What's New for 2006
This year the SE Comfort Package adds a six-disc CD changer, and leather seating is optional on Off-Road and SE trims. Satellite radio is now available.
When it was first introduced way back in 1986, the Pathfinder rode on Nissan's small truck chassis giving it the kind of bulletproof hardware and rugged image that consumers craved in an SUV. That configuration, and a distinctive two-door design, made it a hit and put the Pathfinder squarely on the SUV map. But as tastes changed, so did the Pathfinder. Nissan eventually added two more doors and moved to a more paved road-friendly unibody design to help the Pathfinder appeal to a wider range of drivers.
Its popularity continued, but for those who liked the original Nissan Pathfinder because of its go-anywhere, do-anything capability, the image was somewhat tarnished. Nissan fully redesigned the Pathfinder last year. In doing so, it switched out the unibody design for a return to a truck-based platform. This time, the underpinnings are related to the full-size Titan pickup. Although this third-generation Pathfinder is longer, taller and wider than before, Nissan's engineers managed to keep its overall length down compared to its competitors. A third-row seat is standard equipment, putting the Pathfinder in the same league as most of its peers. The standard 4.0-liter V6 puts out an impressive 270 horsepower and 291 pound-feet of torque. The Pathfinder's four-wheel independent suspension attempts to balance ride comfort and off-road toughness, but ultimately sides with the latter.
On pavement, the ride is still smooth for the most part, but gets a bit sloppy over bumps. Handling is decent, too, but when the corners tighten up, the body rolls and the tires squeal, reminding you that this Nissan SUV is related to the Xterra, not the Murano. With a maximum ground clearance of as much as 9.1 inches on 4WD off-road models, steep approach and departure angles, and an underbody design that tucks everything underneath up above the frame rails, the Nissan Pathfinder is right at home in the dirt. A Hill Descent Control (HDC) system maintains a low speed (roughly 3.5 mph) on steep descents, while a Hill Start Assist (HSA) system eliminates the need for fancy footwork on steep climbs by holding the vehicle in place as you go from the brake to the throttle. It also offers four-wheel electronic limited-slip control that moderates the power to all four wheels individually for maximum traction and a low-speed throttle map that offers more precise control while creeping over boulders.
Now as capable off-road as anything in its class, the 2006 Nissan Pathfinder has returned to its roots, while its standard seven-passenger seating allow it to keep up in the cutthroat world of midsize SUVs. Unfortunately, it sacrifices the nimble handling of the old Pathfinder in the name of off-road capability. And although its cabin is kid-friendly and well equipped, it's not sized well for adults, and build and materials quality is inconsistent. There are many choices in the midsize SUV class, and we recommend that you try some of them before deciding on the Nissan Pathfinder.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The four-door Nissan Pathfinder SUV offers four levels of trim to suit varying desires for simplicity or luxury. The base XE puts together the usual list of expected amenities like 16-inch alloy wheels power accessories, keyless entry, a CD stereo and cloth seating for seven. The SE adds slightly larger tires, foglights and a power-adjustable driver seat, in addition to a longer options list. The SE Off-Road trim comes standard with heavy-duty Rancho shocks, underbody skid plates and even larger tires than the standard SE. The top-of-the-line LE is upgraded with upscale amenities like 17-inch wheels, a sunroof, heated leather seating and a Bose audio system. Optional items include a navigation system and a DVD entertainment system.
Powertrains and Performance
The Nissan Pathfinder is powered by a 4.0-liter V6 engine rated for a stout 270 horsepower and 291 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed automatic is the only transmission available, and both two- and four-wheel-drive versions are offered. XE, SE and SE Off-Road models have part-time 4WD, while the LE gets a full-time system with an all-wheel-drive mode. SE Off-Road models feature advanced traction systems like Hill Descent Control (HDC), Hill Start Assist (HSA) and electronic limited-slip control for enhanced off-pavement capability.
The Nissan Pathfinder comes standard with stability control and four-wheel antilock disc brakes with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and BrakeAssist. LE models come standard with side airbags for front occupants and side curtain airbags that protect all three rows. These are optional on all other models. In NHTSA testing, the Pathfinder earned four out of five stars for front-occupant protection in head-on impacts. Five stars were awarded for protection of both front and rear occupants in side-impact crashes.
Interior Design and Special Features
The new Pathfinder's large overall size allows for good passenger room in the first and second rows, while fold-flat seats give it a maximum cargo capacity of 79.2 cubic feet, about average for this class. There's plenty of space up front for the driver and front passenger, but the second-row seats are snug when it comes to toe and shoulder room. As in most midsize SUVs, the Pathfinder's two-passenger third-row seat is for kids only. The cargo area on SE and SE Off-Road is coated in plastic to allow the transport of wet or muddy items.
The Pathfinder's powerful V6 provides ample power for just about any type of driving. Ride quality is generally smooth, but the 2006 Nissan Pathfinder feels a bit sloppy over bumps. During normal driving, body motions are well controlled and the steering is nicely weighted. Tighter cornering results in more body roll than we'd like, however. Off the pavement, these compromises turn into advantages. The same suspension that has it fumbling in the suburbs gives it plenty of travel when negotiating deep ruts. Impressive as the Nissan SUV is in the dirt, competitors like the 4Runner and Explorer offer more balanced dynamics overall.