Most of the main-cabin tech options on the Pathfinder are controlled via the Vehicle Electronic Setting system, which is programmed via the navigation screen and the joystick. This allows customization of interior settings, such as the default seat configuration, on exit, as well as settings for the sensitivity of the automatic headlights, the activation of the speed-dependent wipers, and the remote unlock and alarm options. With a 270-horsepower, 4-liter V-6, the 2006 Nissan Pathfinder is no slouch. A spirited deployment of the gas pedal when we first fired it up kicked us back in the seat and assured us that the usual procedure for 7-seater SUV driving--that is, floor the accelerator and wait a few seconds for anything to happen--did not apply. In fact, one of the more troublesome aspects of our week with the Pathfinder was its tetchy throttle response: the slightest tweak of the gas pedal will send the 5,000-pound mass lurching forward, which is good news for the (very) few that will be racing GMC Yukons off the lights but a hindrance when trying to park in tight spots.
When on the open road, however, the rapid pickup is a welcome asset. And the Pathfinder's performance prowess is not limited to the highway. The 4x4 model costs about $2,000 more than the rear-wheel-drive models, but that price premium gives you a car that has serious off-road credentials: Rancho performance shocks, "rugged trail" BF Goodrich tires, and Nissan's All-Mode automatic 4WD system all combine with the punchy performance to give it a chance of finding paths away from the asphalt.
As mentioned in the comfort section, the 2006 Pathfinder is a little short for a 7-seater, leading to a shortage of legroom for both second- and third-row adult passengers. But the reduced space really tells in the car's handling and all-round responsive feel. The car's boxed steel-ladder-frame design makes for a firm ride without much body roll. Despite front- and rear independent double-wishbone suspension, the Pathfinder lacks the damping of other 7-seat SUVs we've tested, but the sacrifice is worthwhile for those looking for a vehicle that can handle itself on multiple terrains. With the LE's All Mode 4WD system set to Auto (via a dial in the dash), the Pathfinder automatically adjusts power to each axle, using limited-slip differential; this provides improved traction when needed and switches the car back to 2WD mode when it senses adequate grip.
The EPA rates the Pathfinder at 15mpg in the city and 21mpg on the freeway; our observed mileage: in practice, we managed 150 miles of city-heavy driving on just over half a tank, which comes in exactly on the EPA figures. The 2006 Pathfinder LE comes with all of the standard safety features you would expect from a $40,000 SUV. Four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and electronic brakeforce distribution combine with an active-brake limited-slip differential to counter loss of control and ensure that power is diverted to the wheels with most traction. As-standard Vehicle Dynamic Control also works to keep the Pathfinder on track by applying brakeforce when its sensors detect that the car is veering off route. Other active safety systems include engine-speed-sensitive power steering, which adjusts the responsiveness of turn-in based on rev speed; active head restraints, which push forward in the event of a rear-end collision to minimize whiplash; and a tire-pressure monitoring system. The Pathfinder's navigation system is also deactivated when the vehicle is in motion to avoid the risk of an accident through negligent driving.
Driver and front passenger get dual-stage frontal airbags and seat-mounted side-impact airbags, and the Pathfinder comes with roof-mounted curtain supplemental airbags for side-impact and rollover protection.
In NHTSA safety tests, the Pathfinder scored a maximum five stars for side impact, thanks to its pipe-style steel side-door guard beams; four stars for frontal impact, thanks to front and rear crumple zones and its energy-absorbing steering column; and a less impressive three stars for rollover safety.
Like all new Nissans, the 2006 Pathfinder comes with a limited warranty, including 36-month/36,000-mile coverage, and a 5-year/60,000-mile limited power train coverage.