2011 Nissan Pathfinder – Finding its path on the road

We recently spent a week with the 2011 Nissan Pathfinder and put the on-road side of the vehicle to the test by driving it around the city. We experienced the dynamic personality of the car and encountered lots of good and some bad habits. The generous supply of power and torque resulted in an exhilarating drive, but unfortunately it was not so generous on our wallets, as fuel turned out to be the Pathfinder’s favorite drink. On our way, we also did some shopping with a group of people, got stuck in a traffic jam, and of course, parked and maneuvered the large SUV, everywhere.
 
The Pathfinder looks like an epic, off-road vehicle that will take you where you want to go and yet there are interior luxuries and some exterior characteristics that in a way defy its off-road appearance. For your off-road craving you have the running boards, roof rack, skid plate, rear hitch and 4WD Hi & Lo modes. If you are staying in the city for the long weekend then you get all the creature comforts you want, including automatic windows, dual climate control, speed sensitive volume control, adjustable pedals, steering wheel heating, and of course, leather everything. So what is the Pathfinder really designed to be?

Walking around
 
Manufactured since 1986, the 2011 Nissan Pathfinder is in its third generation with an appearance that hasn’t changed much since about six years ago when it first appeared on public roads. Mechanically and electronically it is by far superior to its predecessors.
 
Starting from the front of the vehicle, the traditional Nissan ‘fang’ grille with an oversized mesh shines its chrome at you, along with a large badge that resonates with the scale of the car.

From the side, the massive wheel arches extend outwards and allows for a fair amount of tire clearance, giving the vehicle its off-road looks and more ground clearance. The LE model is equipped with stunning, 18 inch rims that enhance the appearance even more. In the between you will find the side sills that rest on gray running boards that are there to do more than help you get in, they also work as a height enabler, enabling you to easily access anything that you decide to transport using the built in roof-rack. A unique feature of the Pathfinder is its rear door handle that is mounted vertically along the C-pillar.


Getting in
The soft leather seats and the leather wrapped steering wheel feel great and it looks like there is an umpteen amount of space with most of the controls visible and within hand’s reach. Lots of storage compartments, two cup-holders that can each hold a bucket, and sweet wooden trim all around make you feel a little special. The massive windshield and a higher stance provide excellent visibility and translate into much better awareness of the road and its surroundings. Looking back, you realize that there is even more space that this beast holds for its rear passengers and cargo of any dimension. We did note however that an adult of any size in the backseat is bound to feel like a child as the Pathfinder has a really high floor at the back leaving little space for stretching those legs. Along the top you will find a decent sized moon-roof, rear climate controls and vents, and a DVD entertainment system.

On the inside
 
After the initial look-around, all the details start surfacing as you start playing around and pushing all the buttons that you see. The symmetrical layout is well made and is very pleasing to the eye. The centre console, however, that spreads its knobs far apart, is a little tricky to control. It was tough to control the volume and browse the tracks because the knobs were positioned such that one would always be mixing them up with climate controls. So instead of turning up the volume, we would turn up the heat, which proved very annoying at times but very appropriate on cold, sleepy mornings.
Media, climate, navigation, drivetrain, and the traction system buttons are all spread out accordingly from top to the very bottom. The 7" touch-screen display that is the interface with the onboard computer is positioned deep in the dashboard preventing its touch sensitive capabilities to be used efficiently. The whole interface felt a little outdated starting from the GPS map that was poorly rendered. The header that displays the tiny analog clock along with the outside temperature can disappear when accessing certain menus, leaving you with no sense of time.

Overall, the onboard computer proved to be really useful displaying such vital information as maintenance schedules, fuel economy and media information. There was also an oil pressure gauge and a battery meter present within the cluster, creating an impression that this vehicle is for the serious driver who appreciates knowing what’s going on under the hood. Overall, it felt like the Pathfinder was torn between two identities, unsure of who it really wants to be.


Driving experience
 
Driving the 2011 Nissan Pathfinder was an interesting experience that revealed the weight and the power of the vehicle. Operating in 2WD – with an AUTO, 4HI and 4LO modes available with a twist of a knob – the Pathfinder felt like a pretty heavy vehicle that was pushing a lot of weight. Standing on the same frame that some of Nissan’s trucks are built on, called a full-length boxed frame, the vehicle felt very rigid on the road; but when it came to bumps, you could feel them all throughout. Equipped with independent suspension, the handling wasn’t as precise as expected, but in general, it proved to be a very smooth, relatively quiet and comfortable ride.
Having electronically adjustable pedals, tilt steering column and an eight way adjustable driver’s seat, it was sheer pleasure to travel long distances. The Pathfinder easily turns you into a confident driver with its six standard airbags, four vehicle control systems (VDC, ABS, ABLS, EBD) and frontal visibility that won’t make you look twice. It was however a little challenging to change lanes as blind spots were difficult to see due to the privacy glass and large B-Pillars. Soon, we learned to use the large mirrors to their full potential by adjusting them a little further outwards in order to boost visibility. Making visibility matters of the rear completely possible was a rearview camera that comes standard on the Pathfinder.
Spirited driving was also a pleasant experience as the engine produces 266 horsepower and 288 lb-ft of torque at higher RPMs. Gearshifts were smooth but sometimes we would find the vehicle not using all of its five speeds and climbing hills in lower gears. Nissan also equipped the Pathfinder with a manual gear overdrive system that allows you to downshift or upshift on demand. The system worked well but it still felt that sometimes the computer made the final decision for you regardless of your input. Overall, the Nissan pathfinder felt like a solid heavy duty roller standing up to its capability of towing up to 6,000 lbs.

Conclusion
 
The 2011 Nissan Pathfinder has two personalities one of which is an off-road, adventure vehicle that is simple and practical, and the other, a comfortable and sophisticated city machine that will take you anywhere you want to go in great comfort. After driving the vehicle and discovering its on-road personality and features it was clear that despite its name, the Pathfinder was designed with an emphasis on on-road transportation and creature comforts. No assumption will be made with regards to the off-road performance of the vehicle, but from the drivetrain and platform standpoint, the Pathfinder shows lots of potential.
 
Slava Motovilov is a member of AUTOMOTIVE.alliedfusion.com
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