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All-new Nissan 4x4 driven

2005-06-10 07:33

New Pathfinder to rival Land Rover Discovery

John Oxley

It wasn't so much the fact that we were going down a slippery, rock-strewn 45-degree hill that got me thinking. It was the easy way we were doing it.

The big Pathfinder's sequential auto box was locked up in first, the fat V6 engine was purring away gently, and every now and again I eased on the brakes to slow things down to a walking pace.

It was hot outside, the jungle-like vegetation in George's Valley just outside Tzaneen in Polokwane Province lush and verdant, the outside temperature display showing 30 degrees C - but inside everything was cool, including me behind the wheel.

There were a lot of other tests like that - never enough given that this was a one-day launch, but sufficient for me to realise that the Pathfinder seems as capable as its natural competitors, the Toyota Prado and Land Rover Discovery III.


And in every other area where it will be asked to compete, such as quality of fit and finish, luxury, space, and especially sheer on and off-road presence, the Pathfinder also comes up trumps.

Add in the versatility of fold-flat seating - same as on the Disco - and room for seven people, and the Nissan product adds a new dimension to the off-road arena.

There are three models currently on offer in this fully imported 4x4, all with the same levels of comfort, the same interior and exterior fittings, the same wheels and tyres, and no badges except for "Nissan" and "Pathfinder".

Two are diesels, both with Nissan's latest 128 kW 2.5-litre turbo-charged and intercooled common rail four-cylinder motor, with either 6-speed manual or 5-speed Tiptronic auto 'boxes, while the range-topper has a 4-litre DOHC V6 derived from that fitted in the Nissan 350Z sports car, and punching out a massive 198 kW.

And they certainly are NOT cheap and nasty, but packed with all the comfort, safety, and driving features expected in cars in the R400K bracket, which is where they fall.

As with the 350Z Nissan has resisted the temptation to slash its prices to compete, but instead is offering its new products at realistic price levels that will enable the company to grow.

Sales forecast

Nissan SA officially plans to sell around 150 Pathfinders a month, but behind the scenes marketers would not be surprised if this went closer to the 200 mark - or even more. Neither would I.

Although essentially designed in the US - where it's also built for US markets - the Pathfinder for SA is made in Spain, in the same plant that used to make the Torrano 4x4.

And it is built on one of the strongest chassis around, Nissans F-Alpha platform that was originally designed for the made-in-US Titan V8 4x4, a "full-size" American pickup.

For the Pathfinder the platform is the same width as on the Titan, but shorter control arms are used to make the track narrower.

And because it's lighter and its engine has less torque than the Titan's mighty V8, the Pathfinder frame is made from thinner steel to reduce weight.

Clad onto this platform is a great-looking body, ultra-modern, long and sleek, with big flared wheel arches containing 17 inch alloy wheels shod with fat 255/65 R17 rubber, 234mm ground clearance, and short front and rear overhangs that allow a 33 degree approach angle and 26 degree departure angle. Wading depth is 450mm.

Bold grille

The grille is brash and bold, with twin wide chromed vertical slats flanking a prominent Nissan badge, big headlamps, and black mesh inserts.

From the side the Pathfinder appears long but well -proportioned thanks to the large window areas, while roof rails add the necessary touch of machismo.

The back could be plain, but an "off-square" rear window and a double crease in the lift-up door, plus large taillights, prevent this.

The full-size spare is housed at the rear of the car, underneath and outside.

Exterior features include an upper/lower split tailgate, sunroof, two adjustable roof rails that can carry up to 100 kg, side steps, mud flaps and front fog lamps.

The interior

Inside the accent is on luxury.

It starts with a full leather interior, while the dashboard is trimmed with a combination of mock aluminium and mock wood to give an upmarket appearance.

Neatly laid-out, it features a large dropdown glovebox on the passenger side, then a prominent central console which also contains the 6-CD front-loader/radio and controls for the dual zone aircon/heating system. The driver can also separately adjust heat/cooling to the rear seats.

In front of the driver is a deeply recessed instrument binnacle containing two large dials containing the speedo and revcounter, flanked by smaller water temperature and fuel gauges.

An LCD panel inset into the rev counter shows time, plus 4x4 mode selection.

The Pathfinder has three 4x4 modes.


For best economy it can be left in 2H, in which case it drives through the independently sprung rear wheels - the best mode for driving on dry tarmac.

Or you can switch to AUTO, in which case the system automatically manages torque distribution to the wheels.

As much as 50% of the drive will go to the front wheels on demand should wheels start to spin, or as much as 100% can be shunted to the rear. Great for travelling on wet tar or smooth and fast dirt roads.

Or you can switch to 4H, in which case the power is split equally between the front and rear wheels.

Finally, for rough stuff, you push in the switch before locking it over to 4LO, in which case low range is selected and the gearbox won't shift up even if revs climb.

In 2H, AUTO or 4H the Pathfinder retains full use of electronic stability control and traction control - Nissan calls its version Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC).

However, this switches off in 4LO to be replaced by Nissan's patented Active Brake Limited Assist (ABLS) function which uses the brakes to stop a spinning wheel and ensure the car always retains some drive, without power being cut by the VDC.

Steering wheel

But I digress - back to the interior. The steering wheel is shod with perforated leather, and has three alloy-look spokes. Satellite controls for the radio/CD changer are inset into the left-hand horizontal spoke, and speed control buttons on the right.

The steering column adjusts manually for height, while the driver's seat can be electrically adjusted for reach, height, and backrest angle.

There are map lights in the front and an electro chromatic rear view mirror with compass digital display.

Naturally there are electric windows front and rear, and electrically adjusted mirrors.

The dashboard has a split-level glove box, a large capacity console box, storage space on either side of the third row of seats as well as hidden storage under the second row of seats for valuables.

A centre console incorporates cup holders in front and more cup holders as well as air conditioner controls at the rear, and there's a spectacles holder above the rear-view mirror.

The interior has three rows of seats accommodating seven people, with the second and third rows able to fold flat into the floor to create a very big load area. The front passenger seat also folds flat to allow for objects 2.8m long.

The seats fold down individually with a total of 64 different loading configurations, and the flat load space floor has 12 hooks to secure a cargo-retaining net, while the cargo cover can be moved between either the third or second row seats to ensure luggage is concealed even if the rearmost seats are flat.

The rear glass hatch opens for easy access to the rear luggage area in tight spaces.

Under the skin

Top motor is the 4-litre 24-valve DOHC V6, with 198 kW at 5 600 r/min and 385 Nm at 4 000 r/min. Nissan claims a top speed, at sea level, of 190 km/h with 0-100 km/h in 8.8 seconds, and overall fuel consumption of 13.5 litres/100 km for this one.

Then there's the all-new 2.5-litre four-cylinder intercooled turbo-diesel which develops 128 kW at 4 000 r/min and 403 Nm at 2 000 r/min, and features second-generation common-rail direct injection technology for lower emissions.

Claimed top speed on the manual is 175 km/h (versus 174 for the auto) with 0-100 km/h in 11.5 seconds and 11.6 seconds respectively.

Overall consumption on the manual is 9 litres/100 km, with 10.1 in the auto.

Towing capacity is 3 000kg (unbraked).

Suspension sees independent suspension all round, the front with double wishbones and coil over shock springing, the rear with a multi-link setup with coils.

There are 296 mm vented disc brakes in front and 308 mm vented discs combined with drums for the handbrake at the rear.

The ABS is boosted by Nissan Brake Assist, EBD (Electronic Brake force Distribution) and ABLS (Active Brake Limited Assist).

Rack and pinion steering is power assisted with a turning circle (curb to curb) of 11.9m and 3.6 turns lock to lock.


These days owners demand as much safety from their 4x4s as they do from their cars, and Nissan obliges by offering front seatbelts with pre-tensioners, side impact bars, driver and passenger front airbags, side thorax airbags and curtain airbags.

In the event of a side impact or if an impending rollover is detected, the roof-mounted curtain airbags are deployed. These remain inflated long enough to help provide all three rows of outer passengers enhanced protection.

Security is provided by remote central locking and an immobiliser.

The Pathfinder is covered by Nissan's 3-year or 100 000 km warranty.


Nissan is trying hard with its latest new vehicles, slowly introducing new models that each time are class-leading, and the same applies with the Pathfinder.

Nissans have always been tough, and no other segment demands greater toughness than off-roading, so the Pathfinder is already off to a good start.

But what's new is that the Pathfinder is a beautiful, desirable, and extremely comfortable car that handles superbly on tarmac while having all the necessary attributes off-road.

At the same time off-roading has been simplified thanks to Nissan's electronically controlled 4x4 system, and made comfortable by the adoption of all-round independent suspension.

Now all that remains is to get bums into seats....


  • Pathfinder 4.0 V6 4x4 AT R424 800
  • Pathfinder 2.5DCi 4x4 MT R398 800
  • Pathfinder 2.5DCi 4x4 AT R418 800.

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