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2005 Nissan Pathfinder Mid-Size Sport Utility Vehicle

New Car Review of the 2005 Nissan Pathfinder Mid-Size Sport Utility Vehicle

Base MSRP Range: $24,900-$35,000

Base Invoice Range: $23,289-$32,369

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MSRP As Tested: $25,850

Versions: Rear-wheel drive, 4-wheel drive

Vehicle Category: Mid-Size Sport Utility Vehicle

Engine Location: Front Engine

Drive Wheels: Rear-Wheel Drive, Four-Wheel Drive .

Standard Engine: 4.0-liter, Dual Overhead Cam, 16-valves, V-6,270 - horsepower at 5600 rpm and 291 lb-ft torque at 4000 rpm.

Transmission: Five-speed automatic.

Fuel Economy (city/hwy): 15/21 4WD, 16/23 2WD.

Standard Safety Features: Driver and passenger airbags, front side airbags, curtain side airbags, front-seat active head restraints, Tire pressure monitoring system,"> Four-wheel anti-lock brake system, antilock 4-wheel disc brakes, antiskid system.

Competition: Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander.

When it came time to design a new Pathfinder, Nissan had to satisfy two camps.

On one side were the loyalists who surely wanted the Pathfinder to be a Japanese Jeep, the kind of truck that's reliable, affordable, rugged and capable of driving just about anywhere. They're the kind of buyers who don't give a rip about comfort, so long as they can traverse Death Valley without breaking a sweat.

On the other side were the legions of families who don't give a rip about Death Valley. They want an SUV with lots of cup holders, a third-row seat for carrying kids to soccer practice, a smooth ride, a cool style and plenty of space for groceries.

Which side won? Both.

The latest Pathfinder -- completely redesigned for 2005 -- has the same kind of off-road capability it's always been known for. It's a real, honest-to-goodness, body-on-frame truck, which gives it the kind of rugged durability that the trendy, car-like "crossover" vehicles will never have. It can come with off-road tires and shocks, true four-wheel drive, skid plates and a beefy V8 engine.

At the same time, it doesn't drive like a beast in town. It's smooth, quiet, surprisingly refined and comfortable enough on the highway -- like an expensive Land Rover was a couple of years ago.

Only the Pathfinder is much more affordable. It starts at $24,650 for the XE model, which includes air conditioning, cruise control, power everything, keyless entry, a CD player, adjustable lumbar support on the driver's seat, and a towing package pre-wired for a trailer. It's got all the basics and then some, including a third-row seat.

Add $1,200 to the base model and you'll get the SE, which includes a power driver's seat and some more luxurious touches. It also offers options that aren't available on the base model, like dual-zone climate control, a power sunroof and a DVD player.

The top-of-the-line model is the LE, which starts at $32,550. It adds leather seats, wood trim, a sunroof, Bose stereo with six-disc CD changer, and 17-inch wheels and tires.

Nissan didn't want there to be any confusion about where the Pathfinder fits in its lineup, so it gave the new SUV an obvious family resemblance to the huge Titan pickup and Armada SUV. It looks tough -- not the kind of truck you'd want to meet in a dark alley -- as opposed to the sleek, sexy, car-like Murano. It fits between the Xterra and Armada in Nissan's off-road SUV lineup.

That's not to say the Pathfinder is a brute on the pavement. It's quite the contrary, actually.

For a vehicle that's clearly designed for off-road driving, it has a fantastic ride. It doesn't bounce up and down every time you hit a pothole, nor does it feel like it's about to flip when you take a corner at 10 mph. It feels smooth and controlled all the time, even at highway speeds.

Compared to off-road SUVs of only five years ago ... well, there is no comparison. It shows how quickly mid-size SUVs are improving when intense competition forces them to get better with each passing model year.

Still, if you don't plan on doing any serious off-road driving, you could find a more comfortable ride and quieter cabin in one of the gazillion car-based crossovers for sale today.

But if you need a vehicle that can climb trails and go to the grocery store with equal aplomb, the new Pathfinder is just about perfect.

Pros? This is what an expensive Land Rover drove like only a couple of years ago. It's a real off-road machine, but it's also comfortable enough to drive around town without pulling your hair out.

Cons? While it has a great ride for an off-road vehicle, there are much better SUVs available for driving on the pavement if that's what you're looking for. Intense competition among mid-size SUVs means there are plenty of good, competent alternatives for the same amount of money, so be picky.

Ratings (1-10)

  • Style: 9
  • Performance: 7
  • Price: 8
  • Handling: 6
  • Ride: 6
  • Comfort: 7
  • Quality: 8
  • Overall: 8

More Data

Where Built: USA

Major Options: SE comfort package ($1,350), SE premium package ($1,760), airbag package ($700), DVD player ($1,600), floor mats ($130). Total (including $560 destination charge): $31,850.

Seating: 7.

Number of Rows: 3

Length in Inches: 187.6

Warranties: 3 years/36,000 miles bumper to bumper, 5 years/60,000 extended powertrain, 5 years/unlimited miles corrosion protection.

Weight in Pounds: 4376 lbs - 4586 lbs.

Cargo Capacity in Pounds: 1186 lbs - 1415 lbs.

Gross Maximum Vehicle Weight in Pounds: 5800 lbs. - 6000 lbs.

Towing Capacity in Pounds: Up to 6,000 w/ proper hitch.

Gas Tank Capacity in Gallons: 21.2

Destination Charge: $560