What's New for 2011
For the 2011 Nissan Pathfinder, a 25th-anniversary Silver Edition joins the lineup and options packages have been simplified.
Once a compact five-passenger hauler with nimble feet off-road, the Nissan Pathfinder finds itself in the clutches of middle-age gravity. It's now larger, heavier and sturdier than its younger self. In some respects, that's not a bad thing. Powered by a V6 or V8, perched atop the same sturdy truck chassis as the Nissan Titan and offered with rear- or four-wheel drive, the Pathfinder can still scramble over rocks and tow a decent-size trailer. But for getting you through daily life, the Pathfinder is increasingly out of touch.
On the positive side, the 2011 Nissan Pathfinder has a maximum towing capacity of 6,000-7,000 pounds, depending on the engine selected. This is more than what you'll be able to do with a typical crossover SUV. And even with its fully independent suspension, the Pathfinder still has decent off-road chops. But we suspect most Pathfinder owners will be favoring the trailer over the trail, and head for the river rather than the Rubicon.
Either way, the Pathfinder's traditional SUV design brings a number of notable drawbacks. The first is weight, which conspires to drag down gas mileage and handling ability when compared to large crossover SUVs. Additionally, that body-on-frame construction robs the cabin of passenger and cargo space; even though the Pathfinder has three rows of seating, neither the second nor the third row is roomy.
Overall, we think there are better choices. If you really need a tow vehicle, a larger SUV like the Chevy Tahoe would make more sense. On the opposite side of things, crossovers like the redesigned Ford Explorer, GMC Acadia and Mazda CX-9 are roomier, more nimble and more fuel-efficient. And if you really do need an SUV with a mix of towing and off-road abilities, we'd recommend the impressively redesigned Jeep Grand Cherokee or the capable Toyota 4Runner. Middle age, it seems, has not been kind to Nissan's Pathfinder.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 Nissan Pathfinder is a midsize seven-passenger SUV offered in five trim levels: S, SV, 25th Anniversary Silver Edition, LE V6 and LE V8.
Standard equipment includes 16-inch alloy wheels, rear privacy glass, roof rails, full power accessories, cruise control, air-conditioning, a tilt steering wheel, an eight-way manually adjustable driver seat and a six-speaker stereo with CD player.
The SV adds 17-inch alloy wheels, running boards, foglights, automatic headlights, upgraded cloth upholstery, an eight-way power driver seat, power-adjustable pedals, a leather-wrapped wheel and shifter, dual-zone automatic climate control, rear air-conditioning, a color multi-information display, a rearview camera and an auxiliary audio jack.
The Silver Edition adds keyless ignition/entry, heated mirrors, body color/chrome side moldings, leather upholstery, a four-way power passenger seat, heated front seats, Bluetooth and a 10-speaker Bose audio system with six-CD changer and satellite radio. The Pathfinder LE V6 comes with 18-inch wheels, a sunroof, driver memory functions, a heated steering wheel and wood-grain trim. The top-line LE V8 loses the standard sunroof but gains the 5.6-liter V8 and a hard-drive-based navigation system with digital music storage.
No options are offered for the S, SV and Silver trims. The navigation system is optional on the LE V6. A rear-seat entertainment system is offered for both LE trims.
Powertrains and Performance
Two engines are offered for the 2011 Nissan Pathfinder. The 4.0-liter V6, standard on all but the top trim level, makes 266 horsepower and 288 pound-feet of torque, while a 5.6-liter V8 that produces 310 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque powers the Pathfinder LE V8. A five-speed automatic transmission is standard on all models.
All models are rear-wheel drive, with optional part-time 4WD featuring a shift-on-the-fly transfer case operated with a dash-mounted switch available on S, SV and Silver models. LE models offer available full-time four-wheel drive.
In Edmunds performance testing, a 4WD Pathfinder went from zero to 60 mph in 7.4 seconds. Estimated fuel economy is 15 mpg city/22 mpg highway and 17 mpg combined with rear drive and 14/20/16 with 4WD. Properly equipped, the V6 can tow 6,000 pounds.
The LE V8 made a quick 7.0-second sprint from zero to 60 mph in our testing. But that performance comes with a fuel economy penalty of 13/18/14 mpg. Properly equipped, the V8 model can tow 7,000 pounds.
The 2011 Nissan Pathfinder comes standard with antilock disc brakes, stability control, front seat active head restraints, front-seat side airbags and side curtain airbags.
In Edmunds brake testing, the Pathfinder LE V8 came to a stop from 60 mph in 134 feet, which is about the norm for truck-based SUVs.
The Nissan Pathfinder has not been rated using the government's new, more strenuous 2011 crash testing procedure. Its 2010 rating (which isn't comparable to 2011 ratings) was four out of five stars for frontal crash protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave it the highest possible rating of "Good" in the frontal-offset and side crash tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 2011 Nissan Pathfinder offers an attractive and well-appointed cabin with three-row seating and a generous amount of interior storage space. Front seating is quite comfortable, but second-row passengers will feel cramped and longing for foot and shoulder room. The third row is suitable for children only, and even they'll have a hard time getting in and out due to the Pathfinder's high-mounted door handles and tall step-in height. Both the second and third rows fold flat, as does the front passenger seat, allowing 79 cubic feet of cargo space, typical for this class.
With either engine, the 2011 Nissan Pathfinder is an impressive performer, with its automatic transmission providing perfectly timed and smooth gearshifts. Steering is surprisingly responsive and sharp, especially for an SUV of this size. It almost feels sporty in traffic -- almost. Despite four-wheel independent suspension, the Pathfinder still drives more like a truck than a car-based crossover, with a rough ride on broken pavement and pronounced body roll through corners.