Nissan has gone big with its trucks and SUVs lately. The Titan is enormous. The Armada is titanic. Even the Xterra has grown terribly. That leaves the 2006 Nissan Pathfinder SE Off Road somewhere in the middle of the SUV lineup -- still big, but not the biggest, a tailored fit in a one-size-fits-all world. With a base price of $31,450, the 2006 Nissan Pathfinder SE Off Road comes with a 3 year/36,000 mile basic warranty, a 5 year/60,000 mile powertrain warranty and an EPA estimate of 15 mpg city/21 mpg highway. Is the Pathfinder the just right fit for you?
I'll say this for the Nissan designers -- they are bold. There's nothing timid about Pathfinders sharp edged, slab-sided aesthetic. It's assertive and masculine, and definitely part of the Nissan family of SUVs and trucks. Though they don't share many body parts, the Pathfinder, Xterra and Armada share styling cues from stem to stern. A few of the styling choices are odd and a little questionable -- for instance, the location of the rear passenger door handles. Instead of a traditional beltline height handle, the Pathfinder has a shoulder height release that is too high for kids and some small adults to reach, and certainly difficult to operate if you have an armload of something -- say, a toddler. I guess there are some advantages to having a sleek high handle in the brush, but my guess is that very few Pathfinders will spend much time in the heavy thicket.
There's some great exterior styling, as well. I love the big headlights, the big taillights and the overall excellent visibility of the Pathfinder. The vehicle overall is very nicely proportioned, a better look than the hulking Armada or the chunky Xterra to my eyes, and more distinctive than much of the competition. Fit and finish are excellent, with deep paint and uniform gaps and seams. The 17" wheels look good in the wheel wells, and 9.1" ground clearance gives a real off road-ready look to the Pathfinder.
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In the Driver's Seat
A simple, straightforward dash.Photo © Jason Fogelson
It's a bit of a climb to perch in the comfy Pathfinder driver's seat, but it's worth the haul. There's a commanding view of the road from way up there, and the windshield feels as big as the great outdoors. Nissan hasn't succumbed to the overstuffed seat yet, which is a good thing -- the Pathfinder's seats are firm and supportive, and good for the long haul. With tilt and telescope adjustment to the steering wheel and adjustable height pedals, I had no problem finding a comfortable driving position in the Pathfinder.
Pathfinder has one of the simplest, most straightforward dashboards you're going to find these days. Important gauges are clustered above the steering wheel below a simple arch. Climate and audio controls are on the center stack, with big rotary knobs and a minimum of fuss. Open cubby holes are lined with non-skid pads, so when you toss your sunglasses into a slot, they stay there.
The second row is roomy and simple as well, with a fairly flat bench seat that splits 60/40 for access to the third row. The third row is, well, for misbehaving children and other relatives. Don't put me back there, please. I promise I'll be good.
On the Road
It doesn't seem fair to test a vehicle with the words "Off Road" printed on its side without taking it off of the road -- but that's what I did. I drove the Pathfinder as most of us would -- on the freeway, through city traffic and down suburban streets. You know what? It didn't seem to miss the dirt that much. It performed admirably, powered by a 4.0 liter V6 that cranks out 270 hp and 291 lb-ft of torque. Considering the nearly two and a half ton curb weight (4859 lbs), Pathfinder's five-speed automatic transmission did a good job of keeping the engine in the powerband so that it never felt overmatched.
Handling is surprisingly good, with four-wheel independent suspension and electronic stability control. Still, there are tradeoffs for the off-road ability -- a rather stiff ride at times, and a bit more body roll (due to the high center of gravity) than I like. You want to do all of your braking in a straight line in the Pathfinder, and haul down from speed before you try and take a corner. That's not bad advice in any vehicle, actually, but it's particularly apt with a big, heavy SUV that's perched up on its frame rails.
I would love to take a Pathfinder on a long adventure that takes me down dusty trails and across mountain streams. This is an SUV that gives you the distinct impression that it can go anywhere, and keep you safe and comfortable doing it.
Big taillights are great for visibility.Photo © Jason Fogelson
If you're thinking of buying a Pathfinder, take a look at the entire lineup. You can really save some money by choosing a less-fully equipped model, like the base XE, which can price out at $10,000 less than the loaded SE Off Road. If you never plan to go off roading, you'll get a smoother everyday ride from an XE or LE model than the Off Road versions. Take a look at the Xterra
(smaller and cheaper) and Armada
(bigger and more expensive) as well, and see if either one of them suits your needs. You'll get a lot of the same styling cues, but with a whole different host of features.
The mid-size SUV market is vibrant and crowded, with plenty of excellent choices from several manufacturers. I'm partial to the Toyota 4Runner -- my daily driver is a 1994 4Runner named "Moose." The Ford Explorer has lots of fans, and is available in a wide selection of trim and equipment choices. Check out the GMC Envoy, Chevrolet Trailblazer and Honda Pilot as well.
For a vehicle that started out as a two-door in 1986, the Pathfinder has come a long way. The 1986 Pathfinder would hardly recognize the 2006 edition. Actually, I'm not sure if the 1986 edition of me would recognize the 2006 edition either, so I'd better not go there. Consider the 2006 Pathfinder as it is today, and see what you think.