HUMANS remain on the earth because they're cunning little critters who can out think other creatures. They're also adept at camouflage and, like a chameleon changes its appearance to suit the environment, humans change their presence to suit their social surroundings. It is popular, for example, to be seen in the community as being a bit of an escapist. An adventurer or at least one with a sense of adventure. They think a bit of deering-do will bolster their social status around the barbecue.
Vehicle manufacturers prey convincingly on this dint in the armour of the earth's greatest thinker by providing the prospect of adventure without the dust, dirt and flies. It's called an SUV. For the real adventurers, there's the Nissan Pathfinder.
Like a visit to a Paddy Pallin store, the real outdoors may be free but getting their in the right gear is darn expensive. Don't let the fact that things are a lot cheaper in Spain than they are here - the Spanish-built Pathfinder doesn't come cheap.
The mid-range ST-L model is $59,490 which is dearer than its Thai-built Mitsubishi Challenger counterpart at $56,390 and well above the other main contender, the US-made $43,000 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited four-door diesel. But if you're going Pathfinder, the ST-L is the best model choice.
Think of a big box with a smaller box at the front. That's basically the Pathfinder. The square shoulders maximise cabin rom, allowing it to seat seven people - even two modest-size adults can get comfy in the third row - and a modicum of luggage. Put rows two and three down flat and it'll sleep you and yours or stack a few bicycles or some furniture. You could save a fortune in council rates by living for years in the back of one of these.
The Pathfinder was last year updated but the make-up artist should be fired. It still looks rugged, functional and capable but it's really dated. Put it in a Kmart carpark and it looks like an old man sitting amongst pre-schoolers.
The body isn't anything to write home about but the chassis is interesting. The 2.5-litre turbo-diesel engine last year has been given more verve and now does a great job at hauling a heavy, unladen and liquid-free 2.2-tonne wagon, proving that solid technology and a decent turbo can make small-bore diesels really sing.
I was also impressed by the ride comfort and quietness at cruising speeds, attributed to the independent t front and rear suspension. It's great for the road but offers less wheel travel for dirt work. There's also a hill holder and hill descent control to aid the adventurer.
If the sheer bulk and acreage of sheet metal doesn't protect you, then you'll be comforted by the six airbags - including full length curtain bags for the three seat rows - and the electronic stability control, big disc brakes with ABS and things like electronic brakeforce distribution and other big words.
The Pathfinder is portrayed as a medium-size SUV but compared to a mid-size car, it's a whopper. Though big and unfriendly in most car parks, it has light steering, excellent visibility, a squared body shape (with no hidden corners), silky automatic gearbox and gutsy low-speed engine in its favour.
Diesels aren't quiet and the Pathfinder doesn't disappoint. At idle it's rough but settles as the revs rise to become almost inaudible at cruising speeds. It's also responsive and if the tacho needle is swaying around 2500-3000rpm will accelerate surprisingly quickly without needing a gearbox downchange.
Ride comfort is great thanks to the double-wishbone suspension at all corners, but the seats aren't very supportive and the leather facings are slippery. Try not to downsize to the cheaper ST because while you'll skip the leather, you'll also lose the extra airbags.
Sandy tracks are a breeze. The Pathfinder defaults to rear-wheel drive but a rotary dial on the dash selects 4WD High and 4WD Low, making it a very capable machine off the road.
Yes, its independent suspension can hang up a wheel when crossing gnarly ruts or logs. A 4WD with a live rear axle generally has more wheel travel and hence more chance of keeping the wheels on the ground.
But the Pathfinder uses electronic wheel monitoring to shuffle power directly to the wheel(s) that are on the ground. Your chances of getting stuck are pretty remote. Best of all, the Pathfinder has a 3000kg towing capability to suit travellers with caravans.
NISSAN PATHFINDER ST-L
Engine: 2.5-litre, 4-cyl turbo-diesel
Power: 140kW @ 4000rpm
Torque: 450Nm @ 2000rpm
Fuel tank: 80 litres
Economy (official): 9.0 litres/100km
Economy (tested): 11.2 litres/100km
Greenhouse: 238g/km (Corolla: 174g/km)
Transmission: 5-speed automatic, sequential; part-time 4WD, dual-range
Brakes: 4-wheel vented discs, ESC, ABS, EBD, brake assist, descent control
Turning circle: 11.9m
Suspension: Front/rear _ double wishbones, coils
Wheels: 17-inch alloy, 255/65R17 tyres; full-size spare
Dimensions: 4813mm (l), 1850mm (w), 1865mm (h)
Ground clearance: 228mm
Tow (max): 3000kg
Boot (seat up/down): 190/2090 litres (Corolla: 450/1121l)
- Dual-zone climate airconditioning
- 6-speaker 6-CD/iPod audio
- 6 airbags
- Heated seats
- Mitsubishi Challenger XLS from $56,390 (7.5/10)
- Toyota Prado GXL from $61,904 (7/10)
- Jeep Wrangler Unlimited from $43,000 (7/10).