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By Jim Flammang
April 29, 2003
Vehicle Overview Reintroduced as an early 2001 model, Nissans midsize sport utility vehicle received a new and substantially more powerful 240-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine. The Pathfinder is built from the same design as the Infiniti QX4, but it has fewer amenities and an appreciably lower sticker price. Nissan also sells the youth-oriented Xterra, which is based on the Frontier pickup truck and priced below the Pathfinder.
The Pathfinder comes in SE and upscale LE forms. All versions for 2003 are ready for the installation of either a Sirius or XM Satellite Radio. A new four-spoke steering wheel and an electronic rear hatch window release have been installed. Leather-appointed seats go into the LE model, and the SE gets restyled, six-spoke, 16-inch wheels. Side-impact airbags and side curtain-type airbags are now standard in the LE edition. A new Vehicle Dynamic Control Package offers an electronic stability system, traction control and a tire-pressure monitor. LATCH child-safety seat anchors and tethers are also new.
According to Automotive News, Nissan sold 64,515 Pathfinders in 2001 but the Xterra scored higher in the sales race. The Pathfinder competes against such SUVs as the Acura MDX, Ford Explorer and Toyota Highlander.
Though it displays a typical SUV appearance overall, the four-door Pathfinder has a neatly tapered rear end. It is built on a 106.3-inch wheelbase and has an overall length of 182.7 inches thats nearly 5 inches longer than the Xterra. The rear liftgate has a window that flips up.
All Pathfinder models seat five occupants, and foot room for backseat occupants might be tight beneath the front seats. The instrument cluster in LE models has black markings on a white background. These differ from the SEs gauges, which have a titanium background and colors that reverse at night. Large, convenient controls operate the climate and audio systems. Optional duplicate audio controls on the steering wheel include an on/off switch. A 60/40-split rear seat folds to create 85 cubic feet of cargo space.
Under the Hood
One engine, two transmissions and two drive systems are available in the Pathfinder. The 3.5-liter V-6 engine develops 240 hp with the automatic and an additional 10 hp with the manual gearbox. The SE model may be equipped with a four-speed-automatic or five-speed-manual transmission, but the LE versions come only with the automatic unit.
The Pathfinder may be equipped with rear-wheel drive or a part-time four-wheel-drive (4WD) system, which is intended for use on slippery surfaces. The 4WD system can be engaged or disengaged at up to 50 mph by using a floor-mounted transfer-case lever. The LE 4x4 has a push-button All-Mode 4WD system that permits up to 50 percent of available torque to reach the front wheels when needed.
Antilock brakes are standard. Side-impact and side curtain-type airbags are now standard in the LE edition.
The Pathfinder is a mighty smooth operator. It is a true pleasure to drive and ride in, and it delivers plenty of performance. The SUVs ride quality reaches close to gentle, and it gets choppy only on washboard-type road surfaces. Despite the soft ride, the Pathfinders handling ranks above average as it maneuvers easily and adeptly; it stays relatively flat in curves and corners. Little or no correction is needed on straightaways. An easy-acting automatic transmission delivers prompt gear changes.
The seats are comfortable and supportive. The backseat is as inviting as the front seat, with fine legroom but not quite as much headroom. The Pathfinder is very carlike, in the best sense of the word, and it actually rides more smoothly than the related QX4.