Once upon a time, somebody looked at a small, off-roading vehicle like the Nissan Pathfinder and said to himself: "You know, I think I could use that to replace the family station wagon. It's a lot cooler looking than dad's Country Squire. And I wouldn't be caught dead in a minivan." Since then, the Pathfinder and other SUVs have become increasingly larger and luxurious to meet the demand of millions of like-minded buyers.
You can see this evolution in the Pathfinder's timeline of four generations. The carlike current model excels as a three-row family hauler, and it's even available as a hybrid. Earlier Pathfinders -- and the third generation in particular -- were more rugged and capable for towing, but not as comfortable or fuel efficient.
Current Nissan Pathfinder
The Nissan Pathfinder is a three-row crossover SUV that's offered in S, SV, SL and Platinum trim levels. The base S trim is indeed pretty basic for this segment, so we think most people will be better served by the SV, which includes items like a power driver seat, Bluetooth, a rearview camera and an iPod interface. The two upper trims can be had with nearly all of the luxuries found on the mechanically related Infiniti JX35. Note that the Hybrid is not offered in S trim.
Powering the standard Pathfinder is a 3.5-liter V6 engine that sends 260 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque to the front wheels through a CVT (continuously variable transmission). The Pathfinder Hybrid pairs a supercharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with a 15-kilowatt electric motor, yielding a combined 250 hp and 243 lb-ft. All-wheel drive is optional with either powertrain. Hybrid fuel economy is estimated to exceed 25 mpg in mixed driving, while the regular Pathfinder stays in the low 20s.
In daily driving, the Pathfinder's ride is laudably comfortable and composed. If you're looking for agile handling, this Nissan may disappoint, but otherwise it's about as pleasant to drive as a big crossover can be. Performance is smooth and more than adequate with the V6, and the Hybrid promises meaningful efficiency gains without giving up too much acceleration.
Inside, the Pathfinder's cabin is put together well and boasts quality materials. Despite the abundance of features (especially in higher trims), the various controls are easy to reach and intuitive. The second-row seat slides and reclines to optimize comfort for passengers or cargo space behind as needs dictate. Access to the third row is eased by the second row's tilt and slide feature, which can be used even when a child seat is in place. The third row offers enough headroom for 6-foot passengers, but clearance gets a little tight beyond that, and legroom is limited.
If maximum space is a priority, some larger crossover SUVs such as the Chevrolet Traverse might be a better choice. But overall we're fond of the Pathfinder and think it fits very well with the typical family's needs and desires.
Read the most recent 2014 Nissan Pathfinder review.
If you are looking for older years, visit our used Nissan Pathfinder page.