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Seasonably Snow-Suitable

2005 Nissan Pathfinder SE

By Warren Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 14, 2004; Page G01

Winter is the season of redemption for sport-utility vehicles such as the 2005 Nissan Pathfinder.

It is when they confirm their identity and purpose, and rise to heroic status from that of pariah.

2005 Nissan Pathfinder SE

Nuts & Bolts

Downside: In bringing the Pathfinder back to its truck roots, Nissan could wind up shooing away buyers who want something that looks like an SUV but drives like a wagon or sedan. The new Pathfinder has acceptable on-road manners. But make no mistake about this one: After miles on the highway, you will know that it's a truck.

Ride, acceleration and handling: On-road ride and handling are good, acceptable. Off-road behavior is excellent, rivaling that of more expensive SUVs. On-road acceleration is excellent. (Only drivers in goofy TV commercials, or professional off-road racers, or people who don't know what they are doing, try to speed off-road.)

Head-turning quotient: Family-friendly, neighborhood-acceptable.

Body style/layout: The new Nissan Pathfinder is a front-engine, four-door, truck-based SUV with a rear hatch and available four-wheel drive (including a four-wheel low gear) and automatically locking hubs. There is an optional "All-Mode" automatic drive system that can be switched to two-wheel drive.

Engine/transmission: The new Pathfinder comes with a standard 4-liter, 24-valve V-6 engine that develops 270 horsepower at 5,600 revolutions per minute and 291 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm. The engine is linked to a standard, electronically controlled five-speed automatic transmission.

Cargo and fuel capacities: The new Pathfinder has seating for seven people. Maximum cargo space is 79.2 cubic feet. It can carry an onboard weight of 1,308 pounds and tow a trailer weighing up to 6,000 pounds. Gasoline-tank capacity is 21.1 gallons. Regular unleaded is recommended.

Mileage: I averaged 17 miles per gallon in combined off-road/on-road driving.

Safety: Side air bags and head/curtain bags with rollover sensors are optional. Buy them. Four-wheel anti-lock brakes and traction and stability control are standard.

Price: Base price on the tested 2005 Nissan Pathfinder SE is $27,850. The dealer's invoice price on that model is $25,756. Price as tested is $31,780, including $3,370 in options and a $560 destination charge. (The side and curtain bags are part of a $1,700 premium options package.) The dealer's price with options and destination charges is $29,225, according to information from Nissan, Edmunds.com, Kbb.com and Cars.com. The last is an affiliate of The Washington Post.

Purse-strings note: Compare with Ford Explorer, Chevrolet Trailblazer, Dodge Durango, Toyota 4Runner, Honda Pilot and Mercedes-Benz M-Class.

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It matters not that they are multipurpose vehicles capable of transporting seven people simultaneously, or that they can be loaded with lots of stuff, or equipped to pull trailers weighing 6,000 pounds or more. Nor does it matter that with four-wheel drive, as is the case with this week's tested Pathfinder SE, and with the proper tires and underbody cladding, they can traverse treacherous terrain.

Until the outside temperature drops and the snow falls, until early-morning radio shows crackle with the news of school closings, until there are ominous TV "storm center" reports about another impending "blizzard of the century," sport-utility vehicles get no respect.

It is only when the blacktop turns white that these most controversial of vehicles are called upon by friends and foes alike to do what so many supposedly practical vehicles can't do -- get them through the mush, slush and drifts safely and comfortably.

You can expect the 2005 Nissan Pathfinder to be drafted for such duty in the coming season of discontent.

The all-new Pathfinder has jettisoned pretensions that it is a large sedan or wagon with some off-road capability, and has returned full-force to its truck-based SUV roots. Unitized construction -- in which the vehicle's body, floor pan and chassis form a single structure -- has been replaced by a traditional truck-type body-on-frame arrangement.

Body-on-frame generally is seen as more rugged, and thus more suitable to off-road driving in the SUV world. The new Pathfinder is designed to woo SUV enthusiasts who share that view. But, in truth, Nissan Motor Co.'s return to body-on-frame is also a simple matter of cutting vehicle development and production costs.

Over the past several years, the company has invested enormous sums into rolling out its full-size Titan pickup truck and its bigger-than-life, aptly named Armada sport-utility vehicle, both of which share architecture and components with the new Pathfinder.

The differences among the three reside largely in matters of purpose, style and attitude.

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