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2005 Nissan Pathfinder Road Test

By Nick Yost
Photos by Charles Ofria

Category: $25,000 - $35,000 Mid-Size SUV
Who should buy this car: Someone looking for a rugged mid-sized SUV with good off-road capabilities as well as a comfortable on-road ride..
Comparable cars in this class: Buick Rendezvous,  Chevrolet TrailBlazer, Ford Explorer, GMC Envoy, Honda Pilot, Hummer H3, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Mitsubishi Endeavor,  Toyota 4Runner
Somewhere in the private recesses of a research lab, the engineers at Nissan have apparently developed a highly industrialized growth hormone.

How else can one explain the mighty Nissan Armada sport-utility vehicle? Huge and powerful, this brute let it be known at birth that it was ready to take on all comers in its class.

For the 2005 model year, Nissan has diluted the dosage a bit, but has applied the same basic formula to its mid-size Pathfinder SUV. Park a Pathfinder next to its 2004 counterpart, as I recently did, and the last generation model seems, well, small.

And, no wonder. The new model is longer by 4.9 inches, taller and wider by about an inch, heavier by about 560 pounds and more powerful by 30 horsepower and 26 pound-feet of torque.

Add all those changes together, mix in some important technological advances, and the result is a vehicle that is more useful and more capable.

But what struck me most is how much more civilized the Pathfinder has become, how on-road comfort and control have improved markedly without a compromise in off-road capability.

That Nissan growth hormone is officially known as the F-Alpha Platform, a body-on-frame assembly that has been shrunk to fit the mid-size Pathfinder requirements.

That solid structure, combined with an independent suspension, power rack-and-pinion steering and anti-lock power brakes, provides a car-like ride and responsive handling on paved roads and improved control in off-road situations.

Like most SUV drivers, I spent almost all my time on-road in the Pathfinder SE test vehicle. But a brief side trip over a rutted, muddy path and a few miles up and down hilly, snow-covered rural roads were enough to show that the new Pathfinder, with its 9.1 inches of ground clearance, is ready for bigger challenges.

For that mildly adventurous part of my time in the Pathfinder, I selected the high-range of all-wheel drive. The rest of the time the SUV cruised happily in two-wheel drive. Had the situation warranted, I could have chosen the auto setting and allowed the vehicle to decide when I needed the extra traction of all four wheels. And, if I had the opportunity for a significant test of the vehicles traction, I could have slipped the control into four-wheel-drive low range.

For those who venture really far off the beaten path, Nissan offers the Pathfinder SE Off-Road. With this model a buyer will get 16 alloy wheels with off-road tires, hill descent control, hill start assist, special shock absorbers and skid plates to protect the underside of the vehicle.

Pathfinder power is supplied by a 4-liter V-6 engine specially tuned for SUV and truck use. It generates 270 horsepower and 291 pound-feet of torque, and is capable of towing up to 6,000 pounds. The only available transmission is a five-speed automatic.

According to the EPA, the 4,700-pound Pathfinder SE will average 15 miles per gallon of regular fuel around town and 21 mpg on the highway. According to me, it averaged 15 mpg in a week of light-duty use over urban and suburban roads.

Its hard to imagine anyone drag racing in a Pathfinder, but if anybody out there actually wants to, heres a piece of advice. Dont challenge any vehicle that can get from a stop to 60 mph in less than 8 seconds.

Nissan has made a lot of the fact that the Pathfinder now has third-row seating, an addition which means the new SUV can transport up to seven people from one place to another.

Thats true, at least theoretically, but families with growing children may want to investigate further. The third row may work for a 6-year-old on his way to a T-ball game and his 7-year-old sister en route to hip-hop and ballet class.

But, adults will never want to sit there even if they can master the contortions required to gain entrance. And, the effort required to install a baby seat and a baby in the third row pretty much rules out that option, too.

The real value of the new Pathfinders increased size is in its cargo-carrying ability. With all seats up, mom can still fit a fair amount of groceries into the 16.5 cubic feet of space available.

The 50/50 split third-row seat can be folded flat into the floor without removing the head restraints. That increases available space to 49.2 cubic feet.

And, when Dad turns into Mr. Fix It, he can also fold down the 60/40/60 second-row seat to make room for 79.2 cubic feet of stuff.

In addition, all Pathfinders have small storage compartments beneath the cargo floor and under the second-row seats.

Standard safety features include anti-skid control; side-impact beams; energy-absorbing steering column; tire-pressure warning system; seatbelts with pretensioners and active head restraints for front-row passengers; standard seat belts for the rest; and anchors and tethers for child seats. Front-seat-mounted side airbags and side curtain airbags, which many believe should be mandatory in all vehicles, are a $700 option.

Base prices of the 2005 Pathfinder range from $24,650 for a two-wheel-drive XE, to $34,750 for a top-of-the-line, all-wheel-drive LE.

Base price of the SE I drove is $27,850 plus $560 destination charge, and that includes front air conditioning, a six-speaker cd sound system, cruise control, trip computer and power drivers seat, windows and door locks.

The comfort package, featuring dual-zone automatic climate control with rear seat air-conditioning controls, power adjustable pedals and an automatic day-night mirror with compass, costs $1,350

The premium package, which features a power sunroof, automatic on-off headlights and a premium sound system with MP3 capability, is $1,700.

Add a DVD entertainment system for $1,600, the air bag package and a couple of minor accessories, and the total comes to $33,940.

It may not be a satisfactory seven-seater, but Nissan has created a Pathfinder that is a better truck and a better car. For many SUV lovers, that should be enough.

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Specifications 

Engine Type 4.0 liter Double Overhead Cam 24 valveV6 Engine with variable valve timing
Horsepower 270 @ 5,600 RPM
Torque 291 @ 4,000 RPM
Fuel Recommended Regular Unleaded.
Transmission 5-speed automatic
Drive Type (std.)
Drive Type (opt.)
Rear Wheel Drive
On demand 4WD with hi-lo gear selection
Tires  P265/70R16 All Season
Overall Length 187.6"
Wheelbase 112.2"
Width 72.8"
Turning Diameter 39.5 ft Curb to Curb
Curb Weight 4,483 lbs.
Fuel Tank 21.1 Gals
Miles Per Gallon 16 mpg city, 23 mpg highway
Base Sticker Price
(XE Rwd)
$24,900 + $560 destination charge

Standard Equipment
Nissan Pathfinder  (Partial List)

  • 5-speed automatic transmission

  • Four-wheel independent suspension

  • Trailer hitch and wiring

  • Alloy rims

  • Privacy glass

  • Roof rack

  • 4-wheel disc brakes with ABS

  • Traction control

  • Stability control

  • Tire pressure monitoring

  • Cloth upholstery

  • Air conditioning

  • Power windows

  • AM/FM in-dash single CD player with 6 speakers

Pathfinder  SE Adds:
(Partial List)

  • Step running boards

  • Front Fog/Driving Lights

  • 8-way power driver seat

  • 50-50 split bench third row seats

Pathfinder  LE Adds:
(Partial List)

  • Power glass sunroof

  • Dual front side-mounted airbags

  • Leather upholstery

  • 4-way power passenger seat

  • Dual zone front climate control with rear air

  • Memory driver seat

  • Bose premium AM/FM in-dash 6 CD player with MP3 stereo with 9 speakers

Major Available Options

  • 4 wheel drive

  • Navigation System

  • Mobile Entertainment System

  • Satellite Radio:  XM or Sirius

  • Leather Package

  • Airbag Package

  • Dual zone automatic temperature control

For more information on the Pathfinder, visit nissanusa.com

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