Nissan Pathfinder LE 2011
SUVs and crossovers have, for the most part, evolved into what buyers really want — which is an all-purpose, all-wheel-drive vehicle that provides plenty of room for passengers and cargo.
These days, that includes loads of amenities, a commanding view of the road and the kind of forgiving ride you’d expect from a family sedan.
All that, along with the ability to handle mud and a few potholes on the way to the cottage.
In short, consumers want a less-wimpy alternative to the minivan.
Some SUVs, like the Toyota 4Runner, have bucked this trend and are embracing their truckiness.
The Nissan Pathfinder is one of them.
For 25 years, this SUV has been Nissan’s answer to Toyota’s well-known off-roader and it often ends up on the shopping list for those considering this type of vehicle.
And, like the 4Runner, it has with each generation continued to improve both in content, power and performance.
Style is a personal decision — and I’ll admit being partial to a truckier look in vehicles that claim off road prowess.
I hope you never see a jelly-bean shaped Jeep Wrangler.
For 2011, the Pathfinder continues with its rugged, go-anywhere styling in its short front overhangs, bold, chrome grille and large trapezoidal headlamps that sweep into powerful wheel arches over big (optional) 18-inch alloys and 265/60R18 tires.
The Pathfinder’s classic truck proportions also include unique details like its distinctive C-pillar with high-mounted rear door handles.
It took me a few tries to get used to reaching up to open the doors.
But, the Pathfinder’s ruggedness always has been more than skin deep.
Beneath its sheet metal is a fully boxed, all-steel ladder frame based on the full-sized Armada SUV.
This provides a solid mounting for the suspension, which in this case, provides a surprisingly civilized ride.
Up front is a long-travel, double wishbone suspension with coil-over shocks and large stabilizer bar.
In back is an independent double-wishbone design with the coils located on the toe control link with stabilizer bar.
The long wheelbase (2,850 millimetres), which allows for a large passenger cabin with three standard rows of seating, also enables a smooth, stable ride.
The result is an offroad SUV that can handle city driving with aplomb.
Choppy asphalt, speedbumps and other urban assaults are easily soaked up by a suspension that also seems reasonably firm in the corners.
There’s minimal lean for such a tall vehicle.
I did not have the opportunity to do any serious rock crawling, or anything that would really challenge the Pathfinder’s all-mode four-wheel drive system, which includes 2WD/AUTO/4H/4LO modes, electronically controlled transfer case and four-wheel limited-slip.
It does come standard with a skid plate under radiator, but lacks some of the advanced offroad features like Toyota’s Crawl Control, which help in traversing more severe terrain.
Roof rails are standard on all Pathfinders (and should be on any vehicle of this kind), and the rear tailgate has a flip-up window so that you don’t have to open the entire tailgate when carrying long objects.
Running boards come with SV and LE trim levels, and are a good idea if, like most people who buy these vehicles, you spend more time carrying kids to soccer than fording rivers and descending boulder-strewn slopes.
With the Pathfinder starting at a hefty $37,948 for the S trim level, and climbing to $47,748 for LE trim, you would expect the equipment list to be long.
The base vehicle comes standard with such features as 16-inch alloys, heated power mirrors, rear privacy glass, air conditioning, power windows and locks, eight-way driver (four-way passenger) manual seat adjustment, cruise control and six-speaker AM/FM/CD audio system.
The SV trim level, priced at $42,348, includes all the above and adds 17-inch alloys, fog lights, running boards, dual-zone climate control, rearview monitor, upgraded audio system with in-dash CD changer and steering wheel controls, auxiliary input, heated front seats with eight-way power for the driver, adjustable pedals and multi-info display with seven-inch monitor.
My tester was the fully-loaded LE model, which, despite the abundance of plastic and obviously simulated wood trim, brings the vehicle up to premium levels in terms of content.
This includes: Leather seating surfaces; smart key system; memory for the driver’s seat, mirrors and pedals; four-way power adjust for the front passenger; heated steering wheel; power moonroof; 10-speaker Bose audio system with subwoofer; and Bluetooth hands-free phone.
Also included are 18-inch machined-finish aluminum-alloy wheels.
These nicely fill the big wheel arches and give the Pathfinder added presence.
I was surprised, however, that Bluetooth was only standard in LE trim and is a package upgrade in the SV.
Many entry-level cars — at thousands of dollars less — are now including this feature.
My tester was further optioned with both the $2,000 DVD package (includes seven-inch rear monitor, wireless headphones and remote) and the $2,800 navigation package (includes HDD navi, BOSE single CD audio system w/subwoofer and 9.3-gigabyte music box, CF card reader, voice recognition and more).
No matter which model you choose, the Pathfinder is easy to configure for both passengers and cargo.
To start, you’ll find 467 litres of space behind the 50/50 third row.
That’s enough for a full load of groceries or weekend away.
Drop these seats flat, and this space grows to 1,393 litres, once again with a flat cargo floor.
You can max out the cargo hold by dropping the 40/20/40 second row.
To do this, you first flip forward the seat cushions and then fold the backrests for a total of 2,243 litres.
In the upright position, the second row will sit three adults across, but it would be a squeeze.
Two can sit comfortably with plenty of knee and head room
To access the third row, pull a lever on the passenger-side second-row seat to tumble it forward.
Here, seating is tight and is best suited to kids or adults you don’t particularly like.
Although the LE weighs in at nearly 2.5 tons, the 4.0-litre DOHC V6, rated at 266 horsepower and 288 pound-feet torque, was up to the task.
Mated to a five-speed automatic transmission, it delivered plenty of grunt, although I wouldn’t label performance as lively. It was, however, pretty good for a sport utility.
Fuel economy, however, is a bit thirsty.
But, then again, the same is true for most vehicles this size. Nissan posts ratings of 14.9/10.3 litres/100 km (city/hwy), which is possible, I suppose, if you’re very light on the throttle.
My ‘real-world’ combined average was closer to 14L/100 km.
If you are concerned with fuel economy, there are hybrid SUVs and crossovers, but you’ll pay a hefty premium — and I haven’t yet seen one I’d take off the grid.
Does the Pathfinder belong on your shopping list?
Well, that depends on your needs.
If your primary concern is off roading, then it’s up against some pretty stiff competition in the Wrangler, 4Runner and even the FJ Cruiser.
If, however, you require a rugged and capable family hauler, the Pathfinder may be worth a serious look.