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New Car/Review


by Matt/Bob Hagin


SEE ALSO: Nissan Buyer's Guide


Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 30,099
Price As Tested                                    $ 32,387
Engine Type               SOHC 2-valve 3.3 Liter V6 w/SMFI*
Engine Size                                 200 cid/3275 cc
Horsepower                                   168 @ 4800 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               196 @ 2800 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                  106.3"/72.4"/188.2"
Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
Curb Weight                                     4046 pounds
Fuel Capacity                                  21.1 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                                     P265/70R15
Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/drum (ABS)
Drive Train                   Front-engine/four-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
Domestic Content                                        N/A
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.45


EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            15/19/18
0-60 MPH                                       11.5 seconds
Max. load                                       1060 pounds
Towing capacity                                 5000 pounds
     * Sequential multi-point fuel injection

(Now that Matt Hagin is a family man, he looks at SUV's differently from when was single. His dad Bob says now that the kids are out of the house, he could run the boondocks again but has lost the inclination.)

MATT - This newest version of the Pathfinder is a best-seller in the tough mid-priced niche of the sport/utility vehicle market. It isn't the fastest nor the cheapest, but has a lot of other things in its favor. When this version first came out as a '96 model, it was almost unique in that it wasn't based on its pickup truck siblings in the Nissan lineup. It drives and rides more like a car than a truck.

BOB - Like all pickups, the Nissan haulers are cabs and beds that ride on traditional ladder frames with unequal "A" arm suspensions up front and a live axle in back hung on leaf springs. Nissan pulled its Pathfinder out of that "flexie-flyer" genre by giving it a frameless monocoque construction body with MacPherson strut suspension up front and a more sophisticated five-link, coil sprung suspension in back. This is more typical of a minivan than a rough service off-road vehicle and its ride characteristics demonstrate the difference. In traffic it handles nimbly and the steering is quick and precise.

MATT - When this Pathfinder came out as a new model two years ago, Nissan massaged its 3.0 liter engine a bit to pump up the available horsepower. The displacement was increased to 3.3 liters, but it retained its single overhead cam design. The horsepower went up to its present 168 horses and the cams and intake system were redesigned to put out 90 percent of its 196 pound/feet of torque as low as 1500 RPM. This isn't enough power to win a stoplight drag race with a Ferrari, but when it's backed up by Nissan's electronically-controlled four-speed automatic transmission, its towing capacity is 5000 pounds. I don't know of any Ferrari model that can match that.

BOB - There's actually three different models of the Pathfinder available, Matt. The basic XE version is available in both two and four- wheel-drive configurations, as is the more luxurious LE model. Nissan gave us the more "sports" oriented SE model to try out and it can only be had as a 4X4. In keeping with its sporting nature, the SE even has slightly quicker steering than the LE and the XE. None of them have a full-time all-wheel drive feature like their more expensive Infiniti QX4 cousin, but the driver of a 4X4 Pathfinder can easily shift into four-wheel-drive at speed. Our SE tester also carried a limited slip differential in the rear axle, but that option is only available in a special off-road package. There's also an available electronic compass which I had occasion to use driving through Brooklyn last year.

MATT - The other special unit that our test rig carried is labeled the Bose Audio/Sunroof Package and it features not only the self- described special Bose audio system and a slide-and-tilt sunroof, but a Homelink garage door opener system as well. It's pretty pricey at $1500, but it goes with the luxury and near-sedan image that Nissan has built into this Pathfinder. Along with the LE, our vehicle had the standard roof-mounted luggage rack and low-mounted fog lamps. Its full-sized spare is mounted under the body but an optional swing-out mount can be added to the rear. Its tires are giant P265/70R blackwalls mounted on seven-inch six-spoke aluminum wheels and the combination adds almost an inch of extra ground clearance to the SE version.

BOB - Even though that raises its ground clearance to 8.3 inches, it's obvious that the Pathfinder wasn't designed with show-off boulder- crawling in mind, Matt. There was a time when that was the way you and your brothers measured the performance of a 4X4 of any type. But now that you're all family men, I notice that you're performance criteria is more prone to include the possibility of carrying loads of groceries than the ability to hang onto the side of a precipice.

MATT - Twenty years ago, the first thing we boys would have done with a 4X4 would be to take it to the field at the end of the road and see who could jump it the furthest. Now we check to see if it will hold a baby seat or two.