Introduction

For the first time in its 22-year history, Nissan is offering a V-8 engine in the mid-size, three-row Pathfinder SUV. The base engine remains the excellent and powerful 4.0-liter V-6 with 266 horsepower. Completely redesigned in 2005, the Pathfinder enters 2008 with not only a new, 310-hp V-8 but also a host of exterior and interior design changes.

Built on the same F-Alpha body-on-frame platform that underpins the Nissan Xterra and the Nissan Frontier, the Pathfinder is solid and sturdy, but it is a bit heavier than some of the newer crossover (unibody) sport-utility vehicles. The driving experience is sportier than the truckish body-on-frame architecture might lead one to believe, however. Pathfinders have good steering, strong brakes, and feel well built. Adding a V-8 gives the Pathfinder impressive acceleration and boosts towing capacity to 7000 pounds.

The popularity of crossover utility vehicles has eaten into the Pathfinder’s traditional body-on-frame SUV segment, and the number of vehicles that compete against the Pathfinder continues to dwindle. Direct competitors (mid-size body-on-frame sport-utility vehicles) to the Pathfinder include the Chevrolet TrailBlazer, Ford Explorer, GMC Envoy, Toyota 4Runner, and upcoming Kia Borrego. The Pathfinder is a standout in its segment, thanks to its two powerful engines and its combination of decent on-road refinement and capability.

Pathfinders come in six different trim levels—S, SE V-6, SE Off Road, SE V-8, LE V-6, and LE V-8—that encompass everything from the very basic to the off-road ready to luxurious and leather-lined. The S and the SE Off Road are V-6 only; the SE Off Road is 4WD only.

Verdict

The Pathfinder might not have the lighter structure and overtly carlike demeanor of a crossover utility vehicle, but it does offer a tougher look, excellent steering and handling, and the choice of two terrific and beefy engines. For those still shopping for a traditional SUV with three rows, the Pathfinder is among the best in its segment.

What’s New for 2008

For 2008, the Pathfinder gets a revised interior that includes a richer-looking center console and instrument gauges. Other changes include new front and rear fascias and new wheel designs that attempt to give the Pathfinder a more up-to-date look. New optional equipment includes the 310-hp, 5.6-liter V-8 and a 9.3-gigabyte music storage system.

Trim Levels

At the bottom of the Pathfinder lineup is the S model that starts at $26,665 for rear-wheel drive (2WD) and $28,665 for the four-wheel-drive (4WD) version. Standard equipment on the S includes the 266-hp, 4.0-liter V-6; a five-speed automatic transmission; stability control; anti-lock brakes; tire-pressure monitoring; front-seat active head restraints and seatbelt pretensioners; 16-inch aluminum wheels; roof rails; a towing hitch; air conditioning; power windows, doors, and locks; remote keyless entry; a theft alarm; cruise control; three-row seating; cloth upholstery; and an AM/FM/CD stereo with six speakers.

The next step up is the SE V-6 that costs $29,965 with 2WD and $31,965 with 4WD; the SE V-8 begins at $31,565 for 2WD and $33,815 for 4WD. SE models add fog lights, a backup camera, an eight-way power driver’s seat, power-adjustable pedals, auto dual-zone climate control, rear-seat air conditioning, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, steering-wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls, and an auxiliary music input. The SE V-6 gets 17-inch aluminum wheels; the SE V-8 gets 18-inch aluminum wheels.

For the buyer who intends to take his or her Pathfinder off-road or just wants a sportier look, Nissan offers the SE Off Road, which starts at $34,875. In addition to the equipment that comes on the SE V-6 trim level, the SE Off Road adds standard 4WD, heavy-duty Bilstein shocks, hill-descent and hill-ascent control, 16-inch aluminum wheels with off-road-ready tires, skid plates, a power sunroof, XM satellite radio, and a 10-speaker Bose stereo system with AM/FM/CD and auxiliary capabilities.

For those seeking luxury, a Pathfinder in LE V-6 or LE V-8 trim should fill the bill.

Rear-drive models start at $35,765 for the LE V-6 and $37,465 for the LE V-8; 4WD is a $2200 option on both. LE models come with everything that is standard on the SE trim levels and add a power sunroof, automatic headlights, leather trim for the first and second rows, heated front seats and exterior mirrors, front-seat-mounted side-impact airbags, three-row curtain airbags, wood-tone trim, a 10-speaker Bose stereo system with AM/FM/CD and auxiliary capability, XM satellite radio, and a four-way power passenger seat. Aside from the powertrain differences, the LE V-6 comes with 17-inch aluminum wheels and the LE V-8 comes with 18-inch aluminum wheels.

Optional Equipment

The Pathfinder S only offers two options: 4WD ($2000) and a side-airbag package ($700) that has front-seat-mounted side-impact airbags and a three-row curtain airbag.

SE V-6 and SE V-8 models offer 4WD ($2000 on V-6 models and $2250 on V-8 versions), XM satellite radio ($150), White Frost pearlescent paint ($300), the Premium package (10-speaker Bose stereo, automatic headlights, and power sunroof) for $1850, the Side Air Bags package ($700), the Leather package (leather-trimmed first- and second-row seats, heated front seats and outside mirrors, power four-way passenger seat) for $1850, and the rear-seat Nissan DVD Entertainment package that adds a roof-mounted seven-inch LCD, a DVD player, and two headphones for $1600. Buyers interested in the SE Off Road model will face the same choices as SE V-6 and SE V-8 buyers minus the not-available pearlescent paint. The Premium package and XM satellite radio are standard on the SE Off Road.

The luxurious LE model comes very well equipped and offers but a handful of options. These include 4WD ($2200); the Nissan Navigation package with a seven-inch touch screen ($2400), Bluetooth hands-free phone capability, keyless start, and a hard-drive-based music storage system; the Nissan DVD Entertainment package; and White Frost pearlescent paint.

Safety

Dual front airbags, front seatbelt pretensioners, front-seat active headrests, four-wheel anti-lock brakes, stability control, and tire-pressure monitoring are standard across the Pathfinder lineup. Front-seat-mounted side impact airbags and three-row curtain airbags are standard on the LE V-6 and LE V-8 and optional on all other Pathfinder models for $700.

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