Some SUVs are trucks intended for families, softened and eased for family living. Some trucks are insulted by the very thought. The 2010 Nissan Pathfinder is of the second group. It's a truck made for rough roads and cargo. Sure, throw a few kids in there; the Pathfinder can take it, but don't go looking for extra cupholders or a roomy third row. This is a truck that won't accommodate. Love it or leave it. If I were a single person with lots of gear or a big dog I might have loved the Pathfinder. As I am a mom with lots of gear, a small dog and children, I'll leave it, thanks.
It's not that the Pathfinder is awful. Life with kids can work in the Pathfinder. We managed a week with only minor grousing and made it to all our sporting events, classes and errands. Life continued on as usual, but there is just so much of that Pathfinder that didn't fit into our plans. That third row? We never used it. My 10-year-old preferred to sit in the second-row seat rather than cram himself into that teeny seat in the third row. The big V-6 engine with the 6,000-pound towing capacity and four-wheel drive? Yeah, we live in the suburbs and don't own a boat or a horse trailer. We didn't need that.
While the price tag was moderate – the Pathfinder SE 4x4 model I drove cost $36,615 and the base model with rear-wheel drive starts at $27,540 – its EPA-estimated 14/20 mpg city/highway and premium gas requirement means this SUV isn't exactly economical.
I will admit that driving the Pathfinder is fun. It sits up high on the road, allowing me to look down upon other vehicles. Literally. The ride is typically bouncy, which is actually pretty entertaining. I'd rather bounce over obstacles than pound into them like a sports car. So, while I felt most of the bumps in the road, it was a bit like riding in a moon bounce. In a good way. The brakes felt solid and brought the Pathfinder to a stop even more quickly than I had anticipated, which only made me feel more secure. The V-6 engine has power enough to match its roar, and it tore up hills and freeway on-ramps like it was on fire. No mountain was too steep for the Pathfinder, and no freeway driver was too aggressive. Other drivers should fear the Pathfinder. I found myself driving more aggressively than usual just because I could.
In the end, though, all that bouncing, hill climbing and cargo loading was fun, but just not how I live my life. The Pathfinder is a decent truck, as trucks go, but I'm just not a truck kind of mama. I prefer a bit more softness, subtlety and ease to my daily drive.
EXTERIORThe 2010 Pathfinder is unapologetically boxy. It could have been built with giant Duplo blocks. However, it's not bad-looking. It's tough, strong and doesn't fool around. This is a truck that means business.
In front, wide-set headlights anchor the corners, while a big grille is wrapped in chrome. My SE 4x4 model came on beefy 17-inch alloy wheels and serious tires designed to take on pretty much any road surface you'd care to throw at them. My newly paved suburban roads never stood a chance. In fact, I think I may have heard the Pathfinder yawn once or twice.
Getting in and out of the Pathfinder could be a challenge, but a running board provides a needed step up. In particular, it makes getting to the third row more manageable. The front doors open fairly wide and easily, but the rear door handles are set high up at window level rather than in line with the front door handles. While it's certainly no problem for adults, small children can't reach it. My 7-year-old even struggled with it occasionally. Preschool-age kids won't stand a chance.
Loading cargo into it is easier than loading kids. Once it's released, the liftgate almost lifts itself, and the cargo floor is right at hip height, meaning no lifting up or down when loading groceries or anything else from a cart. The rear window also pops open separately for easy access to cargo.
The 2010 Pathfinder comes with a 4.0-liter V-6 engine that makes 266 horsepower and 288 pounds-feet of torque. That means it can power up a hill with a loaded trailer while the air conditioner blows at full, icy blast. The Pathfinder can switch from two-wheel drive to four-wheel drive at low speeds. There's no need to stop in the mud and manually switch anything.
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Fair
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Good Times
The interior of the Pathfinder was where I had most of my problems. I may have even used an inappropriate word or two in frustration.
My problem was I couldn't figure out how to use most of the systems. It took me the full week of my test drive to figure out how to use the Bluetooth system. I looked in the manual, and it told me to press buttons that weren't there. Silly me, I was trying to read the manual and hook up my phone while safely parked in my driveway. The Bluetooth system is voice activated and only works while the car is moving. Seriously? That's safe.
I also didn't know that the Pathfinder had XM Satellite Radio until I stumbled on it accidentally. There's no indication on the audio controls. I only found it by scrolling through FM1, FM2, AM and then XM popped up. Cool! (Insert frustrated growl here.) There's also an MP3 jack in the Pathfinder but no USB interface. At least the climate control was easy enough to work since we were blessed with a heat wave during my test drive. There are vents for all three rows and the automatic climate control has dual zones, so the husband and I didn't need to argue about the definition of "freezing."
I did enjoy the multitude of storage options in the front seat. There were cubbies and bins everywhere, generously sized to stash all my stuff. Cupholders are conveniently placed and have removable liners that wash out easily. The large center bin has slots for coins and CDs, as well as a plug for charging electronics and a deep well for tossing all my loose items or a medium-size purse. Even the door bins are useful with bonus bottleholders.
The plush cloth seats in the seven-seater are comfy enough, but they show every speck of lint, dust and Goldfish cracker crumb. I'm a big believer that leather is always worth the investment when kids are involved. Controls for the rear air conditioning sit on the back of the center console, as do the second row's cupholders, which are near the floor. Only kids out of boosters will be able to reach them, though. A small armrest folds out of the back of the seat, but it's just a short shelf. It doesn't boast any cupholders or hidden storage compartments.
The first two rows are roomy and comfy enough to help absorb some of the bouncy ride, but the third row is almost a joke. I had to sit sideways to fit in it, and even my kids didn't want to sit back there after the first time they tried it. Those two extra seats are for short trips and emergency carpools only. Access to the third row is not overly difficult. The second-row seats fold and tumble forward to create a passageway.
With the third row folded down, there's plenty of room in the flat cargo area. I was never pressed for space, even when I forgot to remove the baseball gear before I went grocery shopping. There are cubbies on the sides of the cargo space that will hold a couple of gallons of milk or a large jug of laundry detergent.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Galore
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Galore
Because they're height adjustable, the Pathfinder's rear seat belts fit kids and adults alike. This means I could safely let my 7-year-old ride in the second row using only the seat belt.
The lower Latch anchors are a breeze to use. They're easily accessible, making child-safety-seat installation refreshingly simple. However, there are only two sets of Latch anchors in the second row and none in the third. There's room in the second row for even the bulkiest of infant-safety seats, but there's not room for three car seats in the second row. I wouldn't attempt to install a car seat in the third row. It's just too cramped back there.
The Pathfinder has standard four-wheel-disc antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, electronic stability control, traction control, side-impact airbags for the front row and side curtain airbags for all three rows.
Four-wheel drive is optional, so is a backup camera, which is part of a $3,050 options package.
Get more safety information about the 2010 Pathfinder here.