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Nissan Pathfinder - 2005 SUV Buyer's Guide

by Martha Hindes

Nissan Pathfinder
Nissan Pathfinder

When a small first aid kit hides in the tailgate of a newly redesigned sport utility, it suggests this isn't a wimpy set of wheels. Nissan's Pathfinder, resuscitated for 2005 as bolder and more authoritative, has such a kit. Drivers be warned. This must means Nissan expects you to use the vehicle as serious truck-based SUVs were intended.

For years Pathfinder was a softer sport utility, with adequate capability for the rigors of outdoor life, and a modest ability to accommodate passengers and gear in comfort and style. It reflected the vehicle's car-like foundation, smaller size and patchwork of upgrades that never seemed to reach the potential a serious off-roader would covet. And out there was that popular moving target, the Ford Explorer, that seemed always out of reach. But Nissan had begun a bad boy design evolution with the Titan and Frontier pickups, and its Armada full-size SUV, with all the subtlety of a fist smashing into an opponent. For 2005, Pathfinder became the fourth member of the steroid-laden quartet, and the polar opposite of Nissan's rounded, supple Murano crossover.

If the earlier Pathfinder seemed undersized, it isn't any longer. This is one big frame-based midsize, with three rows of seating, that borders on full-size territory. To match its aggressive stance and bold front logo design, Nissan packs in a beefy 4.0-liter version of its award-winning VQ V-6 powerplant that churns out 270-horsepower and 291-lb. ft. of torque, with automatic transmission, for 4X2 or 4X4 versions. Broad shoulders, hunky angled rear, and three-quarter roof rails offer a no apologies presence. Nissan calls it "athletic leanness."

Inside, it's well-appointed and accommodating, with comfort seating, and an abundance of available upmarket features such as dual zone climates, adjustable pedals, nav and DVD systems, wood and leather trim and available airbag curtains to protect during a rollover. It handles well, but you still sense you're driving a truck. Lots of high tech underscores Pathfinder's interior and exterior functions, with stability and hill-crossing talent designed for heavy-duty off-road challenges. (Nissan makes an integrated tow hitch standard on all models, with a maximum tow rating of 6,000 pounds.) The new Pathfinder comes in four trim levels with several options packages for each. Base prices range from $25,000 to $35,000.