What's New for 2008
The 2008 Nissan Pathfinder receives its biggest update since its last full redesign in '05. Most significantly, a V8 engine is available for the first time. Nissan has taken the 5.6-liter V8 from its full-size Armada SUV and made it optional in the Pathfinder. In this application, it makes 310 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque and also raises the Pathfinder's maximum towing capacity to 7,000 pounds. Inside, you'll find a revised interior with new gauges and cupholders and a larger center stack display screen. New or updated convenience features are also part of the deal, including a new navigation system with a hard-drive-based music storage unit. Visually, the '08 Pathfinder looks a bit different thanks to updated front and rear styling and new wheel designs.
The funny thing about the Nissan Pathfinder is how it seems to search for a new identity every few years. Born in the late 1980s as a rugged body-on-frame two-door meant for tackling trails, the Pathfinder morphed into a unit-bodied four-door with a creamy suspension by the later '90s. When the current Pathfinder came to market three years ago, it reflected Nissan's desire to make it all things to all people.
To please the off-road crowd, the Pathfinder returned to a sturdy, heavy body-on-frame platform derived from the full-size Titan pickup and Armada SUV. Nissan built in up to 9.1 inches of ground clearance, added a dedicated Off-Road trim level and offered both part- and full-time four-wheel-drive systems.
At the same time, Nissan wanted the Pathfinder to be suitable for mainstream multiple passenger transport. Its body is far larger than past models and contains seven standard seats arranged in three rows. In addition, both the second- and third-row seats fold flat into the floor, thanks to the use of an independent rear suspension.
These two approaches to midsize SUV design don't quite mesh with 100-percent effectiveness, however. The body-on-frame design is somewhat at odds with the sporty tuning of the steering and suspension, and the result is a somewhat stiff ride and heavy-handed handling. Additionally, both back rows are a bit cramped for adults.
For 2008, Nissan has made a number of updates in hopes of increasing the Pathfinder's appeal. Inside, the dash and center console have been revised for easier use and there are new cutting-edge convenience features such as Bluetooth connectivity and a switch to a hard-drive-based navigation system that can also be used to store music files. Finally, a strong new V8 has been made available to make hauling heavy loads even easier than before.
Although not perfect, the 2008 Nissan Pathfinder has a lot to offer. Compared to fellow body-on-frame rivals like the Toyota 4Runner, Ford Explorer, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Chevy TrailBlazer, the Pathfinder scores near the top in performance, driving pleasure, interior design and value for the money. However, this jack-of-all-trades entry isn't well-suited to buyers who just want a comfortable, urban-based sport-ute with third-row seating. For those buyers, car-based midsize SUVs such as the Honda Pilot, Hyundai Veracruz, Mazda CX-9, Saturn Outlook or Toyota Highlander would be better choices.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
A midsize SUV, the 2008 Nissan Pathfinder comes in four trim levels: S, SE, SE Off-Road and LE. All but the 4WD-only SE Off-Road offer a choice of rear- or four-wheel-drive. The Pathfinder S starts off with 16-inch alloy wheels, power accessories, cruise control, keyless entry, air-conditioning and a CD stereo. The Pathfinder SE adds a roof rack, 17-inch alloy wheels, a power driver seat, a 7-inch screen with multi-information display, a back-up camera, dual-zone climate control and a CD/MP3 player with an auxiliary input jack. The SE Off-Road features exclusive off-road shocks and tires, skid plates, Hill Descent Control and Hill Start Assist, plus a moonroof and Bose stereo. The top-line Pathfinder LE shares the moonroof and stereo, then goes all the way with leather, wood trim and power seats. The new V8 engine can be ordered on the SE and LE only; both are equipped similarly to the V6 models but have 18-inch alloy wheels.
Major options include the SE Premium Package (moonroof, Bose stereo, HomeLink transceiver, automatic headlights), the SE Leather Package (leather, heated power seats), the LE's HDD Navigation Package (hard-drive-based navigation with a 9.3GB "Music Server," Bluetooth connectivity and keyless start), and a rear-seat entertainment system.
Powertrains and Performance
The Nissan Pathfinder is available with a choice of two powerful engines. The base 4.0-liter V6 produces 266 hp and 288 lb-ft of torque. The new 5.6-liter V8 comes can't beat Jeep's Hemi, but comes out ahead of V8s from Ford, GM, and Toyota with 310 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque, raising the Pathfinder's towing capacity from 6,000 to 7,000 pounds. Both engines pair to a five-speed automatic transmission. The four-wheel-drive system on the LE V6 and all V8 models contains a full-time mode for all surfaces; all other 4WD Pathfinders use a part-time system. In testing, we found that a 4WD Pathfinder could do 0-60 mph in a brisk 7.0 seconds.
Every 2008 Nissan Pathfinder comes with antilock brakes and stability control. Only the LE comes with a full set of six airbags; all other models require buyers to order front-side airbags and full-length curtain airbags as an option package. In NHTSA testing, the Pathfinder earned four out of five stars for frontal-impact crash protection, and five stars for side protection in both the front and rear rows.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Pathfinder's interior is stylish, handsomely upholstered and ergonomically sound. The already friendly controls become more so this year as the Pathfinder adapts the navigation system in newer Nissans. The luxury quotient also rises thanks to new amenities like Intelligent Key, Bluetooth connectivity and a hard-drive-based music server.
The front seats are very comfortable, but the rear falls short on room for both feet and shoulders. Only kids will fit in the third row, and younger ones might have trouble entering the cabin to begin with, due to the high-mounted handles. Fortunately, both rear rows fold down perfectly flat to form a 79-cubic-foot cargo hold -- about average for the class.
Performance is vigorous even with the standard V6, so expect acceleration to be very impressive with the new V8. In addition, the responsive automatic transmission serves up crisp shifts at all the right times. Steering response is surprisingly sharp for a traditional body-on-frame SUV, such that the Pathfinder feels almost sporty in normal traffic situations. On the whole, though, this Nissan Pathfinder is less carlike than the last generation. It's heavier, and there's considerable body roll around corners, especially on SE Off-Road models, which are fitted with off-road-biased tires. In off-road situations, the Pathfinder's rugged underpinnings are advantageous, and it offers plenty of suspension travel on rutted trails. However, for the majority of buyers who won't be using it in this manner, the 2008 Nissan Pathfinder's compromises are undeniable compared to the many qualified crossover SUVs in this price range.