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by Paul Williams
Seattle, Washington – Driving a 2005 Nissan Pathfinder over fallen trees, sharp, craggy boulders and deep, rutted trails in Washington’s Olympic National Forest, you have to wonder, “How many owners who’ve just spent $36,000-$52,000 on one of these upscale, generously-equipped, mid-size SUVs would ever subject it to this treatment?
Nissan Canada says the owner of the new Pathfinder, “Is active and engaged in life. He wants a “purpose-built tool that sharpens and shapes his life, enabling him to “reclaim his own space, his own pursuits, his inner self.”
Okay, it’s a guy thing, but again I ask, how many fellas are actually going to bash their shiny, new pride-and-joy over jagged tree stumps, even if they are looking for their inner self?
Maybe a few, but as Ian Forsyth, Nissan Canada’s Director of Marketing concedes, “It’s about an active, rugged, outdoor image. With off-road capability, ‘just in case.'”
So, do we talk about Pathfinder’s off-road bone-fides, even though they’re rarely, if ever, going to be used, or do we focus on the Pathfinder in the more mundane context of daily transport?
Fact is, the Pathfinder image – what owners think it says about them – is key in the decision to buy this vehicle.
According to Nissan research, the Pathfinder buyer is family-focused, but is still looking for solo adventures. Consequently, the vehicle of choice needs to be practical, capable and safe, but able to “step up” when conditions warrant.
For 2005, the “stepping up” for this third-generation truck, has reached new levels of competence, both on and off road.
The biggest change is the new body-on-frame construction, which replaces the monocoque structure of previous Pathfinders. A stiff, box-frame, based on the Nissan Titan/Armada platform, now serves as the basis for the Pathfinder, which has grown in all dimensions (by 12.5-centimetres in length, 15-cm in wheelbase and 1.8-cm in height).
The frame makes extensive use of high-tensile steel, and its body mounting points are optimized to eliminate vibration and maximize balance. Towing capacity has increased to 6,000-pounds (from 5,000), and the added length permits including a third row seat, behind which there’s room for a 40-U.S. quart (38-litre) cooler (an important piece of cargo, say respondents to Nissan surveys).
The grunt required to pull 6,000-lbs plus passengers and their beverages is supplied by a 4.0-litre version of Nissan’s ubiquitous (and near-legendary) VQ 3.5 litre V-6 engine, specially tuned for truck applications, and providing 270-horsepower and 291 pound-feet of torque (the latter achieved with a longer stroke and special camshaft profile). Nissan states that fuel economy will be improved over the current model, but figures are not yet available.
The engine also receives additional block reinforcement, increased main journal diameter, continuous valve timing control and a two-stage timing chain.
A five-speed automatic transmission is now standard for Pathfinder (no manual option is available), as are 16″ alloy wheels (17″ available), anti-lock brakes with four-wheel discs and a range of electronic stability and traction assists that comprise the Vehicle Stability Control system.
Front suspension is all-steel, double-wishbone with stabilizer bar, as is the rear, whose low-profile design maximizes interior space.
Although a two-wheel drive model is available in the U.S., Canadians will only receive four-wheel drive (4WD) versions in XE (base), SE (popularly equipped), SE OR (performance, off road) and LE (fully equipped) trim levels.
All Pathfinders come with a four-wheel limited slip system (part of the ABS/VDC technology) to optimize the driving force of each wheel and assist starting on slopes and slippery surfaces. In the XE and SE versions, the 4WD system locks power distribution to 50:50, front and rear, and is selectable between 2WD/4Hi/4Lo. The LE gets an additional “AUTO” mode that never locks to any given ratio, as the system is continuously distributing power between front and rear axles.
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Hill Descent Control (a technology based on the ABS system) controls hill descent speed automatically and is only available as part of the SE Off Road package. This package also includes Hill Start Assist (to prevent the vehicle rolling back on a grade), special wheels and tires, Rancho branded shock absorbers, and underbody skid plates.
I’ve already alluded to the 2005 Pathfinder’s off-road ability, but to make it clear, this vehicle will get you up, down, through and over just about any terrain you are likely to tackle. This doesn’t mean it’s unstoppable, invincible, or that skill is not required to drive it safely and effectively. But show it a tough backwoods trail, keep your hands on the wheel, feet on the pedals and take your time, and there won’t be much beyond its ability.
Rugged as it can be off-road, the Pathfinder is thoroughly at home on the highways and bi-ways of the typical urban neighbourhood, which really is where it will spend most, if not all, of its time.
A navigation system is available, as are such amenities as DVD video, leather interior, wood trim, heated seats and automatic climate control.
Cargo volume behind the second-row seats is up 317 litres over the 2004 model, for a total of 1,392 litres over the 2004 model, and the third row seat disappears into the floor when not needed. By comparison, the Toyota Highlander has 1,124 litres behind the second-row seat and the Honda Pilot 1,379 litres.
The second-row seat is a 40/20/40 split, but folds flat when required and is comfortable for passengers to lie on. But when seated, second-row passengers may complain on longer trips as there’s no room under the front seats for their feet.
Grab handles are everywhere (in the A-pillars, B-pillars, above the rear doors) as are cup and bottle holders.
Even though this is a body-on-frame vehicle, there’s no bouncing or harshness you may associate with trucks or early SUVs. On the contrary, this is a smooth, comfortable ride with nimble, responsive handling and a super-quiet interior in which to listen to your CD’s on the standard six-speaker audio system (premium Bose is available on higher trim levels).
The 2005 Pathfinder has the appearance of the Nissan Armada, only smaller. With the available appointments of a luxury sedan, and genuine off-road capability, it will exceed the mundane requirements of the urban commute, and satisfy the off-road fantasies of the frustrated adventurer.
It’s scheduled to go on sale in November.