The Pathfinder, all new last year, is built on the same platform as the Frontier pickup. It has a 112.2-inch wheelbase. The fully boxed, all-steel ladder frame comes from Nissan's F-Alpha truck platform, and it can underpin a variety of vehicle sizes. It can have a solid rear axle for trucks or independent suspension for SUVs.
Standard equipment includes three-row seating and an automatic transmission. Base prices start at $25,400 for a two-wheel-drive S and top out at $35,700 for a four-wheel-drive LE.
The test vehicle was an SE Off-Road model, and its base price was $31,300. The Off-Road model has aluminum-alloy wheels, painted front springs, Rancho performance shocks, unique blue seat fabric, Hill Descent Control and Hill Start Assist, and skid plates to protect the chassis from off-road damage. The Off-Road model also has dual-zone automatic temperature control, rear air conditioning and adjustable pedals.
One of the third-generation Pathfinder's strengths is its 4.0-liter V-6 that has 270 horsepower and 291 pound-feet of torque. Maximum towing capacity is 6,000 pounds.
The engine is derived from the 3.5-liter unit used in the Maxima, Altima, Murano and 350Z. It uses variable valve timing, Teflon-coated pistons, aluminum block and a timing chain, rather than a timing belt, for durability. It is tuned for good midrange torque and power. Estimated fuel economy is 15 miles per gallon in the city and 21 on the highway.
Pathfinder's available advanced All-Mode four-wheel-drive system includes two-wheel, auto and four-wheel modes. It has an electronically controlled transfer case. A Vehicle Dynamic Control, or VDC, system is standard.
An off-road traction system is standard on the SE Off-Road model. Hill Descent Control slows the vehicle on descents without constant application of the brake pedal. Hill Start Assist allows the driver to stop on a slope, release the brake pedal and not roll back for up to two seconds.
The Pathfinder SE's cabin is functional but far from plain. The test car's cloth seats were attractive and should be easy to clean. The cruise control is operated by fingertip controls on the steering wheel. The triple-zone automatic climate system has controls for both front seats as well as the rear seat.
Cup holders are plentiful, and the doors have wide storage bins. The center console has handy storage trays for sunglasses and cell phones. Two power outlets are located near the console.
The second- and third-row seats can be folded down into numerous configurations. The 40/20/40 second-row seat has a one-touch release lever for access to the third row. The front passenger seat also folds for hauling something long.
Each side of the split third row can be folded separately. Headrests do not need to be removed to fold either the second- or third-row seats. Legroom in the third seat is tight and best left to kids.
The backside of the third row is finished in hard plastic so it makes a usable cargo floor. A hidden storage area is located under the second seat.
The Pathfinder is assembled at Nissan's manufacturing facility in Smyrna, Tenn.
The test car's base price was $31,300. Options included Sirius satellite radio, power sunroof, rear-seat DVD player, Bose audio system with 10 speakers, heated leather seats, power passenger seat and heated outside mirrors. The sticker price was $37,095.
Three years or 36,000 miles.