2004 Nissan Pathfinder Chinook
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Review and photos by Russell Purcell

An oldie, but a goodie


When the innovative Nissan Pathfinder first appeared in 1986, it helped generate an interest in the then-novel compact SUV category. What set the Pathfinder apart from its growing list of rivals at the time, and continues to do so today, is the vehicle’s ability to feel equally at home off-road as it does on the pavement. A city-friendly size makes parking less stressful – at just over 15-feet in length, it fits readily into a standard spot – and its 5’8″ height makes it parkade friendly. At the same time, these compact dimensions mean that Pathfinders are easy to manoeuvre, whether avoiding cabs on the street or navigating through remote areas where many larger vehicles fear to tread.

The 2004 model represents the final model of the current Pathfinder design, as a somewhat larger and more powerful 2005 model (complete with Armada-esque styling) is set to roll into showrooms any day. Does this mean the out-going Pathfinder is one to take a pass on? Not at all. In fact, this may be the year for you to swoop in and get the Pathfinder you have always wanted. At least while stock remains.

Chinook

The Pathfinder ‘Chinook’ edition is Nissan Canada’s latest value-added package, and as such, is a Canada-only offering. Named after the warm winds that flow eastward from the high slopes of the Rocky Mountains and take a bit out of Alberta’s winter chill, the Chinook replaces last year’s Chinook Trail edition.




A subtle striping and decal package immediately differentiates the Chinook from the higher-line SE and LE variants. Standard equipment includes a 150-Watt Bose AM/FM 6-disc in-dash CD changer with 6 speakers and steering-wheel mounted controls, power sunroof, keyless remote entry, a bevy of cup holders, dual heated mirrors, leather-wrapped steering wheel, front and rear door map pockets, cruise control, air conditioning, anti-theft system, and one-touch open/close front windows. The easy-to-handle lift gate also includes a flip-up rear window which makes loading small items a breeze, as well as a rear intermittent wiper.

Exterior equipment includes a full-size spare (mounted underneath the vehicle), a functional roof rack with cross bars, tubular step rails, and dark tint privacy windows in the rear.

2004 Nissan Pathfinder Chinook
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Options on my tester came as part of a single package - Chinook Auto Transmission Package - which bundles a 4-speed automatic transmission with niceties like dual illuminated vanity mirrors, an up-rated 5,000-lb. towing capacity, the All-Mode 4WD System, and a gear selection display.

The Chinook also wears unique 5-spoke 16-inch alloy wheels fitted with P245/ 70R-16 all terrain tires. While no doubt selected for their versatility, these beefy tires exhibited substantial road noise at freeway speeds. The constant drone could rob you of some enjoyment if your daily commute includes lengthy highway runs, but around town the sound is a non-issue. Selection of a less rugged tread design on your second set of tires may also remedy this problem, and by that time, you will have a better idea of how you primarily use the vehicle, and whether a less aggressive tread pattern may be order.


On the inside

2004 Nissan Pathfinder Chinook
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The Pathfinder is a versatile people hauler and as such, offers a substantial cargo area and passenger friendly cabin. It is easy to get comfortable when both front and rear seats recline, but the front seats also fold all the way flat. Who needs a tent when you have a Pathfinder? Rear seats are a 60/40 split design, so it is simple to configure the passenger compartment to accommodate a wide variety of cargo. The Pathfinder serves up 2,407 litres (85 cubic feet) of storage space, which is easily acceptable via four, wide-opening doors, as well as its rear lift gate. There is also a clever storage compartment hidden under the carpet, as well as a thoughtful storage bin located on the passenger's side of the rear cargo area.

2004 Nissan Pathfinder Chinook
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When the Pathfinder was given its last major revision in 2001, the quality and feel of all the switchgear and interior materials seemed to improve. The Pathfinder felt more warm and comfy and took on a more car-like persona, which is usually a good thing. All controls fall readily to hand and eye while the dash sits low, as do the door sills, greatly improving visibility from the driver's seat. While for the most part this is a plus, I found it somewhat distracting, as the long flat hood manages to reflect everything that passed by as well as the road ahead. Even after a couple of days I still found my eyes being drawn to the moving pictures that flashed across the hood. It might just be the angle at which my eyes catch it, as I am 6'2" and at this height, probably represent the upper limit of Pathfinder driver and passenger comfort.

2004 Nissan Pathfinder Chinook
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The seats are cloaked in a hard-wearing, family-friendly textured cloth and offer fairly good thigh and back support. However, my 6'2", 260-pound frame was a true test for the second row bench. I usually have to slide the driver's seat all the way back on its rails to get into a comfortable driving position, and unfortunately this robs one rear seating position of sufficient legroom for all but the most diminutive person. I wasn't even going to try. The other side revealed that the Pathfinder can be a comfortable place to be chauffeured around in, with a surprising amount of thigh, shoulder and headroom.


Under the hood

The Pathfinder benefited from the arrival of a more powerful engine in 2001. This more modern 3.5-litre V6 was lighter than the previous 3.0-litre unit it replaced and incorporated such advances as continuously variable valve timing, a variable intake system, a new piston design and drive-by-wire throttle control. This new power plant also brought the Pathfinder a wider power band, making it a pleasure to drive both on and off road. Two transmissions are offered - a 5-speed manual or an optional 4-speed automatic with overdrive.

2004 Nissan Pathfinder Chinook
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This engine tends to get a bit noisy when worked hard, but with 240 horsepower and 265 lb-ft of torque it offers a fair amount of punch. Buyers who choose to make do with the standard 5-speed manual transmission benefit from an increase of 10 ponies, but torque drops by 25 lb.-ft.

My test unit featured the optional 4-speed automatic transmission (with overdrive) and although many off road stalwarts will likely choose the standard 5-speed manual tranny, the slush box will be the choice for most buyers as it tends to make everyday city driving less of a chore. My test unit was an automatic and shifting seemed to be precise and smooth. Engine response to gear selection and throttle position was surprisingly quick for an SUV.

Acceleration may not be brisk, but that isn't what this type of vehicle is designed for. Freeway on-ramps and long hills may test its mettle when the vehicle is fully laden with people and gear, but for the most part I found it to offer enough zip to keep me satisfied in daily driving conditions.


Suspension

The Pathfinder's suspension is legendary in this class as it adapts very well to road or trail conditions. While fairly stiff, it still manages to soak up most bumps without much drama, only revealing its harsh edge on larger speed bumps or when traversing obstacles such as larger rocks or railway tracks. It offers as close to a car-like ride as is possible while still standing ready to battle the dips and washouts found when exploring where the pavement ends. Hopefully Nissan will preserve this character trait on the forthcoming model.


Safety

The exterior design of the Pathfinder Chinook may be showing its age, but the level of safety equipment and technology hidden underneath is substantial. All Pathfinder models come equipped with power-assisted brakes supported by an advanced, 4-sensor, 3-channel ABS system.

2004 Nissan Pathfinder Chinook
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Nissan's G-Sensor system monitors driving conditions and adjusts braking control accordingly to ensure efficiency. I found stopping power to be excellent even while carrying a heavy load of passengers and gear. A hint of brake fade reared its ugly head, but only after being worked hard during some prolonged mountain descents. Some may complain that Pathfinders only come with disc brakes up front, while old-school drums provide stopping power at the rear. The set-up seemed to handle the vehicle even when fully loaded with aplomb, no doubt aided by Nissan's Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD) system.

The Chinook is fitted with four-wheel drive complete with both high and low settings so it is a great tool for all-weather commuting or light off road use.


Conclusions

2004 Nissan Pathfinder Chinook
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The all-new Pathfinder is being readied for market as you read this, so I thought it important to point out a few details. The new model will ride on the larger platform already shared by the Armada SUV and the Titan pickup truck, meaning the Pathfinder is moving up a size. The increase in size warranted the introduction of a bigger engine, so the 3.5-litre unit currently in play will give way to a more efficient (this is good news, as I have friends that often refer to their own Pathfinders as "Pump finders" due to the vehicle's seemingly unquenchable thirst) 4.0-litre V6. The longer wheelbase and width were required to squeeze a third row of seats into the vehicle, giving it 7-passenger capabilities for the first time. If you have a growing family or require increased cargo or towing capabilities from your vehicle, then the new model may be worth the wait. However, if you like the convenient size and proven reliability of the current version, you might want to start your shopping soon.


Technical Data: 2004 Nissan Pathfinder Chinook

Base price $34,200
Options $2,000 (Chinook Auto Transmission Package- includes 4-speed automatic transmission, 5,000-lb. towing capacity, All-Mode 4WD System, illuminated vanity mirrors, gear selection display)
Freight $986
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $37,286
Type 4-door, 5 passenger mid-size SUV
Layout longitudinal front engine, 4WD
Engine 3.5 litre V6, 24-valve, DOHC
Horsepower (5-speed manual) 250 @ 6000 rpm
Horsepower (4-speed auto) 240 @ 6000 rpm
Torque (5-speed manual) 240 lb-ft @ 3200 rpm
Torque (4-speed auto) 265 lb-ft @ 3200 rpm
Transmission 5-speed manual (optional 4-speed automatic)
Tires P245/ 70R-16 all terrain
Curb weight 1880 kg (4,144 lbs)
Wheelbase 2,700 mm (106.3 in.)
Length 4,641 mm (182.7 in.)
Width 1,770 mm (69.7 in.)
Height 1,725 mm (67.9 in.)
Cargo capacity 1,076 litres (38.0 cu. ft.) seat up
  2,407 litres (85.0 cu. ft.) seats down
Towing capacity (Manual) 1,588 kg (3,500 lbs)
Towing capacity (Automatic) 2,269 kg (5,000 lbs)
Fuel consumption (Manual) City: 14.4 l/100 km (20 mpg) (Imperial gallons)
  Hwy: 11.3 l/100 km (25 mpg) (Imperial gallons)
Fuel consumption (Automatic) City 15.4 l/100 km (18 mpg) (Imperial gallons)
  Hwy: 11.2 l/100 km (25 mpg) (Imperial gallons)
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Powertrain warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km

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