What's New for 2004
The LE models are now called Platinum Editions and include electroluminescent gauges, aluminum door sill plates and special dark wood trim. Rounding out the minimal changes for this year are three new exterior colors -- Canteen, Luminous Gold and Platinum.
Nissan's hardy Pathfinder has frequently been a good choice for seeking a new path to the premium outlet center. Though the exterior may exude that tough-guy outdoorsy image, the interior has always been comfortable enough for the dilettante woodsman who doesn't like to get his nails too dirty. The current model's last full redesign dates back to 1996. That's a long time, but Nissan has been able to keep the Pathfinder relatively fresh by making frequent updates. In 2001, the company addressed the vehicle's biggest problem -- a lack of power -- by dropping in a 250-horsepower V6 engine. The interior was also restyled, and more standard features were added. We've long admired the Pathfinder for its excellent ride and handling, further enhanced by solid unibody construction. Quality construction, supportive front seats and useful features make the interior one of the friendliest of any SUV on the market. Last year, the Pathfinder received minor updates, including a stability control system and a tire-pressure monitor. Though the Ford Explorer and Toyota 4Runner offer better overall packages, the Pathfinder still holds its own in the midsize SUV segment. It's reliable and offers an excellent compromise between a carlike ride and trucklike utility. For us, that's more than enough to warrant a solid recommendation.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
There are only two trim levels available: the SE and Platinum Edition. The SE includes features like 16-inch wheels, heated outside mirrors, cruise control, power windows and locks, remote keyless entry and air conditioning. On the Platinum Edition, you get those features plus 17-inch wheels, leather seats, a moonroof, power front seats, an in-dash six-disc CD changer, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, automatic climate control, electroluminescent gauges, aluminum door sill plates and special dark wood trim. Most of these features can be ordered as optional equipment for the SE. For 4WD Pathfinders, heated front seats are optional on the SE and standard on the Platinum. Both models can be ordered with a wide array of optional equipment. Highlights include an entertainment system that offers a video or DVD player and ports to plug in a gaming console. The Pathfinder can also be equipped with an XM or Sirius Satellite Radio system.
Powertrains and Performance
The Pathfinder is powered by a 3.5-liter DOHC V6 engine. It makes a stout 240 horsepower and 265 pound-feet of torque. A four-speed automatic is the only transmission. This powertrain provides plenty of power whether asked to haul sports equipment to the mountains on the weekends or merge onto freeways during rush hour commuting. The Pathfinder comes with either rear-wheel drive (2WD) or part-time four-wheel drive. Four-wheel-drive SE models get a shift-on-the-fly transfer case that can be engaged at speeds up to 50 mph. On Platinum Edition models, a more advanced automatic All-Mode four-wheel-drive system is standard. If you want to tow, the Pathfinder can handle up to 5,000 pounds.
The 2003 Nissan Pathfinder comes with antilock front disc/rear drum brakes supplemented by Electronic Brakeforce Distribution. Platinum Edition models come standard with front seat-mounted side airbags and side curtain airbags. These are optional on the SE. There is also an optional stability control system that helps to prevent dangerous skids and spins. If you are planning to load up five passengers, note that the rear seat's center position has just a two-point lap belt. The IIHS gave the Pathfinder an overall rating of "Marginal," the second-lowest ranking possible, for its 40-mph frontal offset crash test. In government crash testing, the Pathfinder earned four stars (out of a possible five) for frontal impact safety and five stars for side-impact safety.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Pathfinder can haul a substantial 85 cubic feet of cargo, a surprising figure for what appears to be a relatively small vehicle. However, some of this space, in our humble opinion, should have been used to alleviate the cramped rear accommodations. There's just 31.8 inches of legroom for rear passengers, about five inches fewer than what is offered in the Ford Explorer.
The Pathfinder is easy to maneuver and pleasurable to drive on the freeway and on winding canyon roads. In the dirt, it's not as adept as some other SUVs (the Jeep Grand Cherokee comes to mind), but it is still quite capable when going off-road.