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Exterior Design: *****
Although mid-sized SUVs are all pretty much of a muchness, the Pathfinder s designers found a way to inject a bit of minimalist magic into the basic, bland two-box form: the nose. The Pathfinder s chrome and mesh prow is the SUV s only obvious — OK, its only distinguishing characteristic. The integration of the front wheel arches into the front bumper is a stroke of genius that gives the Tennessee truck a butch yet elegant demeanor.

Acceleration: *****
Yowzir! Once again, Nissan VQ-series powerplant proves it s worth its weight in speeding tickets. The Pathfinder s direct injection 4.0-liter six may lack the aural satisfaction of a proper V8, and 270 horses ain t much for a 4693lbs. brick on wheels, but there s enough stump-pulling torque to, um, pull stumps. As a result, this big rig jumps off the line like an Olympic swimmer (and quaffs a swimming pool s worth of gas while doing it).


Braking: ****
You wouldn t expect sharp brakes on an SUV tweaked for urban duty, and by God, you don t get em. That said, the Pathfinder s mushy feeling four-wheel vented discs do a yeoman s job of hauling the leviathan down from speed. The Electronic Brake force Distribution is also much appreciated; stomp on the anchors at speed over a rough surface and the system will kick in, preventing a first-hand exploration of the SUV s crumple zones.

Ride: ****
With an independent wishbone suspension on both ends, the Pathfinder does a passable job of surmounting major surface imperfections without dislodging chicken nuggets from the young uns greasy grasp. The off-road package adds Rancho Huevos — I mean Rancho shock absorbers to the equation, but we reckon bouncing around is all part of the fun (until it isn t).

Handling: ****
While we re not so sure any SUV should tip-in with such maniacal zeal, at least the Pathfinder can carry its speed through the corners with less body roll than a Pilates instructor. The speed-sensitive (woos) rack-and-pinion steering is over-assisted, and the turning circle would shame a ferryboat, but the SUV goes pretty much where you aim it. The Pathfinder is no Cayenne-killer, but we ve driven a lot worse.

Gearbox: *****
In the interests of avoiding a mass migration to the elephant s graveyard, the new Ford Explorer has shifted to a six-speed gearbox for better mileage. Nissan is sure to follow suit. Meanwhile, the Pathfinder s five-speed is a perfectly seamless unit, with the added benefit of a shift-on-the-fly, switch-operated, two-speed transfer case (4x4 only).


Audio/Video: ***
The Pathfinder SE comes with a BOSE system as standard. You gotta give the boffins on the hill their due: their ability to tune a system to a vehicle s interior is without peer. Finding your chosen media on the undersized display is a bit difficult; wearers of polarized sunglasses will note that the LED readout uses invisible ink. The DVD player is simple and robust, although someone should make these units with MUCH bigger buttons.

Toys: ***
The Pathfinder offers four 12-volt DC power outlets, the usual convenience features and that s about it. The BYOT ethos suits the nature of the beast.


Trunk: ****
Keep the rear seats folded down, and you ve got all the space you need to haul all the stuff you need and plenty of stuff you don t but it was on sale and the credit card wasn t maxed-out — yet — so what the Hell. Of course, strictly speaking, the Pathfinder s cargo area isn t a trunk, but then, even family cars have pass-through slots and split folding rear seats these days. I m sorry; what was the question?

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[by Robert Farago]

Jalopnik Reviews: 2006 Nissan Pathfinder SE, Part 1 [internal]

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