Words by Grant Spolander Pictures by Grant Spolander and Craig Fox
The Nissan Pathfinder is frequently criticised as a softie 4×4. I know this because I’m often the one making the accusation. But on a recent trip to the Baviaanskloof I realised the problem wasn’t with the vehicle, it was with me. When I originally tested the Pathfinder 2.5-litre (see page 74 in our October ’10 issue) I was so focused on the vehicle’s weaknesses that I failed to appreciate its strengths, or more importantly, what it was designed to do.
Although the Pathfinder sports low-range the purpose of this vehicle is not to drive Baboon’s Pass or conquer grade 5 trails. No, the Pathfinder was designed to offer space, comfort and driving pleasure.
On hardcore trails the Pathfinder’s low running boards, poor clearances and soft suspension setup count against it; however, when you analyse the vehicle’s super-supple suspension on the appropriate terrain – gravel – the Pathfinder’s true nature is revealed: it’s an overlander.
Whether it be graded gravel, corrugations or badly rutted roads the Pathfinder’s compliant suspension soaks up the bumps with ease, offering a comfortable, surefooted ride that’s particularly relaxing on the long haul. And if things get a little tougher, you have the bonus of low-range gearing to back you up.
When you consider the Pathfinder’s specific suspension setup, respectable fuel economy (10.2 l / 100 km), praiseworthy tank volume (80 litres) and high payload capacity (827 kg as quoted by the licence disc) you’ll be further convinced of this vehicle’s suitability as a family-carrying gravel traveller.
I was particularly impressed by the Pathfinder’s versatile seat folding configuration: the second row can fold partly flat, fully flat or flip all the way forward, while the third row can fold flush with the floor boards. The vehicle also sports ample 12 V plug points – two upfront and one in the boot – and a phenomenal boot capacity, a cavernous 2 091 litres behind the first row.
On-road, the Pathfinder’s 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel engine provides ample overtaking performance, thanks to its generous power and torque: 170 kW @ 3 750 rpm and 550 Nm @ 1 750 rpm respectively. The vehicle’s 7-speed automatic gearbox also makes for a great low-revving unit, but it’s a bit too slow to downshift.
The only setback to the Pathfinder V9X is its lofty R652 000 price tag. And although this does represent a lot of money, especially for a vehicle so similar to its bakkie brother (Navara), the V9X does offer dozens of standard fit luxury features like satellite navigation, 7” VGA touch screen, 9.8 GB hard-disk drive, 9-speaker Bose audio system, rear-view camera, iPod connectivity and much, much more.
If you consider all its attributes, a clear picture of the Pathfinder’s purpose, strengths and abilities comes to view; basically, it’s a family-friendly SUV with terrific overlanding potential. What’s more, although it may not be a die-hard trail blazer in standard form, it doesn’t take much to transform the Pathfinder into a capable off-roader. A suspension upgrade should do the trick.