For some inexplicable reason, Nissan has long been one of my favourite car manufacturers, standing head and shoulders over its Japanese competition and indeed many mainstream European brands in terms of image and products. I suspect that this has little to do with their successful (yet average) car line up, or the fact that a significant number of models are build in their Sunderland plant. No it is Nissan’s 4X4 focus which has won my admiration, as although there have been few big-hitters, their relentless pursuit of offering a size for all buyers in the face of market pressures has given a steady supply of quality second-hand vehicles for me to peruse online.
Before they joined the league of JLR owners, my next-door neighbours once owned a 1993 Nissan Patrol, with 3drs and in UN-spec white paintwork. I was fascinated with the car even as a young child, and even though they sold it after only a few years it made a pretty big impact on little me. Nissan UK’s line up still includes the Patrol, and in the last decade has encompassed the Terrano, X-Trail, Murano, Qashqai and Juke…as well as the model I will be reviewing here; the Pathfinder.
Sounding like a cheesy 1980’s Arnie flick, the Pathfinder was first launched in the United States back in 1986 as a competitor to the likes of the 4-Runner and Bronco II, and in 1990 was one of the first mid-sized SUV’s to offer a 4 door option. In order to compete better against the unconquerable Ford Explorer, the Pathfinder was redesigned in 1996 with a monocoque chassis, something that is found on nearly every SUV/crossover in today’s market, but at the time was quite rare and a trait only shared with models from Jeep.
However it was not until the 3rd generation of the car in 2005 when the Pathfinder first became part of Nissan’s UK line-up. In response to continued US market dominance of the Explorer, the Pathfinder had reverted to a truck platform; something which made the vehicle more profitable, but ultimately outdated as competitors quickly switched to car-based platforms in light of spiraling fuel prices and demand for better ride/handing. The new model, launched last year, has followed suit and in the process has become much more of a crossover compared to the 3rd gen model (to both acclaim and disdain by critics), but the car I would be getting would be one of the 2005-12 models…well actually the new model is not UK bound so this model is in the UK till it stops selling, but here we go…
One of the most appealing things about the Pathfinder, to me and many other buyers evidently, is the car’s macho styling. Keeping up the 80’s movies comparisons, I have read a review which describes the car (in white) as ‘a stormtroopers helmet on wheels’, and the car’s harsh angles and chunky details certainly make this an understandable comparison. The car actually looks bigger than its dimensions suggest, which is probably a good thing for me but can make the car a target of those who hate ‘gas guzzlers’ and the like. The Nissan is in fact pretty good on fuel, at least in the diesel model; manual cars get a respectable 31.4 mpg and automatics get by with a Discovery 3-beating 28 mpg combined. That said, neither gearbox is an ideal partner for the heavy Pathfinder…the six speed manual has been criticized as clunky and the 5 speed automatic is meant to be slow and unresponsive. For me neither of these is a massive issue, but when compared with the likes of the X5 which offer more power combined with comparable mpg and faster speeds it is not something that endears the car to me.
The driving experience is another area where the Pathfinder falls down to premium rivals, or so I am led to believe. Being based on the same platform as the Navara pickup means that handling is quite soft, and although the ride is better thanks to more sophisticated suspension, it still falls down to car-based rivals and even the heavy Disco 3 with its sophisticated chassis. However inside is where the Pathfinder starts to win many fans amongst buyers; the biggish dimensions allow for a 7 seat cabin (in most trim levels), and cars in SVE trim and up are treated to climate control, leather and the much-praised Nissan sat-nav which has featured in many more premium models across their US model range.
So good looking, well equipped, relatively economical and practical; one would imagine that the Pathfinder ticks all my boxes for what I am looking for in a car. Yet the lack of premium badge is the problem here…well not the lack of one per se, but more the fact that at this price range, competitors offer more sophisticated cars complete with a luxury badge. £7.5k buys a reasonably specced 2005 model with less than 100k on the clock, and whilst in isolation this is not bad at all, you can get an XC90 or even X5 for a similar amount. The Pathfinder’s problems are not to do with the car itself, but similar to the Santa Fe, the popularity of the car amongst used buyers.