Sometimes if you can’t find a path you just have to make a new one and that’s exactly what Nissan did back in 1986 when it released the first generation Pathfinder. Now, three generations of Pathfinder later Nissan are still cutting that same path towards a large SUV that mixes a comfortable, well-equipped interior with rolled-up-sleeves off-road ability. For 2010, the third-gen Pathfinder has received a facelift that has brought aesthetic and mechanical upgrades to the single-variant model. So how good is this refreshed bastion of boxy styling? Car and SUV made tracks in the new Pathfinder 450T to find out.
Externally, it’s not immediately obvious that anything has changed with the no-nonsense design, but a closer look reveals some subtle differences. The facelifted Pathfinder is 80mm longer than its predecessor thanks to a new, more pronounced front bumper. The bonnet and grille are also new and Xenon headlamps have been added which boast auto leveling and headlight washers hidden in the bumper mouldings. Elsewhere the Pathfinder’s styling is generally straightforward and almost timeless in its traditional SUV two-box shape. One interesting design detail is the high, vertically mounted rear door handles that certainly look cool but may prove difficult to reach for children or midgets. Our NZ-spec Pathfinder is better dressed than most and comes with integrated roof rails, front fog lamps, side-steps and 17″ alloys which finish off the distinctive look.
Jump into the Pathfinder cabin and what’s immediately noticeable is the cavernous space, it’s wide and very long. Three passengers can fit on the rear seat with plenty of shoulder and legroom and air-con vents in the ceiling will keep them cool too. If that’s not enough the Pathfinder also comes with a third row of seats that easily fold flat into the floor to create a massive luggage area. The middle row can also be folded flat to make a 2-metre long loading bay — perfect for large cargo or taking a nap.
For the driver the Pathfinder cabin offers commanding visibility and well placed gauges with user-friendly controls. All seats are finished in soft leather and the front seats are heated and power adjustable. The facelift has brought new door trims and a revised instrument cluster to help create a low-key but high quality feel. The Pathfinder’s standard equipment list is lengthy and includes an intelligent key system, Bluetooth phone system, trip computer, 6-speaker CD stereo, dual-zone climate control, cruise control and a power sunroof. What is notably absent are parking sensors which would be handy on a vehicle of this size and are generally expected in this price bracket. Overall, it’s a spacious, easy-to-use cabin with a practical focus that’s evident in the large split glove box, plenty of cupholders and enough room for seven adults or almost anything you want to move around.
More intense changes have taken place under the bonnet where Nissan has reworked its 2.5-litre turbocharged diesel engine but peak power has been boosted up to 140kW and peak torque is now 450Nm. These figures represent an 11% and 12% improvement respectively over the Pathfinder’s predecessor, which is significant enough to be felt in the vehicles performance. The XL-size serving of torque means the Pathfinder moves swiftly off the line for a big vehicle and doesn’t lack mid range grunt during open road driving. The upgraded engine has also increased braked-towing capacity to 3,000kg. To achieve the power increases Nissan redesigned the cylinder head and has upgraded the fuel injectors and turbocharger. The four-cylinder engine is now very smooth and unobtrusive during regular with a relaxed character that lets it get around in high gears making use of its generous low-range torque.
The engine is exclusively mated to a five-speed auto transmission. It’s not the most advanced gearbox around but is a good match and offers smooth and low-key gear changes. If you want to hold the Pathfinder in a lower gear or just have greater control there is a manual mode available through the gear stick. The extra power hasn’t come at the cost of fuel economy, with the Pathfinder returning a 9.0l/100km figure on the combined cycle.
In terms of on-road dynamics the Pathfinder handles itself well but can’t defy the physics involved in having 2,221kg of metal riding at a high ground clearance. The Pathfinder shares the same ladder frame platform as its Navara stablemate but uses multi-link rear suspension instead of a leaf spring set up. The result is an easy and predictable vehicle to drive, there is some unavoidable body roll as the Pathfinder leans into corners, but it’s rarely short of grip even in challenging conditions. The steering too has little that’s agricultural about it, being accurate and light but not showing signs of the vagueness that burdens some large SUVs. Ride comfort isn’t bad either with the Patrol floating over most bumps in the road and while the engine can be noisy outside the vehicle, inside it’s well suppressed.
Like any serious SUV to explore its full skill set it has to be taken off road and that’s where the Pathfinder has proven pedigree. Its truck underpinnings, 228mm ground clearance, low range gears and ample low down torque make it well suited to difficult terrain. A rotary dial in the Pathfinder cabin can change the vehicle from 2WD to 4WD Auto and on to 4WD high and for the real tough stuff 4WD low. In the ‘Auto’ 4WD mode the Pathfinder gets clever and uses lateral G-force and yaw rate sensors to ensure optimum power is put to the correct wheel.
For safety the Pathfinder does more than just rely on its sheer brute size it also has electronic aides including a full electronic stability programme, ABS brakes with brake assist, hill descent control and hill start assist. If things go really wrong there are front, side and curtain airbags and seatbelt pretensioners ready to pop off.
What’s the verdict on the refreshed Nissan Pathfinder?
Firstly, it’s a very successful facelift for the model, the styling has been nicely tweaked and the increase in power noticeably improves its dynamic capabilities. Away from the changes it’s business as usual with the Pathfinder providing a good mix of family-friendly practicality and everyday drivability. There are some concessions that come with the vehicle’s burly size like urban maneuverability and blind spots created by the C and D pillars but it’s still very competent on-road. That said, it needs to be taken off the tarmac to really release it’s full potential, if you’re not planning on doing that, it may pay to seek out a cheaper more road-focused SUV. But if you’re looking for a spacious, well-equipped vehicle with true go-anywhere ability then the Pathfinder remains worthy of serious consideration.
What we like:
- Strong diesel engine
- Good on-road dynamics
- Spacious and well-equipped cabin
- Clever AWD system
What we don’t like:
- Thick C and D pillars cause blind spots
- No reversing sensors or camera
- High-mounted rear door handles aren’t that practical
Words and Photos: Adam Mamo
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Nissan Pathfinder 450T (2010) – Specifications
2.5 Litre 4 Cyl, Common Rail Diesel, DOHC, 16 Valve, Turbocharger, Intercooler
Max power (kW @ rpm) 140@4000
Max torque (Nm @ rpm) 450@2000
Bore x Stroke (mm) 89 x 100
Compression Ratio 15
Electronic Direct-Injection (M-FIRE) – NEO Di
Fuel Type – Diesel
Fuel Tank Capacity (litres) 80
Fuel Consumption (L/100km) ADR 9.0
CO2 Emissions (g/km) LTNZ Standard 235
Overall Length (bumper to bumper) (mm) 4813
Overall Width (excluding mirrors) (mm) 1848
Overall Height (mm) 1781
Wheelbase (mm) 2853
Front Track (mm) 1570
Rear Track (mm) 1570
Minimum Turning Circle (m) 11.9
Ground Clearance (mm) 228
Approach Angle (degrees) 30
Departure Angle (degrees) 26