By Jeremy Cato
It used to be that Jeep was to sport/utility vehicles what Kleenex was to tissue. That was when Jeep meant roughing it on four wheels and Kleenex meant help for a runny nose.
But that all started to change back in the late 1980s — especially when it came to the four-door kind of sport-ute. By then, this once non-existent niche was starting to get crowded with Jeep’s Cherokee and Waggoneer, Toyota’s 4Runner and LandCruiser, Isuzu’s Trooper II, General Motors’ Blazer and Jimmy, Ford’s Explorer, Suzuki’s Sidekick (four-door version) and Nissan’s Pathfinder.
You might say the 1990 four-door Pathfinder proved to be a blend of ideas from East and West. On the West’s side of the ledger: Nissan Design International sculpted the original two-door (1987) Pathfinder in San Diego, California. From the East: the Nissan Technical Centre in Japan added two doors with only the slightest alteration to the Pathfinder’s looks for 1990.
Where the two-door Pathfinder was distinguished by triangular side windows, the four-door’s “signature” in ’90 was in rear-door handles integrated into the C-pillar and further disguised by black trim paint. Most people had to do double-take to pick out the second set of doors.
Rightly so, too, because those rear doors were just about the only difference between the two-door and four-door Pathfinders of that era. The exterior styling of both versions evoked a mix of square-jawed toughness softened by generous glass areas and subtle curves. Throughout, styling cues and treatments were identical for both versions. Moreover, the overall length, width, height, wheelbase and interior room were identical whether you picked two doors or four. The same was true for powertrain, brakes, chassis, suspension and tires. Truth is, only an extra 30 kilograms separated the four-door from it’s smaller two-door brother.
The four-door Pathfinders Nissan sold from ’90-95 (a renovated model arrived in ’96) were as roomy as any vehicle in this class. Three adults could ride on the rear seat and tall passengers appreciated the legroom. From day one, the rear seat was designed to split and folds down to enhance usage of a cargo area generous enough to stow a week’s worth of camping gear.
Under the hood Nissan placed a 3.0-litre V6 – the same engine Nissan stuffed into its then-Maxima sedan. Power was rated at 153 hp at 4800 rpm, with torque at 180 lbs-ft at 4000.
For the time, this engine offered adequate power, although the ’90s saw an ever-increasing race among automakers to boost sport-ute horsepower. Transmissions choices included a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic with lock-up torque converter.
The suspension included a double wishbone up front and five-link coil springs with stabilizer bar in the rear. The SE model was available with an optional sport/normal mode selector which allowed drivers to choose between a firm ride off-road, or a softer ride on the highway. Even the firmer sport mode was too soft for hard pothole pounding. But because most people buy four-wheel drive vehicles to keep from getting stuck on snowy February nights, I suspect few have ever complained about a ride most suitable for highway cruising.
One of this generation of Pathfinder’s biggest faults was the power-assisted recirculating ball steering. It was never particularly precise even on the base model with its thinner P215/75R15 tires. The bigger P235/75R15 tires which were standard on the SE (along with chrome spoked wheels) made it even more sloppy.
Unlike Nissan’s main Japanese competitor, Toyota’s 4Runner, the Pathfinder four-door was never available in a two-wheel drive version. However, this generation lacked a full shift-on-the-fly four-wheel system that was far less convenient than most competitive part-time systems used by rival trucks of the day.
Worth noting is that in 1991, the four-door Pathfinder became the only body style for this model. For 1993, Nissan updated the front and rear bumpers and re-shaped the fenders. New inner door beams that year enhanced side-impact protection. A new instrument panel arrived in 1994 and it was a major improvement.
The Pathfinder, overall, was no more or no less truck-like than other sport-utes of the early ’90s. It did, however, boast a quality and reliability record ranked consistently at the top of this class of trucks. If an older sport-ute if of interest, you could do worse than an early-’90s Pathfinder four-door.
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