The Auto Channel
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
Official Website of the New Car Buyer

New Car/Review


The Nissan Pathfinder 3.5 (2001), Best Mid Size Sport Ute?

SEE ALSO: Nissan Buyer's Guide

By Larry Weitzman

"When the going gets tough, the tough get going" should be the new motto for the folks at Nissan. It was only a year or two ago that sales were lagging and debt was rising to the point that Nissan was in financial trouble. But Nissan had an ace(s) up its sleeve. Get back to building the type of cars that made them the number one car company they once were.

Last year Nissan introduced us to the Xterra, a vehicle that was to become the Motor Trend Truck of the year for 1999. Then came the new Maxima, with a 3.0L electric motor smooth V-6 that can run from 0-60 in the mid to high sixes while cradling its passengers in a world class interior. The Crew Cab compact pickup followed and the results are an increase in overall sales of about 25%. Building a better mousetrap does work. But Nissan isn't finished, there is a new Sentra which I'll test is a couple of weeks.

Now they have done it again with the introduction of the new 2001 Pathfinder 3.5. If a heart transplant is what was required to make the Pathfinder the leader of the pack, then this operation was not only a success, but a perfect match for the athlete it was intended to be.

The body styling remains as a carryover from the revisions that were introduced in 1999.5. It is contemporary with a squared, aggressive look that Nissan calls "milled off". There is a strong resemblance to the upscale QX-4. But it isn't a trendsetter SUV design such as the Xterra. Nissan played it safe, with a pleasing look that will offend no one.

Gone is the 3.3L SOHC 12 valve V-6. The old unit produced 170 hp and 200 pounds of torque, adequate, but not exactly traffic light grand prix worthy. Nissan just didn't bore out or stroke the 3.3L unit, but instead chose to use the architecture of one of the smoothest V-6's ever designed, the Maxima V-6. Nissan added its own continuous valve timing control system and variable intake system, new lightweight pistons and a new aluminum block that is 35 pounds lighter than the previous cast iron unit. This new powerplant should slip right into a Maxima. Can you imagine?

Then Nissan's engineers performed more than 100 minor improvements all aimed at reducing noise, vibration and harshness. Liquid filled and double cushion rear engine mounts make this motor dime-on-an-edge smooth, either at idle or at redline. Horsepower is up by nearly 50% to 250 hp at 6,000 rpm with a five speed manual and 240 horse at 6,000 rpm with the silky smooth four speed automatic. Torque is up by a third with 265 pounds available at 3,200 rpm with the auto and 240 pounds also at 3,200 rpm with the manual. These numbers give the Pathfinder the class lead in horsepower.

Translating this new found power into performance numbers tells you they are not fooling around. Instead of lackadaisical 0-60 runs in the high tens, now the low nines are the norm. Average time for 0-60 was 9.4 seconds. The fastest run was 8.82 which is the time Nissan claims, but I was only able to do that once. Passing times have improved by a second and a second and a half respectively over the previous 3.3L model. The new Pathfinder will run from 50-70 in just 5.9 seconds, but a steep hill will slow that time to 9.8 seconds. The factory claims 0-60 times for the 4X2 five speed manual in the mid seven second range.

But more than just the improvement in the acceleration times is the part throttle response. Now when asking a little more from this jewel of a powerplant you get a swift push in the backside with a swift climb of the tach and speedo. The fun quotient has reached level 8-9 on a ten scale. The 170 horse model was a 5. The five speed manual has to be a real hoot, with 0-60 times for the 4X4 running in the mid to high eights.

The four speed automatic was super smooth and utilized perfect gear ratios to maximize engine performance. The engine is strong from idle to redline but comes on the powerband at about 3,000 (peak torque is 3,200 rpm). First gear was good to about 45 mph at redline (6,700 rpm) with second taking the Pathfinder to 70 mph until the auto system decided it was time to shift, but it's good for 78 mph if you hold it manually in second to red line (6,700 rpm). It wasn't prudent to find the end of third and fourth gear (both good to well over 100 mph, but are electronically limited to 102 mph). It's rated to tow 5,000 pounds with the automatic, 3,500 pounds with the manual (I guess they are worried about clutches). Those are conservative numbers.

All this performance comes at no fuel penalty. EPA numbers have remained the same at 15 mpg city and 19 mpg highway. During the test period, the Pathfinder averaged 17 mpg with little time on the freeway and a lot of time bumping the rev limiter. Expect 17-18 mpg in El Dorado County, 19-20 mpg plus on the highway. With a large fuel capacity of 21.1 gallons, range should extend to well over 400 miles.

Coupled with all that new found power is a supple ride and nimble handling. Nissan refined and super tuned the suspension which is an independent strut, link and coil affair up front and a five link live axle in the rear with coils. Antiroll bars at both ends finish it off. The monoframe construction is more rigid than AlGore doing the limbo with reinforced outriggers designed to distribute stress evenly between the A, B and C pillars. The result is handling so nimble it's almost like have a Maxima with four wheel drive. That's Sport.

Grip was so tenacious and steering so perfect that I found myself looking for the twisties. Green Valley, Cold Springs and Gold Hill Roads were eagerly devoured. The SE is shod with grippy 255/65 tires on good-looking sixteen inch alloys. Aiding maneuverability is a tight 37.4 foot turning circle.

Brakes are standard huge power front ventilated discs with rear drums and standard full ABS. With the front brakes doing 80% of the stops were straight and powerful.

Ponderosa Road showed that a 4X4 need not be rough riding and still be strong. The Pathfinder was able to negotiate the two 90 degree bumpy and wet from rain corners at speeds that would make many sedans shudder, it was very calm and controllable. But take the Pathfinder on the open road and you will be rewarded with a compliant, well controlled ride that severely limits intrusion by tar strips and expansion joints. This thing is as smooth as a siding salesman in a neighborhood of run down houses that just received government rehab funding.

The four wheel drive system is a part time system that is engaged with a small floor lever just to the left of the console gearshift. It operates with a positive and smooth action and is shift of the fly up to 50 mph between two wheel drive H and four wheel drive H. There is a 4 L position that uses a 2.6 to one reduction for extreme rock climbing or grades I wouldn't even contemplate trying to ascend or descend.

Soft perforated leather wrapped the most comfortable of bucket seats. With eight way power for the driver (4 way for the passenger), manual lumbar and heat, it's a great place to cover any kind of ground. Side air bags are standard with the leather package ($1,999).

The split folding 60/40 rear seats offer similar comfort with plenty of room for three in the back and nearly forty cubic feet of storage behind the rear seats. By splitting the seats I was able to load up the rear storage area with sports equipment while still being able to comfortably transport four people to the ball park. That's Utility.

The dash has been changed with new black on white gauges that change to white on black at night. The large 120 mph speedo and 8,000 rpm tach are flanked by fuel and temp gauges. The integrated center stack contains the effective climate controls and superb Bose sound system. The CD is a 6 disc changer which has no CD cassette. Just the slip the 6 CD's in one after another. Trick stuff. There is also a compass and digital temp readout in the overhead.

Pricing is mid pack (but remember performance is class leading) with the SE automatic stickering at $30,349 and a $1,000 less for the manual. Destination is $520. My tester had only two options, the sunroof package for $1,099 which includes a moonroof, dual illuminated vanities, homelink transmitter and an outside temp gauge and compass. It's worth the money. The leather package will set you back $1,999 which is the only way to get heated seats with power on both sides. The only option I would recommend is the limited slip axle which costs $249 but requires the sun roof package. Yon may also want to consider the factory tow hitch for $389.

My tester totaled $33,967 which puts it midpack in pricing, but it offers class leading performance and handling. Nissan should be proud. Shingle Springs Nissan, Subaru, Kia has new 3.5's arriving daily. Nissan has made the Pathfinder into a total package that does everything well. One drive and it will become habit forming.

Price                $27,649 to about $35,000

3.5L DOHC 24 Valve V-6      240 hp @ 6,000 rpm
                             (250 hp with a manual)
                            265 lbs-ft of torque @ 3,200 rpm
                             (240 lbs-ft with a manual)
Four speed electronically 
controlled automatic

Five speed manual

Transfer case
two speed part time 
2.6 to 1 reduction

Front longitudinal engine
rear wheel drive, 4 wheel drive

Wheelbase              106.3  inches
Length                 182.7  inches
Width                  71.7   inches
Height                 68.1   inches
Ground Clearance       8.3    inches
Weight                 4,278  pounds
Track (f/r)            60.6/60.8  inches
Turning Circle         37.4   feet
Tow Capacity           5,000  pounds (3,500 with manual 
Fuel Capacity          21.1   gallons
Wheels                 7X16   inch 
Tires                  255/65 mud snow

0-60                    9.4   seconds
50-70                   5.9   seconds
50-70 uphill            9.8   seconds
Top Speed               102 (electronically limited for
                          everyone safety) 
Fuel Economy            EPA 15/19 mpg city/highway.  Expect 
                          17-18 in El Dorado County with near
                          20 plus on the highway at legal