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.
Rear-seat passengers in the 2006 Pathfinder might not have much room, but they get to watch DVDs.
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.
Despite a goofy joystick interface, Nissan's navigation system has some impressive features.
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.
We found the Pathfinder's 4-liter V-6 a little too touchy in urban driving.
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.
Like the navigation systems in many cars, the Pathfinder's interface will not operate when the vehicle is in motion for safety reasons.
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.