Nissan's Pathfinder never kowtowed to the swoopy crossover trend and didn't fall to the sedan-ification of SUVs like some of its competition.
Of course, there's a price to pay for its truck-based SUV ways: With the 2011 Nissan Pathfinder, a three-row SUV, it comes mostly in the form of reduced gas mileage and a trucklike ride that can get tiresome.
My test Pathfinder was a Silver Edition, which celebrates the Pathfinder's 25 years in America and adds 17-inch alloy wheels, leather upholstery, heated front seats and a 10-speaker Bose sound system. It has a 4.0-liter V-6 and an adjustable drivetrain that allowed me to choose two-wheel drive, 4-High or 4-Low. I liked having the choice; it made me feel able to attain the high end of the Pathfinder's EPA-estimated 14/20 mpg city/highway. Having a little control helps because the Pathfinder uses premium gas and that will get pricey.
Even with its truck platform, the Pathfinder was comfortable on the road, but it had a stiff suspension. There was some body roll in corners, too. Overall, I liked the ride. It reminded me I was in an SUV and not a posh crossover.
For those who like to go out and play with their truck, their toys and their kids, the Pathfinder can be a pretty good fit. It has a starting MSRP of $28,570. The price of my midlevel Pathfinder Silver Edition 4x4 was $38,485.
The Pathfinder is rectangular to the extreme, and it has 17-inch alloy wheels, a towing hitch and rugged tubular running boards. There are no sinewy curves here.
There are a couple hiccups, though. First off, if you want your small kids to get in this three-row SUV, you'll have to wait until they're taller or be ready to help them for a while because the rear-door handles sit up high. Kids will figure out a work-around eventually, but until then you're their primary door-opener and that can get old. For adults, the Pathfinder is easy to get into, which surprised me. Because the Pathfinder looks so much like the Nissan Armada, I kept expecting to have to take a giant step to get in it. A couple of times, I took too big of a step and hit my head on the doorframe.
The cargo area's load floor is high, but that's not unexpected. A double-stroller can fit in the cargo area, but parents hefting it might want to see if they can live with lifting it up really high to get in the cargo area.
The Pathfinder has a 266-horsepower, 4.0-liter V-6 engine that's paired to a five-speed automatic transmission. A 5.6-liter V-8 engine is available on the top-of-the-line LE trim.
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Great
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Some
After 25 years in the U.S. you'd think the Pathfinder would have its act together. For the most part, it does, but not across the board and some features seem like they were added to the SUV at the last minute. I was pleasantly surprised by the Pathfinder's comfortable driver's seat, however.
The driver's seat helped make up for the Pathfinder's stiff ride. My back never ached and my legs never got tired. I wished the Pathfinder had a telescoping steering wheel, but my test car did have adjustable pedals, which helped somewhat.
This three-row SUV's buttons were easy to understand and use. However, there were some stereo knobs that were set apart from the rest of the controls. This seemed weird. Also, there were two power outlets on the passenger side of the center stack that seemed like afterthoughts. I know utility is the opposite of polish most of the time, but it seemed like these details were overlooked.
In the Pathfinder, there are a lot of functional storage spaces in the front row, but the cupholders annoyed me a little. There are rubber inserts in them that stuck to most water bottles I put in them. Paper cups fared well, as did soda cans. A travel mug is the perfect fit because the Pathfinder has a niche for the handle. A nice touch.
In the second row, things are less equipped. The cupholders are at the base of the center console's rear, which is difficult for kids in car seats to reach, and there are pockets on the seatbacks. There was plenty of legroom, though, and the flat floor made carpool drop-offs a breeze.
There's also a standard third row in the Pathfinder. It's easily accessible because the second row's outboard seats tumble forward. If child-safety seats are in the outboard seats, kids can access the third row by folding the center portion of the 40/20/40-split second row. The third row is small. My kids, ages 7 and 9, were comfortable back there, but adults would find it uncomfortable after a short ride. Both the second and third rows fold flat.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair
The 2011 Pathfinder received the top score of Good in frontal-offset and side-impact crash tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In IIHS rear and roof-strength crash tests, the Pathfinder received the second-to-lowest score of Marginal. In rollover crash tests, it received three out of five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The Pathfinder has two sets of lower Latch anchors in the second row's outboard seats. The second row is hospitable to child-safety seats — even a rear-facing infant-safety seat — despite the lower Latch anchors being wedged into the seat bight, where the back and bottom cushions meet. The seats recline, allowing a good fit for the car seats, and the tether anchors are high on the seatbacks.
The Pathfinder has standard four-wheel drive, antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, an electronic stability system with traction control, a backup camera and six airbags, including side curtains for all three rows of seats.
Get more safety information about the 2011 Nissan Pathfinder Silver Edition here.