Overlander 4WD of the Year

19 January 2011
, CarsGuide

Nissan Pathfinder is back again this year thanks to a significant upgrade via a new, more powerful and fuel-efficient turbo diesel that is now standard in all the model grades. With a new generation common-rail fuel-injection system and a bigger, now electronically controlled turbo among other changes, the peak power has jumped from a claimed 126kW to 140kW while the claimed torque figure is up from 403Nm to 450Nm.

With its fully independent suspension and road-oriented Goodyear Wrangler HP tyres we expect the Pathfinder to really struggle on the muddy set-piece but that's not the case. While it works harder than the Challenger, it's as good as the HiLux and better than the Navara and considerably more at ease than the Jeep with which its shares fully independent suspension.

The Pathfinder works harder on the set-piece 4WD loop as the fully independent suspension struggles to keep all four wheels on the ground. As a consequence the traction control is very busy and, in the meantime, both the rear mudflaps and the sidesteps touch down on more than few occasions. Yet for all that the Pathfinder still makes it around comfortably enough with none of the low-speed throttle surging that sometimes trouble the Navara. Like the Navara, the low-range reduction is also good for an automatic.

More wheel-up action on the trails but again the Pathfinder does what is asked of it in a capable and comfortable enough manner. More over-bonnet visibility would be nice and the auto 'box can get confused in 'Drive' which means resorting to the manual tip-shift. Regardless, this is a far better automatic off-road than that of the Challenger.

Performance aside, one of the big advancements of this updated Pathfinder is that the new engine and the five-speed auto are far happier companions than in the pre-update models. With the previous model, the six-speed manual was really the only way to go as the automatic was almost always unhappy in more demanding touring environments.

Now buyers, most of whom prefer automatics to manuals anyway, don't have to suffer that compromise by opting for the auto. The only 'sin' the auto now commits is that sometimes wants to hold onto the taller gears longer than it should on long, steep climbs. For its part, the new engine is strong in the mid-range and top-end but could be stronger off the bottom. It's also reasonably quiet and refined and goes about the business of getting from A to B with little fuss.

And, while the Pathfinder's fully independent suspension isn't the ideal set-up off-road, it certainly comes into its own on the road. Here the Pathfinder rides a little on the firm side but is generally poised and composed with only some understeer to detract from its tidy and sporty dynamic ability.

The Pathfinder's boxy shape works well in terms of interior space efficiency. The front is roomy and comfortable and the rear seat has good space and the advantage of adjustable backrest. The second-row seat also folds individually in three sections for enhanced load/people carrying flexibility while the third-row folds into the floor of what is a generous luggage space.

For an automatic the Pathfinder turns in decent economy while its 80-litre tank further enhances the touring range. A handy 3000kg towing capacity is also a bonus while, under the bonnet, intake air is sensibly drawn from the inner guard. No room for an additional battery however and single recovery points front and rear.

To read the full report, see this month's edition of Overlander, on sale now ...