Nissan Pathfinder (1998)

We liked the Pathfinder. It was a fun car, and it handled quite well...with one exception.Nissan Pathfinder (1998)

Tommy almost killed himself in this darn car. He was driving around Cambridge. The roads were wet, but it wasn't raining hard. Tommy came around a gentle corner at around 25 miles an hour, and all hell broke loose. The back end took off. Tommy cut the wheel to the right, and the back end went the other way. He slid across the road, bounced up on the center strip and let out a few choice words for the Pathfinder.

It was a veritable carnival ride. Cars were scattering all over the place. On the plus side, Tommy claims he wasn't afraid. The Pathfinder, after all, is big enough to crunch most anything in its path. And, thankfully, it did not tip over.

Why did Tommy get a free carnival ride out of the Pathfinder? We called Nissan...they said they hadn't heard of any other such reports and that it might be the age of the tires on this particular test vehicle. (Dunlop Grandtreks 265 15s with about 10,000 miles on them.) We're sure that if we called Dunlop, they'd blame it on the handling of the Pathfinder. Our guess is that this car had so-called "aggressive tread" tires on it, which are notoriously bad in wet weather. Combine that with a vehicle with a high center of gravity, and you've got potential problems. So, tire selection is something to consider if you buy one of these (or any sport utility vehicle).

Tommy's escapades aside, we liked the Pathfinder. It's a nice size--big enough to be practical, but not so overwhelmingly monstrous (see Ford Expedition) that it's cumbersome in the city. Nissan products are very reliable, so the frequency of repair should be relatively low. On the road, it was very comfortable. And, Tommy's adventures aside, it handled very well on dry roads--better and flatter than most sport utilities.

Most sport utilities are still based on pickup-truck platforms, and the Pathfinder is no exception. The place we noticed it most was in the gearing. With the five-speed manual transmission, it really felt like a truck when it started off, because first gear was so low. We're sure this would serve one well in an off-road situation, but let's be honest--how many people are going to spend $27K on a Pathfinder with leather seats and clear-coat metallic paint, and then drive it through a bunch of thorn bushes? Sure, you can. But, would most people? No.

The other downside of the Pathfinder is that it still has a "selectable" four-wheel-drive system, without a center differential. That means you can't leave it in four-wheel drive on dry roads. We prefer all-wheel-drive systems that you can leave on all the time and forget about. They offer more safety and better handling. And, we wish Nissan would offer the all-wheel-drive system they put in the Infiniti version of this vehicle, the QX4. With that addition, and some less aggressive tires, this would been awfully nice vehicle.

To its credit, the Pathfinder is ruggedly built. All the ones we've seen at the garage over the years appear to be quite sturdy and have held up very well.

View cars.com model report on this vehicle.


[Test Drive Notes Index]