Finding its way among larger SUVs
Page 1: Intro
SEATTLE – Almost 20 years have disappeared since the first Nissan Pathfinder rolled onto the streets of America, days in which the world of cars and trucks has mirrored the frenetic changes that have coursed through America. It was 1986, sport-utility vehicles were just catching on, and the Pathfinder was a rugged utility vehicle with hardbody good looks. It was quite popular with the young crowd, not so much with families – and especially so with people who liked to go adventuring and had the time to do it.
Much has changed since then. We’re all a bit larger and, maybe, a little more desirous of creature comforts. Today’s SUVs make the grade as more an alternative to a minivan than an off-road adventure vehicle for the young. To meet this need, the family of Nissan utility vehicles has grown significantly in size and scope, now encompassing the Pathfinder, Xterra, Murano and the recently introduced full-size 2004 Armada.
And so the rise of the beast is complete. Hulking sport-utility vehicles now dominate traffic lanes like grazing buffalo, snorting and clamoring for more room, casting a long shadow on our roads and on the decisions we make when we buy a car. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, you can’t avoid them and they have changed everything. And though signs now point to a decline in the popularity of large and truck-based SUVs, these vehicles continue to impact the buying decisions people make, simply because they offer more: more room and versatility than most cars, and in a sportier-looking package -- with better performance character -- than the typical minivan.
SUVs have arguably become the most important vehicles in any automaker’s lineup. For domestic brands, it’s because they sell more trucks and SUVs than anything else, and for imports it’s because they would love to crack that market with product that stands up to the best from the Big Three. It’s why Honda stayed back with the release of the Pilot SUV until they had it just right. Make a mistake with this crowd and suffer the consequences.
Nissan has taken a measured approach to their new suvs, emphasizing car-like ride with modern design and versatility. Not too tough to gain acceptance on that basis – especially when no one has heard of your Murano and you’re on a long product win streak. But when the iron you’re twisting has a heritage – and with that heritage a long list of expectations – making a new one becomes a little tricky. Move too far away from the Pathfinder’s original charm and lose your core buyer; fail to improve it and be faced with an out-dated product in a cutthroat market.
Nissan accomplishes both with the new 2005 Pathfinder. It’s an SUV that stays true to its rugged heritage while adding improvements such as a third row of seating and a superb V6 engine, built on an all-new foundation that cost about $2.4 billion to create and will also host the new Xterra SUV and Frontier pickup truck. The Pathfinder, consequentially, finds itself back in the game as a grocery hauling, off-road threat in the SUV market. It is, truth be told, a completely different vehicle than the previous Pathfinder – and a glimpse into future SUVs and large vehicles for Nissan. The glimpse, by and large, is pleasing.
Page 3: Exterior
Pleasant, though, is not the word to use to describe the exterior styling of the 2005 Nissan Pathfinder. Moderately edgy is closer to the truth, compassionately conservative and aggressive in a Grande Latte sort of way. With styling cues that come directly from Nissan’s Armada SUV, it folds neatly into the company’s big vehicle lineup, and offers SUV buyers a nice bookend to the coming Xterra. It’s an intriguing alternative to the Murano, a car-based vehicle meant for city driving and with looks to match. The Pathfinder is ruggedly truck-based (with four-wheel independent suspension), drives more like a truck than the Murano and, well, looks good dirty. Get the new Pathfinder muddy and park it next to a new one – you’ll see that a little California red clay looks quite nice. For the most part, the Pathfinder’s exterior attitude comes from the large hood, oversized angular headlights, and short overhangs. Fender flares give the vehicle’s stance a squatter, tougher look. Carryover Nissan styling cues include pillar-mounted rear door handles and a bold grille design. It’s truly all new, however – and compared to the previous version Pathfinder, the 2005 model is longer and bigger in just about every way. New to the exterior is an integrated roof rack, and a flip-up rear glass hatch opening -- a significant improvement over the previous Pathfinder, because it enables you to open the hatch and deposit items, or haul long items without opening the gate. Also available on the Pathfinder for 2005 are available running boards, power sunroof and heated outside mirrors. Heated mirrors. That’s not exactly what the world has been waiting for, but it is a nice warm touch if you live in a cold place. Features like that, though, depend on which 2005 Nissan Pathfinder you purchase. All versions will come with a 4.0-liter V6 engine, derived from Nissan’s legendary VQ-series engine family. Choose between 2WD or 4WD; both have three rows of seats standard, and all are decently equipped – though at press time price is still a mystery.
Page 4: XE, LE
All told, four versions of the 2005 Nissan Pathfinder will be offered: the base XE, mid-level SE, SE Off-Road and top-shelf LE. Nissan figures that the Pathfinder SE will be the biggest seller, because they have equipped the SE with what amount to the best of what the LE offers. Though the stats don’t really bear it out, from inside the 2005 Nissan Pathfinder feels narrower than a vehicle with its kind of length should be. The stats do, however, indicate that – as with most three-row SUVs – dimensions get tighter as you move to the third row seat. According to Nissan, headroom decreases from 40 inches up front to 39 inches in the second row and 36.7 inches in the last row. Legroom also constricts: from 42.4 inches up front to 34.2 in the middle row and 28.1 in back. This compares unfavorably to the Ford Explorer, which offers 35.9 inches of rear legroom. Front headroom and legroom, however, compare favorably to the Explorer. Pathfinder hip room actually grows (55.5 to 57.6 to 44) from front to middle, so perhaps the feeling of inadequate space is due to the seats. Compared to the Toyota 4Runner, however, the Pathfinder is virtually identical front to back in terms of head and legroom. If anything, the Pathfinder has an advantage up front compared to the 4Runner.
The numbers don’t lie. But they also don’t tell the whole truth. For front seat passengers, the 2005 Nissan Pathfinder is a comfortable ride, but one that gets less comfortable the farther back you go. This is possibly due to the type of seat used in the middle row, the sink-inside headrests and the loss of legroom. But so what -- most passengers will ride up front anyway, and if there’s a regular backseat occupant, they’re probably under 12.
All you really need back there is a seat belt.
Page 5: Cargo
Nissan interior engineers got it right – put serious effort into the front, back and into the flexibility of the interior. And any SUV worth its bad gas mileage needs to be flexible when it comes to seating. Nissan calls it multi-flex, with up to 64 configurations, but it’s really just a bunch of seats that move around and get out of the way, and do so quite easily. There’s also a “hidden” cargo hold under the middle row, though the usefulness of is questionable. The second row is a 40/20/40 split, the third row is a 50/50 split, and both rows disappear into the floor. With the seats out of the way, you can get a lot of stuff into the 2005 Pathfinder. The design of the cargo area is such that you’ve got a completely square area to use – a neat trick that significantly expands usable space. The Pathfinder’s cargo area is also constructed of an impressive heavy-duty material that’s hard to ruin, stain or scratch. Funny thing about America: you can build a great looking car with caverns of smart interior space, but if it can’t get down the road lickety-split, you may as well call the new vehicle Auctioneer. Good thing, then, that Nissan program managers decided on a healthy 4.0-liter V6 powerplant to propel the 2005 Pathfinder.
Page 6: Power
Rated by Nissan at 270 horsepower (5600 rpm) and 291-plus lb.-ft. torque (4000 rpm), the new motor is derived from the award-winning “VQ” engine family, familiar to buyers of the 350Z, Maxima, Altima, Murano and Quest. These engines have received much acclaim, and during a two-day drive through on country roads, freeways and city streets, it did indeed perform admirably, promptly delivering power on command. During lane changes, it was easy to call up a burst of acceleration; during long drives, it quickly settled into a relaxed gallop. From behind the wheel, only two issues were noteworthy: the exhaust note was a bit whiny (officials said that this would be adjusted prior to launch), and wind noise off of the windshield wipers and A-pillar was a little intrusive at speeds over 65 mph. Road and engine noise, however, was muted and hardly noticeable. That’s the thing about long drives in the Pathfinder – the miles are hardly noticeable thanks in part to the amount of software on-board.From the standard 5-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission to a host of performance software such as Electronic Throttle Control with secondary mapping in 4LO (4WD models), Continuous Valve Timing Control (C-VTC), and Nissan variable Induction Control System (NICS), all of which operate transparently to the driver is designed to either enhance the Pathfinder’s performance and efficiency – or order a pizza for the driver.
Page 7: Off-road
Make my pizza cheese, because the Nissan Pathfinder is like a good NYC double cheese pizza – mild mannered, but with a faint extra zing that hints at something more. On the road, it drives more like a truck when compared to the Murano, or other car-based SUVs. But a Murano can’t tow 6,000 lbs., or bash boulders into pebbles. Yet, because for most of us there are no boulders on the way to work, the Pathfinder also has to handle paved roads and travel like its weaker crossover/SUV car-based brethren. It does quite fine in the urban jungle, with an independent double wishbone suspension front and rear, and a body-on-frame construction that's based on the new F-Alpha platform.The zing is there, however – and it comes to you when you’re off the road. The new 2005 Nissan Pathfinder works well among the boulders and streams, and keeps its 20-year heritage alive. High points include ground clearance and maneuverability – the Pathfinder was easy to navigate through a fairly challenging course with some tight corners, and the extra clearance came in handy in several spots. The Hill Descent feature, which offers more control over engine braking when going down a steep decline, works well, and it’s quite easy to switch the transfer case into 4LO.
Page 8: Wrap
If you don’t know what 4LO is, don’t be embarrassed. Most people don’t nowadays – just as most don’t use their SUVs to traverse streams. As with most SUVs, the 2005 Nissan Pathfinder will primarily be used for daily commuting from home to work and to the store. In that way, the old Pathfinder is sure to groan. Times have, indeed, changed, and there is really no room for an SUV with vintage 1986 sensibilities in the new century. Back when the Pathfinder was a new idea, SUV owners had boats. Or knew what OHV meant.
Today, it’s less about off road and more about comfort, performance and convenience. The brilliant thing about the 2005 Nissan Pathfinder is that it gives you as close to the best of both worlds as you’re likely to get at the price: decent ride, adequate room – all with the ability to tow up to 6,000 lbs and to go off road should you ever feel like experiencing what a real SUV was meant to do. And though it’s traveled from a basic utility hardbody to seats for seven, maybe the world of SUVs hasn’t really changed that much after all. There’s still a path to find, after all, and a vehicle that will help you travel it.
Page 9: FAQs
What’s the best and worst thing about the Pathfinder? The best thing about the 2005 Nissan Pathfinder is the engine and the suspension/frame. A “VQ” series engine, the 4.0 liter engine is perfect for the vehicle. The suspension and frame show the quality of the construction Nissan put into the platform – a hyroformed frame with double wishbone suspension, independent front and rear – is it really a body on frame SUV?
What type of safety features does the Pathfinder offer, and does it include side curtain airbags?
Safety features for the new Pathfinder include front air bags as standard, three-point front seat belts with pretensioners and load limiters, three-point seat belts for rear seat occupants, including the 2nd row center position, and the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren) child seat anchor system. The Pathfinder offers as available equipment roof-mounted supplemental curtain air bags for side impact and rollover protection for passengers in all three rows. It’s important to note, however, that part of the safety of any vehicle is the frame on which it is built, and Nissan engineers claim to have used a stronger steel in the construction of the Pathfinder.
Where will the Pathfinder be built, and how much will it cost?
Pricing has not been released, but look for the Pathfinder to be priced competitively with the Toyota 4Runner and the Ford Explorer. The Pathfinder will be assembled by Nissan’s Smyrna & Decherd Tennessee Plant.
Page 10: Notes
Engine: 4.0-liter DOHC V6, 270-plus horsepower at 5600 rpm, 291-plus lb-ft torque at 4000 rpm
Transmission: 5-speed electronically controlled automatic
Frame: Fully boxed, all-steel (F-Alpha frame, based on Nissan Armada)
Drive: Front engine/rear-wheel or All-Mode 4-wheel drive with 2WD/AUTO/4H/4LO modes, electronically controlled transfer case or part-time 4-wheel drive with 2WD/4H/4LO
Suspension: Independent double-wishbone front suspension with stabilizer bar, Independent double-wishbone rear suspension with stabilizer bar
Steering: Engine speed-sensitive power-assisted rack-and-pinion Brakes: 4-wheel disc with Anti-lock Braking System (ABS)