Review: 2005 Nissan Pathfinder

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.

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