1998 Nissan Pathfinder Reviews and Ratings

Utility 4D LE 2WD

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1998 Nissan Pathfinder
Ray Thursby

If sales figures are anything to go by, Nissan understands the dynamics of the sport-utility vehicle market. It

skillfully reacted to recent changes in the market by redesigning its Pathfinder for 1996. As it enters a third model

year, the Nissan Pathfinder can be considered a solid success. There have been minimal alterations to standard equipment

and prices have remained relatively constant.

Life was simpler when the original Pathfinder was introduced. At the time, it was little more than a Nissan pickup

truck with a glorified camper shell added. But it gave Nissan entry into the then-small sport-utility brigade.

Competition has grown since those days, as have customer expectations. It is no longer sufficient to build a vehicle

that carries people into the woods; any machine worthy of consideration nowadays has to get them in and out of the

wilderness comfortably, serve as daily transportation, and look good.

The current Pathfinder provides the SUV buyer with a sophisticated unit-body structure intended to be strong and quiet.

The suspension was designed to handle streets and trails alike. It's equipped with all the comforts of a loaded midsize

sedan along with the spaciousness of a station wagon. Getting those disparate virtues to coexist in a single vehicle is a

tall order.

It is an order filled, to varying degrees, by a number of SUVs. Competing in the Pathfinder's class are the Jeep

Cherokee, Ford Explorer/Mercury Mountaineer, Isuzu Rodeo, Honda Passport, GMC Jimmy, Chevy Blazer and Oldsmobile Bravada.

Though similar in purpose, each attempts to meet customer needs in distinctive ways. Walkaround
Nissan designed the Pathfinder to look less like a truck than the first generation. Rounded corners and passenger-car

proportions serve the Pathfinder well, as do curved roof pillars and horizontal body creases that emphasize length. The

rear door handles are camouflaged in the C-pillars. And all elements of the Pathfinder's exterior design are clean,

efficient and attractive.

Three trim levels comprise the Pathfinder line-up: base XE, SE and LE. The SE and LE carry more bright trim than most

passenger cars; grilles, bumper tops and running boards are plated or polished. Equivalent pieces on XE models are black,

creating an immediately apparent distinction between the models. Up-level versions ride on alloy wheels, while the XE's

steel rims are chrome-plated.

Pathfinder XE and LE trim levels are offered as rear- or four-wheel-drive models. All SE trim levels come four-wheel


Nissan's four-wheel-drive system is a part-time unit--the driver shifts between two- and four-wheel drive.

Shift-on-the-fly capability allows the driver to do this while the Pathfinder is in motion. A low-range transfer case is

provided for radical rock climbing.

Pathfinders run the gamut from relatively basic to fully loaded. All have a V6 engine, ABS, air conditioning, AM/FM/CD

stereo system and a rear washer/wiper as standard equipment. The loaded LE comes with power windows/mirrors/door locks,

leather seats and other convenience features. The other two models offer some of these features as options.

Ordering these extras is easy. Most of the desirable add-ons can be grouped in packages. A Convenience Package brings the XE within shouting distance of the LE, a Sport Package adds trim--and a limited-slip rear differential for 4x4 models. The SE can be ordered with leather upholstery and/or a sunroof. The LE offers an optional package that includes a sunroof and power front seats. Interior
Echoing the exterior design tilt toward passenger-car looks, the Pathfinder cabin has been brought a long way from its

truck-oriented roots. Granted, the seats are higher off the ground than they would be in a Nissan Altima, but the

dashboard, seats and other trim pieces seem to have been selected for looks rather than hose-it-out-when-dirty utility.

And that suits us just fine.

Getting in or out requires a long step up or down, but once inside you'll find all the right pieces in all the right

places. The speedometer, tachometer, water temperature and fuel level gauges are large and big buttons are used for the

necessary functions. Sensible rotary dials operate the climate control system. The radio buttons are a little too small,

and the electric mirror switches are hidden from view by the wheel, but Nissan's designers have done their work well.

A quiet, comfortable environment is one of the Pathfinder's greatest assets. The seats are as accommodating as they

appear to be. Plush pile carpeting is underfoot; SE and LE trim levels offer higher quality carpeting than the XE. An

excellent heating/ventilation/air conditioning system keeps interior temperatures at the desired level. This pleasant

environment is complemented with generous cargo space.

On the debit side, taller occupants may find a little less headroom than they'd like, and adults sitting in the rear seats will wish for more legroom.

All Pathfinders come well equipped, especially SE and LE trim levels. We prefer cloth upholstery in the SE--especially when climbing in on cold winter mornings. Seat heaters help warm the seats quickly. But we also like the upgraded trim, power glass sunroof and excellent Bose sound system found in the LE. Driving Impressions
If Nissan owners conform to the general SUV-buyer profile, most Pathfinders will spend the bulk of their lives on the

highway. We spent most of our test drive on paved roads. But a foray into the California desert, an unplanned run through

a mountain snowstorm, and several laps around an off-road obstacle course in Canada showed us the Pathfinder can go just

about anywhere.

The Pathfinder is a competent performer, especially in the highway cruise mode. Shorter occupants will find the step

up into the cabin a high one, even when accessory step rails are fitted. On the plus side, the Nissan is quiet, a benefit

of the Pathfinder's rigid unitized structure and well-placed sound insulation. It's also easy to drive. Soft springs and

generous wheel travel smooth out all but the worst bumps. In hard cornering, the body leans a fair amount, but this is

common to the sport-utility breed. The steering strikes a nice balance between precision and low effort.

The Pathfinder performs well even when packed with a full load of passengers and cargo. The engine is responsive and

quiet and it's strong enough to pull a 5000-pound trailer. At high altitudes it doesn't have the passing power of some

of its competitors.

The base 5-speed manual transmission shifts well, but we consider the 4-speed automatic (standard with the LE package)

a better all-around match to the Pathfinder's character. It upshifts smoothly and downshifts responsively, which makes

city driving easy. Automatics are preferred by many experienced drivers for off-road use.

The Pathfinder copes as well with sand, mud and snow as it does with pavement. Traction was never a problem, nor was stability--even when the side of a sand dune proved steeper than it looked.

Sport-utility vehicles are not noted for fuel efficiency. Our 18-mpg average during testing was par for the SUV course. Summary
There's no denying the Pathfinder has a lot going for it. Style, quality and comfort are provided in abundance,

combined with the stance and the hardware of a traditional go-anywhere vehicle.

The base price is attractive and the XE comes with all the basic necessities, But most Pathfinders will break the $25,000 barrier with ease. The tab goes even higher for 4x4 models with leather interiors.

It's a matter of common sense and dollars and cents. The Pathfinder is a good, solid machine that will go where you want within reason. It offers reliability and comfort. What gets added to that basic package of virtues is entirely up to you.

Model as tested
LE 4X4
Basic Warranty
3 years/36,000 miles
Assembled in
Kyushu, Japan
Destination charge
Gas guzzler tax
Base Price
Price as tested
Options as tested
Power sunroof, electrically adjustable front passenger seat

Model Line Overview
Model lineup
Safety equipment (standard)
Dual airbags
Safety equipment (optional)
3.3-liter sohc V6
4-speed automatic

Specifications as Tested
ABS, air conditioning, power windows, mirrors and door locks, cruise control, tilt steering column, split/folding rear seat, rear washer/wiper, AM/FM/CD stereo, tinted glass

Engine & Transmission
3.3-liter sohc V6
Drivetrain type
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
168 @ 4800
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)

Brakes, front/rear
Suspension, front
Suspension, rear
Live axle

Seating capacity
Head/hip/leg room, middle
Head/hip/leg room, front
Head/hip/leg room, rear

Fuel capacity
Trunk volume
Turning circle
Towing capacity
Track, front/rear
Ground clearance
Curb weight

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