The 2006 Nissan Pathfinder LE is a workhorse dressed up in derby-day finery. With a powerful V-6 engine and a litany of off-road features, including automatic 4WD, the 4x4 Pathfinder gives drivers the flexibility of all-terrain driving. For a 7-seater, the Pathfinder displays admirable handling, but this maneuverability comes at the price of a couple of valuable inches of legroom in the second-row seats. Also, while its 270-horspower engine may eat up mountain trails, the Pathfinder's throttle response is too aggressive for comfortable stop-and-go driving.
Inside, the Pathfinder is comfortable and well appointed, although its leather seats are about the only thing that could be called luxurious. Nissan's joystick-operated navigation system (a $1,800 option) may take some effort to operate, but it works very well when programmed: its text-to-voice capabilities are among the best we've seen for announcing street names and directions in a comprehensible way. Our test model came with Nissan's rear-seat entertainment system ($1,600) and Sirius Satellite Radio prep ($350). With a base price of $35,550 and a $605 destination charge, our tester tallied up to $40,145. The 2006 Nissan Pathfinder is more functional than luxurious, even in its top-of-the-range LE incarnation. The interior is a combination of durable, ruggedized plastic for the dash and door panels, offset by unconvincing wood-toned plastic accents, and leather seats for the front two rows. Heated front seats come as standard on the LE, as does tri-zone climate control, with a separate A/C module installed in the second-row center console. Installed behind the leather-wrapped steering wheel, the driving position is commanding and front and side visibility are excellent. Rear visibility is less than impressive, however, especially when the headrests for the second- and third-row seats are elevated. A backup camera would be a nice addition to future models.
Those sitting in the rear rows will also find that there is not a great deal of room to maneuver. While third rows are generally only the realm of small children, the second row in an SUV needs to be able to accommodate fully grown passengers and give them some breathing space, and the Pathfinder's amidships seating is a tight fit for those over 6 feet tall. To take passengers' minds off the cozy surroundings, the LE comes with an optional rear-seat DVD entertainment system in the shape of a ceiling-mounted 7-inch color monitor with two sets of wireless headphones. DVDs are inserted into a unit in the central console, which is a far more accessible--and sane--location than under the front passenger's seat, as in the 2006 Nissan Quest.
Our tester came with the optional DVD-based navigation that we also saw in the Quest. This system has some definite drawbacks compared to those from other manufacturers: its goofy joystick interface compares poorly to units with touch-screen functionality; its screen low resolution; and its screen is too small for the vast dash and cabin in which it lives. Nevertheless, it does have some redeeming attributes. The system can be configured in a variety of ways, with an impressive range of options for voice guidance (two or three announcements per turn); map view (2D plan view, 3D bird's eye view, both with single-map or split-screen mode); and a database of lifelike icons to represent buildings and landmarks in U.S. cities.
The system also incorporates text-to-voice functionality, which announces road names and turn-by-turn directions with a remarkably human intonation. A useful Guide Voice button enables the driver to get directions on demand when needed, and we also liked the distance meter, which counts down the number of meters/ feet to the next turn. When we missed turns, the Pathfinder zoomed out of split-screen mode (if so configured), while it quickly resolved on an alternative route.
The Pathfinder LE's audio offering comes in the form of a standard six-disc in-dash CD player hooked up to a 10-speaker Bose sound system, which provides a clear, immersive experience. The stereo accepts regular CDs, as well as home-brewed MP3 discs, and displays a limited amount of ID3-tag information. You can navigate folders and files via dedicated hard buttons on the head unit bezel or by steering-wheel-mounted controls for individual tracks and volume. Our tester was also prewired for Sirius Satellite Radio.
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.