The Pathfinder, as we know it today, was first introduced to us in 1996, and since then has been a popular choice in the SUV market. It's got that 'not too big, not too small' feel about it, it looks good, and it actually handles pretty nicely.
All the '99 models come equipped with a 3.3 litre single-overhead-camshaft (SOHC), V6 engine which manages a respectable 168 hp at 4,800 rpm and produces 196 ft-lbs of torque at 2,800 rpm. Moreover, the Pathfinder's very flat torque curve (with more than 90% of the engine torque available between 1,500 - 1,800 rpm) results in better engine response, more assured off-road control, and a towing capacity of 5,000 lbs (with auto transmission). However, I have to confess to thoroughly disliking the noise the engine made! Positively horrid, and to be drowned out by the stereo (something made easy by an amazing array of speakers) at all available opportunities. Honestly, on some of the steeper inclines into the Hollywood Hills, I truly thought the engine might actually burst through the hood, and that was only 2-up. God forbid we had had a full load of passengers, I fear we might still be picking up pieces of engine casing from the tarmac today.
Despite sounding like it might expire at any moment, the engine did actually perform well, and offered a seemingly endless ability to climb hills with speed and lots of juice left, if needed. The P-265/70R15 mud and snow radial tires, mounted on 6-spoke machined aluminum-alloy wheels (which all look great, by the way) meant for a firm grip on the road in a straight line, but I found the Pathfinder's cornering abilities to be somewhat limited, with a marked decrease in speed often necessary at some of the sharper bends in the road. This despite a 5-link rear suspension design with coil springs and shocks which are placed outboard so as to, supposedly, enhance stability and increase control of body lean. Or not, as the case may be. One can enjoy, however, very light and precise steering, and a good, firm ride, which was less 'bouncy' than many of the other SUVs I have tested.
On the inside, the Pathfinder presents the driver with a pleasant, if relatively staid, layout. The instrument panel is arranged according to frequency of use, which would seem logical (if rarely observed by manufacturers), which makes for an easy-to-read dash. Visibility from the raised driving position, and firm, comfy seats, was extremely good, as was interior space. The latter was less than one would perhaps expect from looking at the exterior lines of the vehicle, but would be more than adequate for a mid-size SUV seeker. The total interior volume is 130.9 cubic feet, with the cargo volume at 38.0 cf with the rear seats up, and 85.0 cf with the rear seats, with a 60/40 split, stowed flat.
I was testing the SE model, whose standard equipment includes A/C, cruise control, power windows, locks and mirrors, remote keyless entry and Vehicle Security System, plus driver-seat lumbar support with height adjustments. Three option packages are available, and the model tested came equipped with first two: Sunroof with Bose Audio and also HomeLink Universal Transceiver; Off-Road, with limited-slip rear differential and black grille guard and upper bumpers; and a leather package, with leather seating surfaces, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift lever, heated front seats and LED outside temperature and digital compass. (And, by the way, why don't all vehicles have at least a basic compass in them? It seems so logical, but as I've said...)
The sunroof is a really nice size and let's loads of light into the cabin, and as I've said, the Bose speakers were a delight. The Off-road look gave the Pathfinder a great, macho look, especially with the black bumpers etc. off-set by the metallic 'cloud white' paint job, and some very sexy reflective rear windows.
The Pathfinder offers a relatively uninspiring 17/19 mpg on manual transmissions, and 16/20 mpg on the automatics. But only on the 4x2. The 4x4s offer a measly 16/18 mpg and 15/19 mpg on the respective transmissions which, given that this is not one of the larger SUVs available on the market, certainly has room for improvement.
From a safety standpoint, the Pathfinder offers ABS as standard. It also comes equipped with a G-sensor which 'reads' the driving surface and adjusts braking control accordingly. Front dual air bags, front and rear body structure crumple zones, hood buckling creases with safety tops and an energy-absorbing steering column also feature.
So, all in all, a good-looking, nicely appointed, roomy-for-it's-dimensions SUV, which sounds like a tank, and consumes just about as much petrol as one would require. Also, given that it's price tag is over the $30,000 mark, it's not one of the more pocket-friendly SUVs either. However, it did have a certain charm and if you can afford to fill it up every few miles, the stereo's great for picnics.
FACTS AND FIGURES Base Price: $30,249.00 Model Tested: $32,537.00 3.3 Litre SOHC 12-valve V6 engine Sequential multi-point fuel injection Horsepower - 168 @ 4,800 rpm Torque - 196 @ 2,800 rpm Power assist 4 wheel ABS Power assist rack & pinion steering Heavy duty independent front suspension 5-link coil spring rear suspension Shift on the Fly 4 wheel drive 5,000lb towing capacity Dual Front Air bags Cruise Control 160 Watt AM/FM/CD Player, 6 speakers 6 spoke aluminium alloy wheels SE Bose Audio/Sunroof Pack $1,549.00 SE Off Road Pack $ 249.00 Destination & Delivery $ 490.00