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SEE ALSO: Nissan Buyer's Guide


by Tom Hagin


     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 28,549
     Price As Tested                                    $ 31,516
     Engine Type                            3.3 liter V6 w/SMPI*
     Engine Size                                 200 cid/3275 cc
     Horsepower                                   168 @ 4800 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               196 @ 2800 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                   106.3"/72.4"/178.3
     Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
     Curb Weight                                     3985 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/five-door
     Domestic Content                                        N/A
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                               N/A


     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            15/19/17
     0-60 MPH                                       11.4 seconds
     1/4 Mile (E.T.)                       18.5 seconds @ 74 MPH
     Towing Capacity                                 5000 pounds
     * Sequential multipoint fuel injection

The modern SUV continues to distance itself from its truck-based roots, and is more car-like than ever. The Nissan Pathfinder has always been among the compact SUV sales leaders and is all-new for 1996. And now finally, it's made the leap away the truck family. We spent a week behind the wheel evaluating its on and off-road capabilities.

OUTSIDE - Instead of radically changing its exterior design, Nissan decided to carry over styling cues from the older model. The new Pathfinder is nearly seven inches longer and over two inches wider than the previous model, yet continues on with integrated rear door handles, Nissan-specific grille, and forward-raking C-pillars. Our test Pathfinder SE features such standard exterior items as six-spoke alloy wheels and oversized tires, fog lamps, twin outside mirrors, an aero-styled roof rack and a small wind deflector above the rear window. Other distinctive SE exterior appointments include fender flares, and tubular steel step rails below the side doors. All Pathfinder models come standard with a rear window wiper/washer system.

INSIDE - Pathfinder SE uses high-back bucket seats that are manually adjustable and very firm, yet comfortable. Durable cloth covers the interior, although leather, heated seats are optionally available. Its dashboard, while plain, is quite functional and user-friendly. Care has been taken to position the most-used controls close to the driver for quick access. A host of standards with SE models include cruise control, power windows, door locks, and outside mirrors with electric defrosters. Other standards include lighted vanity mirrors, a reclining 60/40 split rear seat, an overhead storage console, and a handy storage area cover to keep valuables from prying eyes. All Pathfinder 4X4 models feature rear seat heater ducts. On both 4X2 and 4X4 Pathfinder XE models, manual air conditioning is optional, while both LE versions come standard with automatic climate control. Our SE test model came with automatic A/C as a $1,199 option, along with a powered glass sunroof at $999. All Pathfinder models feature a standard 160-watt, in-dash CD player.

ON THE ROAD - Overshadowing Pathfinder's styling changes is a larger 3.3 liter V6 engine, replacing the old 3.0 liter V6, which produces 168 horsepower and 196 lb-ft of torque. The new engine uses overhead camshafts, and a new fuel injection system to give better fuel economy, reduced emissions and more power. Its power is adequate to move the nearly 4000-pound machine quickly to a hustle, but more noteworthy is its torque curve that produces over 90 percent of its torque at under 2000 rpms, meaning better low-and midrange performance. This also works especially well for towing, as a Pathfinder, if properly equipped, can tow a healthy 5000 pounds. All but LE Pathfinders come standard with a five-speed manual transmission, which gives a bit more off-the-line spunk, but we prefer its optional four-speed automatic, electronically- controlled with overdrive and a lock-up torque converter.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - Pathfinder changes are very extensive underneath. For '96, the Nissan abandoned its previous body-on-frame chassis for a unibody construction that gives twice the bending stiffness and three times the torsional rigidity as before. A new strut-type front suspension replaces its aging wishbone design, and offers longer travel and better rebound control, which keeps the tires in better contact with the pavement. The redesigned suspension gives a firmer, sportier feel, and is very well-balanced, with more than ample grip. Our test SE Pathfinder came with an optional off-road package, which adds a two-setting adjustable suspension. Also new this year is its rack and pinion steering system, which gives quick response and increased road feel, and a much shorter turning radius. Its part-time 4WD system has been given shift-on-the-fly capabilities, which means the driver can shift into 4WD at speeds up to 60 mph. Pathfinder braking is handled by front discs and rear drums, with a standard four-channel anti-lock braking system (ABS).

SAFETY - Dual airbags, four-wheel ABS and side-impact beams are standard.