2011 Nissan Pathfinder LE V6 Road Test Review

Simon Hill - CAP staff
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Since the Nissan Pathfinder was introduced in mid-1986, much has changed on the automotive landscape. While the original truck-based Pathfinder competed in a crowded field with the likes of the Toyota 4Runner, Isuzu Trooper, Jeep Cherokee, Ford Bronco II, Chevrolet Blazer and other body-on-frame SUVs, most manufacturers have since evolved their SUV offerings into CUVs - so-called crossover utility vehicles that provide all-wheel drive surefootedness and soft-road capability, but do so using car-based unibody platforms that aren't really up to serious off-road use.

The Pathfinder, meanwhile, has stayed remarkably true to its truck-based off-road roots. This is a good thing, because as long as there remains rugged territory, muddy access roads, crude goats paths and unpaved wilderness on our planet (which is hopefully forever), there will always be a demand for serious off-road vehicles capable of taking us there when needed.

I spent a week behind the wheel of a Carmine Red 2011 Pathfinder LE V6, putting it through its paces both on and off the road. I came away mightily impressed both with its four-wheel-drive capabilities and with its high level of luxury and convenience features, but I did wonder just how much sense this particular combination of attributes makes.

The current third-generation Pathfinder was introduced in 2005 and shares the same F-Alpha platform as Nissan's Xterra and the Frontier and Titan pickups. As a go-anywhere, passenger-carrying work vehicle the Pathfinder makes plenty of sense: It offers a generous 226 mm (8.9 inches) of ground clearance and uses a simple, rugged 4-wheel drive system with a two-speed transfer case, allowing operation in 2-wheel drive, 4-wheel drive high or 4-wheel drive low modes. Take the Pathfinder into the boonies and it really shines, galloping along rough roads while absorbing bumps and ruts with aplomb, and then slowing down to crawl tenaciously through boggy sections and up steep, rocky bits in 4-wheel drive mode. I'm sure it would be possible to get the Pathfinder stuck, but only in terrain far more severe than I was willing to take a brand-new loaner vehicle. After all, the Pathfinder is built to master the kind of territory that hands out dents and scratches like badges of honour.

As a well-equipped family hauler, the Pathfinder LE also does credible service, offering three rows of standard leather seating (heated in front), big 18-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, a heated steering wheel, keyless entry, power locks, windows and mirrors, a power moonroof and a pretty awesome 10-speaker Bose audio system, just to name a few key features. My tester bumped the level of luxury up a couple of notches with a 7-inch foldout rear DVD player (a $2,000 option) and a voice-activated touch-screen navigation system (a $2,800 option). I was pleasantly surprised to find that when the vehicle is in park, the DVD system will also play movies on the forward navigation screen. Another pleasant surprise was the excellent rearward visibility provided by the Pathfinder's uncompromisingly boxy SUV styling. You can see out the back much better than in a typical swoopy CUV, and this makes backing up or changing lanes in congested urban traffic that much easier.

Where the Pathfinder LE perhaps falls down is that its two lists of positive attributes aren't necessarily the best of bedfellows: Sure it's a great off-roader, but for a daily-driving family hauler it has unabashedly truck-like handling, with low limits of adhesion and plenty of body roll in the corners. With 266 horsepower and 288 lb-ft of torque, the standard 4.0L, 24-valve V6 accelerates the 2,008-kilo (4,427-lb) Pathfinder reasonably quickly, but families may find the fuel consumption on the high side at 14.9 / 10.3 L/100km (city/hwy), while those looking for a serious wilderness expedition vehicle might be disappointed that Nissan doesn't offer the Pathfinder with a diesel engine in North America.

The Pathfinder is also not especially spacious inside, so yes it can haul seven people, but only four of five of them will find any real degree of comfort because the third row is fairly cramped. The interior fittings also leave something to be desired - most of the materials look good enough (with the exception of the LE's rather unconvincing woodgrain trim) but there are a lot of hard-touch plastics and in my tester the new-car smell was somewhat overwhelming. Overall it's fine stuff for a work vehicle, but perhaps a notch below where it needs to be for a luxury family hauler.

In the end, the one thing that really recommends the Pathfinder LE from my perspective is its towing capacity. With its standard trailer-towing package the V6-equipped Pathfinder can haul a full 2,722 kilos (6,000 pounds), besting the Ford Explorer, Toyota Highlander, Toyota 4Runner and Chevrolet Traverse (which can haul around 5,000 pounds each), though conceding to the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango (which can manage 3,356 kilos or 7,400 pounds). Even if you never venture off road, for a family with a camper trailer or a small (or not-so-small) trailerable boat, the Pathfinder's truck-based roots mean you can have truck-like towing capacity with (almost) van-like people-carrying capacity, while the LE trim provides a good dose of luxury for long trips. And if you need to launch a boat from the kind of steep, crude boat launches that tend to predominate in the best cruising and fishing grounds, the Pathfinder's proven 4-wheel drive system will help ensure you can get the boat back out of the water just as effectively as you got it launched.

Suggested pricing for the Nissan Pathfinder starts at $37,948 for the base S model, with the Pathfinder LE coming in at $47,748 plus $1,580 delivery charges. My test vehicle added $2,000 for the DVD entertainment system, $2,800 for the navigation system and $135 for metallic paint, bringing its total to $54,263.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: SUV, Nissan, 2011, Pathfinder, $30,000 - $39,999, $40,000 - $49,999,

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