer standard seating for seven.
The Pathfinder's angular lines, bold front brightwork, stepped-out rear bumper, and reverse-kick C-pillar reinforce family ties with the Armada, while prominent fender flares, short overhangs, and standard roof rack and running boards emphasize its "adventurous" attitude. The XE, SE, and SE Off-Road have 16-inch alloy wheels wrapped in 245/75, 265/70 and 265/75 all-terrain tires, respectively, while the lightweight 17-inch rims on LE models carry 265/65 all-season rubber.
Nicely finished, easily accessible, and generously equipped, the Pathfinder displays numerous design cues also seen in its equally new Frontier and Xterra stablemates. The most obvious is the dash, replete with legible instruments and finger-friendly audio and climate controls. Standards include a full array of power assists, air conditioning (dual-zone auto with rear controls is LE standard/SE optional), cruise control, six-speaker AM/FM/CD sound system, keyless remote entry, tire pressure monitor, and privacy glass, with the LE swapping cloth trim for leather. Smaller items can be stowed in a dual-door glovebox with lockable compartment, open and covered console bins, or door pockets--with bottle holders up front. Further convenience features include four cupholders, four 12V powerpoints, and 12 tie-down hooks.
While total cabin space is up by 27 percent, its utility varies. Hip, leg, shoulder, and cargo room have grown far more meaningfully than the marginal gains in headroom; and taller riders may still find low overhead an issue, even without the available power sunroof. The front buckets are comfortable, but their lower cushions are on the short side and lateral support is modest. An eight-way driver's seat is power activated in all but the XE, and the LE adds four-way power to the fold-flat passenger perch, plus front seat heaters. The buckets also get active head restraints that help prevent whiplash injuries.
One tier back, the 40/20/40 second-row bench also offers easy entry/exit, although its firmish, flatish, and shortish seat elements look best in comparison to those of the third-row seat. Even with Nissan's tip-and-flip feature, accessing that kid-scaled 50/50 split bench is cumbersome. However, each side folds completely flat at the tug of a lever, increasing cargo space from 16.1 cu ft to a healthy 49.2 cu ft. While dropping the second-row involves one additional, albeit small, step, doing so creates a cavernous 79.2 cu ft of free space. Another nice touch is the Pathfinder's large rear hatch, with a pop-up glass element that adds even greater flexibility.
Beyond a frame with fully boxed rails, stability control, and ABS brakes with Brake Assist and Electronic Brake force Distribution, the Pathfinder offers standard "smart" front airbags, "active" front-seat headrests, and three-point seatbelts for all occupants. Side and side-curtain airbags are LE standards, XE/SE options.
For '05 Pathfinder duty, Nissan's ubiquitous VQ V-6 has been punched out to 4.0 liters, a boost that pumped horsepower from 240 to a stout 270 and torque from 265 to 291 lb-ft. The twist force now peaks at a slightly loftier 4,000 rpm, but thanks to variable valve timing, at least 80 percent of the torque is available from just 2,000 rpm. That ever-present enthusiasm dovetails well with the Pathfinder's sole transmission, a smooth-shifting, five-speed automatic. The duo delivers 0-60-mph times well below eight seconds, regardless of the number of driven wheels. The optional 4WD is a part-time, shift-on-the-fly system with a dual-range transfer case and an "Auto" mode on LE models. All Pathfinders have standard stability control, and can tow up to 6,000 pounds.
With fully independent suspension and shock damping that materially softens impact harshness, the Pathfinder feels both comfortable and confident in basic cruising mode, though it's somewhat less at ease on rough or twisty pavement. The former tends to elicit a bit of chassis dance, while the compromised grip of the all-terrain tires mitigates cornering enthusiasm, and gives the stability control a regular workout. Close-quarters maneuvering took a modest hit, as well, with the wheelbase stretch increasing the Pathfinder's turning circle from 37.4 to 39.2 feet.
The expansion program also raised curb weights by about 500 pounds. However, the added size and strength of the enhanced V-6 and the efficient autoshifter pretty well offsets the impact of that extra mass. Net result: the Pathfinder still feels energetic, both off the line and in the passing lane. Despite a soft pedal and the move from disc/disc to disc/drum brakes, the ABS binders deliver straight, drama-free stops.
Civilized, stylish, rugged, and even more capable, the new Pathfinder has the basic design credentials plus solid on/off-road skills that should broaden its appeal to all active lifestylers. It's the details that may raise issues for some shopping the expansive, midsize SUV field. While the Pathfinder's energetic V-6 is eminently capable, it still falls short in maximum quickness and tow ratings when compared to the Toyota 4Runner, Ford Explorer, Jeep Grand Cherokee, and Dodge Durango, which all offer optional V-8s. And those who really need to carry seven will find a far more accommodating solution in the Ford. We suspect many XE and SE buyers also would prefer the choice of a lower-noise/higher-grip LE-style "street" tire that could better showcase the Pathfinder's intrinsic on-road capabilities. Although none of these items are deal breakers, all are legitimate considerations. The new Pathfinder has what it takes to be even more of a presence in this class, but conquests won't come easy--and the 4Runner still remains the one to beat in terms of IC's Ownership Cost Value ratings.
Returning to its body-on-frame roots, the Nissan Pathfinder boasts more power, space, and exterior flair with the 2005 redesign. Amid a crowded field, the Nissan struggles to excel, instead offering a solid, competitive package that favors the outdoor enthusiast who wants to blaze new trails in comfort.
Energetic 270-hp V-6 Standard third-row seat Fully independent suspension
No V-8 option Marginally usable third-row seat Tires make more noise than grip
All new for 2005, the Pathfinder is bigger inside and out, with a more powerful engine, more sophisticated character, solid on/off-road capability, and standard third-row seating.
Lots of packages to choose from, starting with the SE Comfort (dual-zone A/C with rear controller, power-adjustable pedals, auto-dimming mirror). To it, you can add SE Premium (power sunroof, Bose sound system with six-disc CD changer, MP3 and XM satellite capability). Or bedeck the SE Off-Road with SE Off-Road Leather. Also available are LE Navigation (DVD-based nav plus Bose audio) and a Mobile Entertainment System for SE/LE (rear-seat DVD player). Side and side-curtain airbags are optional on all models.