According to Nissan executives, the company no longer aims to tackle mainstream products head-on.
Instead, it offers alternatives that deliver something innovative and different, products appealing on either a lifestyle or an emotional level.
Cut through the marketing speak and Nissan is effectively admitting defeat in the conventional segments.
However, it is clearly doing something about it. The Almera hatchback, for example, will eventually be replaced by three models. One of them will be the new sub-X-trail crossover, based on the Qashqai concept that is already confirmed for production at Nissan’s Sunderland plant.
So it seems then that the ‘innovative and different’ statement currently means four-wheel drive and the new Pathfinder and Murano underline this, boosting Nissan’s off-road fleet from four to six models in 2005. With the Qashqai-based car in the pipeline, Nissan will soon be able to offer one of the widest 4x4 model ranges of any manufacturer in Europe.
The new Pathfinder doesn’t actually replace any existing model in the Nissan line-up, instead fitting in directly above the acclaimed X-trail.
Nissan describes it as a ‘medium SUV’, competing in size with models including the Land Rover Discovery, Volvo XC90, Toyota Land Cruiser and Mitsubishi Shogun. With versatile seating for seven and huge loadspace and towing capacity, it is also likely to appeal to buyers wanting a practical alternative to a conventional MPV.
It is a good looker, too. Nissan’s stylists have given it a smart utilitarian look that lacks the pretentiousness of many of its rivals.
Tight shutlines and neat detailing give it a solid, quality look. Inside, it is much the same, with a huge potential load space of 2,091 litres with all the seats folded flat on the floor, easy to achieve with their simple one-touch operation. Fit and finish inside is good, too, with soft-touch materials and metal-effect plastics. Initial forecasts from CAP have pegged its residual values in line with the Toyota Land Cruiser.
Initially, the Pathfinder (pictured) will only be available with a 2.5-litre turbodiesel, to be joined in September by a 4.0-litre V6 developed from the 350Z’s 3.5-litre unit.
Its output is expected to be around 266bhp, the exact specification to be confirmed nearer its launch. However, it will only be available with a five-speed automatic and in range-topping T-Spec trim.
The volume seller 2.5-litre dCi model’s turbodiesel engine is a development of the X-Trail’s 2.2-litre unit, Nissan choosing this more modern engine over its existing 2.7 and 3.0-litre turbodiesels. With common-rail injection, it is more powerful than both, the 2.5 dCi delivering 172bhp and peak torque of 297lb-ft at just 2,000rpm. Offered with either a six-speed manual or a five-speed automatic for an additional £1,300, the 2.5-litre dCi is Euro III compliant. The manual produces a CO2 figure of 238g/km, the automatic achieving 267g/km.
Official combined fuel consumption is 31.4mpg for the manual or 28.0mpg for the automatic. Expect to see less in real-world conditions.
Andrew Limbert, Nissan UK’s brand manager for 4x4s, expects its sales to be predominantly retail, with fleet sales accounting for only around 15%, or about 400, of the Pathfinder’s anticipated 2,650 sales in 2005. Of those, the 2.5-litre diesel is expected to make up over 90% of sales, with a split in automatic/manual sales of around 50/50.
Its pricing and specification look competitive. Prices start at £24,000 for the solitary S, five-seat, manual-only model.
Its standard equipment includes the All-Mode 4x4 with ESP and traction control, alloy wheels, driver, passenger, front seat and curtain airbags, dual-zone climate control and electric windows and heated mirrors and a single CD player.
Add £1,800 for SE trim, the likely starting point for most buyers, and you gain the useful fold-flat additional third row rear seats, roof rails, privacy glass and height and lumbar adjustment on the driver’s seat. There is also an opening rear glass hatch, front fog lamps and a CD auto-changer with steering wheel controls and extra speakers.
SVE models start from £28,260 and add electric, leather seats, cruise control, automatic headlamps and lights, a rear heater with air-conditioning controls and an intelligent key with smart entry. T-Spec, for an additional £2,400 over the SVE, comes fully loaded with Xenon lights, an electric tilt/slide sunroof, DVD ‘Birdview’ sat-nav and upgraded audio with MP3 compatibility and voice operation, a colour rear-view camera and Bluetooth phone integration.
Behind the wheel
OVER a huge number of miles, encompassing everything from a tight underground airport car park to a rigorous off-road workout, the Pathfinder coped well. Despite featuring the traditional body-on-frame construction of serious off-roaders, Nissan’s new SUV drives admirably on the road.
What’s surprising is just how able it was. Independent suspension, combined with the All-Mode four-wheel drive and ESP+, means the Pathfinder feels secure even when faced with winding country roads. It resists roll well, though push it too hard and the body will lean, but its limits are impressively high for such a tall vehicle.
Its steering helps tremendously, with a surprising amount of communication through the chunky wheel rim, especially for an off-roader. Where it does fail compared to some rivals is over rougher surfaces, where it loses its composure quickly, with jolts transmitted into the cabin. Otherwise, it’s a fine all-rounder, proving particularly refined on the motorway, with virtually no wind noise, even at high cruising speeds.
The 2.5 litre dCi feels either adequate or underpowered depending on your transmission choice. With the five-speed automatic prone to hunting around for a suitable ratio and hanging onto revs, it makes for a noisy and sometimes frustrating driving experience. You can select the gears yourself with the automatic to get around this but if you’re going to do that you may as well save yourself £1,300 and buy the six-speed manual anyway.
The manual Pathfinder felt like a different car. Initial acceleration is improved, the claimed 11.7 second 0-60mph time feeling easily achievable. And because you can work comfortably within the engine’s low-rev powerband it proves quieter, too. Consumption will rein in any enthusiasm with the petrol 4.0-litre V6. Really, it barely warrants a mention, its performance only marginally increased over the diesel.
Space inside is ample – even adults can squeeze into the rearmost seats if they don’t mind sitting with their knees around their ears and, seven-up, there’s still a useable boot. The controls are all sensibly positioned, the instruments clear and uncomplicated, the whole cabin having a well-thought out, practical feel that will appeal to existing 4x4 owners and MPV drivers alike.
Off-road, the Pathfinder is highly accomplished, all the complicated workings of the four-wheel-drive system taken care of by a simple rotary switch. Left in auto, it will distribute torque to the wheels that need it the most, effectively running in two-wheel-drive unless it detects any slippage. High and low-ratio four-wheel-drive allows the Pathfinder owner to go and do as its name suggests, but do be sure to avoid upsetting any ramblers.
WHILE not able to match the badge appeal of rivals like Volvo and Land Rover, Nissan’s Pathfinder counters with competitive pricing and excellent practicality. Its CO2 emissions and fuel consumption might cause fleet drivers some concern, though.
Engine (cc): 2,488
Max power (bhp/rpm): 172/4,000
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 297/2,000
Top speed (mph): 109
0-62 (seconds) 11.7
Combined fuel consumption (mpg) 31.4 (28.0)*
CO2 (g/km): 238 (267)*
Fuel tank capacity (l/gal): 80/17.5
Transmission: 6 man (5 auto)*
On sale: now
Price (£ OTR) £25,800 (2.5 dCi SE 7 seat manual)
*Auto figs in brackets