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2010-11-15 08:38

FIND A WAY: Boosted by a new turbodiesel V6, Nissan’s Pathfinder is a spacious SUV for those users more intent on Kenton December vacations than Kgalagadi.

Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Nissan
Engine 3l V6 turbodiesel
Power 170kW @ 3 750r/min
Torque 550Nm @ 1 750r/min
Transmission Seven-speed auto
Zero To Hundred 8.9 sec
Top Speed 200km/h
Fuel Tank 80l
Fuel Consumption 9l/100km
Weight 2 260kg
Boot Size 515l
ABS Yes, with EBD
Airbags Six
Tyres 255/65R17
Front Suspension Double wishbone
Rear Suspension Multi-link
Service Intervals 15 000km
Service Plan 3 year/90 000km
Warranty 3 year/100 000km
Price R644 900
Rivals Toyota Prado, Land Rover Discovery 4, VW Touareg

Lance Branquinho

Nissan's Pathfinder, despite the company's Patrol station wagon still being available on special order, is to all intents and purposes the Japanese manufacturer's headline SUV offering in South Africa.

Earlier this year the Pathfinder benefited from an upgrade to its infotainment system and a vastly more powerful V6 turbodiesel engine was added to the range. This new model, called V9X, aims to siphon off market share from Toyota’s Prado and Land Rover’s Discovery 4.

It has a more sophisticated drivetrain than Toyota's Prado yet less off-road ability than either the Toyota and Discovery, does Nissan’s latest Pathfinder V9X make a compelling case for itself or not?


Nissan has always marketed (and priced) the Pathfinder as a premium SUV instead of a Fortuner rival. Its competitors are pencilled in to be Prado, Discovery 4 and VW’s Touareg – all hugely capable vehicles in their own right.

Our test unit was equipped with Nissan's new Premium Connect infotainment system and retails for R644 900 with very few optional feature boxes left to tick.

At this price, the Pathfinder competes with some rather accomplished SUV's, and one wonders if a bakkie-based vehicle really is capable of defending its premium SUV billing in such a competitive segment of the SUV market?


Image is (unfortunately) a primary factor in the buyer's rationale when customers consider a premium SUV. To this end the Pathfinder’s design is simple, uncluttered but well executed. It's distinguished by its large chromed grille and vertically integrated rear door releases the overall sheet-metal effect is neat. Despite lacking daytime running lights (featured on the Eurocentric Disco 4 and Touareg) it remains a rather attractive five-door SUV.

If the comparison is essentially Nipponese, well, it's much better looking than the latest Prado…

The tidy exterior styling and design extend to the interior, where the Pathfinder’s cabin architecture has always been one of its best selling points. The traditionally airy cabin, liberally littered with features (safety and convenience), has furniture that's easy to manipulate for seating requiremends and has been buoyed by enhanced infotainment technology as part of the V9X package.

PREMIUM PACKAGE: Pathfinder’s Premium Connect is a R25 000 upgrade and well worth it, adding every conceivable level of infotainment convergence.

Nissan's Premium Connect infotainment system is housed in a redesigned centre-stack. It relays its suite of features through a high-resolution touch-screen and the Premium Connect system does plenty. It stores 40GB of data, helps you reverse with confidence in a confined space (via a video camera) and entertains (or tests) your passengers with acoustically superb BOSE nine-speaker sound.

The SatNav system is brilliantly easy to use; the BOSE acoustics proved to be of orchestral quality.

If you're an outdoorsy type you’ll appreciate the Pathfinder’s ability to transform its cabin into a vast all-weather protected load area with ease.

The second-row seating tumbles forward to render a 2019-litre load volume which should be sufficient for even an elaborately kitted weekend away. In my experience the Pathfinder accommodated surfboards and mountain bikes with consummate ease, items I prefer to store inside instead of outside – primarily due to the risk (and fuel consumption penalty) of travelling at speed with a bike rack or surfboards on the roof.


An all-wheel independent suspension set-up has become the class standard for premium low-range enabled SUVs – a state of affairs that would have been unimaginable a decade ago.

Riding on Nissan's F-Alpha platform (which it shares with the Navara bakkie), the Pathfinder is similar in configuration to its competitors from Toyota, Land Rover and VW. It has indepent suspension all-round, with one crucial difference: no adjustable air (pneumatic) or fluid (hydraulic) compressed dampers or bellows, which is a bit of an issue...

On-road the lack of a solid rear axle assures the Pathfinder suffers none of the harsh ride quality imbalances inflicted by South Africa’s haphazard road network surface quality.

It remains a large vehicle (4.8m bumper-to-bumper and just shy of 2.4 tons fuelled) and as such it can’t be classed as agile. The combination of over-assisted steering and a well resolved rear field-of-view camera ensure the Pathfinder V9X can, despite its intimidating dimensions, be entrusted to novice drivers.

The V9X’s party pièce is its Renault-sourced V6 turbodiesel engine that's capable of 170kW and 550Nm. This is the first V6 turbodiesel engine to be found in a Japanese SUV locally.

Mated to a seven-speed autoc transmission this three-litre V6 common-rail engine is effortlessly powerful in application and appreciably economical. The V9X returned just under nine litres/100km during a week’s testing – an outstanding figure for something of its size and performance.

Towing capacity is rated at 3.5 tons (beating Toyota’s Prado by a tone) and, honestly, the V9X never felt anything less than tremendously eager. In fact, it's such an improvement over the 2.5 dCI engine (even the upgraded 140kW version) that you should never test drive both if you can’t afford to stretch your finances to justify the V9X purchase. The disappointment of those missing 100Nm and 30kW is quite crushing in practice.

Overtaking acceleration from 80-120km/h is reassuringly brisk, accompanied by a signature V6 turbodiesel soundtrack – something which has been the sole preserve of Land Rover’s Discovery range up to now in this segment of the market.

PREMIUM PACKAGE: The Nissan Pathfinder’s entirely reasonable 231mm of ground clearance is undone in broken terrain by its bottom of the class approach angle figure of 30 degrees

Off-road, the Pathfinder is measurably less capable than its competitors. The Prado, Disco 4 and Touareg each have air suspension, improving ground clearance and associated individual wheel rebound and traction. Without air-suspension the on-road biased all-wheel independent suspension is given to bumping through obstacles and bottoming out in extreme terrain.

This is a classic weakness of compact SUV's which also feature independent suspension without pneumatic or hydraulic assistance.

Although the Pathfinder V9X has generous reserves of power and reduction ratio gearing for negotiating up (and down) steep gradients, its lack of a a dedicated rear differential lock shows up traction issues in severely broken terrain.

Nissan claims its proprietary Active Brake Limited Slip (ABSL) technology is sufficient to keep the Pathfinder going when it is cross-axled and lifts an opposing wheel (or two) in challenging terrain.

Like similar technologies found in its competitors, ABSL applies pulse braking to wheels without traction, thereby fooling the individual axle differentials into transferring power to the opposing wheel – usually on a more secure footing. As good as ABSL is most of the time, it is not foolproof.

Operating on a reactive principle, ABSL requires the vehicle to perilously spin a wheel on (or over) an obstacle before the system intervenes. In that fractional time-frame rather nasty things can happen, such as roll-slip on rocky inclines and plain immobility in deep sand. Without the requisite off-road specific tyres, wheel slip is far too easily encountered and the ABSL system too zealous in countering it, causing a crucial stalling of momentum.

For most users the lack of a traditional rear ‘locker will not prove to be a hage yet I would not take the Pathfinder on a conception trail run without proper lockable rear axle traction security.

NO LOCKER?: Despite a raft of electronic traction aids (including hill descent and incline start assistance) the Pathfinder is no junior Patrol station wagon.


Adding V6 turbodiesel power has made the Pathfinder even more driveable over long distances and as a towing machine.

The cabin upgrades are hugely appealing, adding contemporary digital features and appeal to an already convincing (and massively practical) cabin.

If you have a five-member family, each keen on a different weekend outdoor pursuit, the Pathfinder’s towing ability and generous interior adaptability will appeal.

As a premium SUV the Pathfinder does nearly everything well, just understand that it is not a dedicated off-road machine to conquer Van Zyl’s pass in Namibia, for instance. Land Rover’s Discovery 4 and Toyota’s Prado are way more capable in hardcore off-road terrain, as is VW’s Touareg when equipped with its optional off-road pack.

On a balance of features and ability, the Pathfinder V9X is prettier and substantially more powerful than its Prado turbodiesel rival. These characteristics make it a superior long-distance cruiser and better urban conveyance than the Toyota.

The Discovery 4 is a superior vehicle in all respects to both the V9X and Prado but is much more expensive.

Curiously, VW’s new Touareg, in entry-level Blue Motion V6 turbodiesel trim, is probably the Pathfinder’s closest rival. The lack of  low-range mightbother some yet, if you're seeking the best all-round refinement in a modern premium SUV, the VW is unbeatable.

If your current Pathfinder is nearing replacement date, though, the V9X’s powertrain and infotainment upgrades are more) than sufficient enough to see you happily go the trade-in route.


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