A long-distance haul means different things to different drivers. For me, on this occasion, it was a 400-plus mile trek from Redondo Beach to Sacramento, California. It was a seven-hour day in the car. The trip included the long climb over the infamous Grapevine in Southern California and plenty of flat and high-speed miles along Interstate 5. My transportation was a 2006 Nissan Pathfinder and it performed well.
The Pathfinder, the mid-sized SUV, has now been on the market for two decades. My test vehicle was the four-wheel drive LE model (with navigation system), the most expensive of the four available models.
Several top manufacturers’ current SUV models are seemingly interchangeable, and that includes Pathfinder and its top competitors, the Ford Explorer, Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot.
I drove my test vehicle nearly 700 miles, including the climb on the steady grade that connects Southern California to the mid-state agricultural valley. And although I never engaged the four-wheel drive feature or carried a heavy load, those attributes distinguish the Pathfinder from rivals.
In addition to mega-interstate miles, I nimbly maneuvered the vehicle through city streets. Parking lots, small driveways, U-turns in tight quarters were all handled easily. The vehicle never felt cumbersome. The LE is the only member of the fleet with full-time all-wheel drive, and it can be left engaged on dry pavement. The Pathfinder also has a 6,000-pound towing capacity.
Each of the four Pathfinder models includes a 4.0-liter, 270-horsepower V6. During my trek, the vehicle advanced adequately even while ascending the most difficult climbs. But it did take a heavy throttle to get the job done, and that didn’t do much for the one major downfalls of most SUV’s — gas mileage.
The Pathfinder is rated at 16 (city) and 23 (highway), and I averaged just under 20 mpg on my trip. Nissan recommends premium fuel, further adding to the not-so-thrifty costs.
The Pathfinder was redesigned in 2005, and both the interior and exterior changes were nicely accomplished, including added width, height and length. The interior has well-placed, cleanly designed gauges and the console and instrument panel are handsome and smartly positioned
Unlike other SUVs, the Pathfinder has a standard third-row seat. Without removing headrests, the rear row folds level, and the folding front-passenger seatback further builds the cargo room to 79.2 cubic feet. That’s among the best in the class.
The Pathfinder LE model has standard 17-inch wheels; other models have 16-inch wheels. The LE also features standard front-side and side curtain airbags (they’re optional on other models).
Regardless of model, the Pathfinder’s standard equipment list is impressive. It ranges from illuminated visor mirrors to the AM/FM radio with in-dash, six-disc CD/MP3 changer and heated power mirrors and sunroof to a memory system for the driver seat, mirror and pedals).
My test vehicle also included five option packages ranging from the navigation and rear seat entertainment system to leather and heated front seats. The various options added nearly $8,000 to the vehicle’s base price.
The result is a finely equipped SUV that can certainly ease the ordeal of a 400-mile drive and also provide an equally enjoyable ride around town.
Safety Features — Dual front airbags (standard); front and side curtain airbags.
Fuel Mileage (estimates) — 16 mpg (city), 23 mpg (highway).
Warranty — Bumper to bumper, 3 years/36,000 miles; Powertrain, 5 years/60,000 miles, Corrosion, 5 years/unlimited mileage; (24-hour) roadside assistance program, 3 years/36,000 miles.
Base Price — $35,550.