2011 Nissan Pathfinder Review and Prices

Last Updated: Feb 10, 2011

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2011 Nissan Pathfinder Buying Advice

The 2011 Nissan Pathfinder is the best SUV for you if you want one that’s old-school but not old-tech.

The 2011 Nissan Pathfinder is mechanically and cosmetically unchanged, though it adds a Silver Edition trim level that resides just below the top–of-the-line LE. Also, the former SE version is replaced by a new SV designation, and the number of available option packages is reduced to just three. Espresso Black is added to the exterior paint palette. The 2011 Pathfinder’s stout, truck-type body-on-frame construction recalls a day when all SUVs were built to go off road and tow big trailers. That was before the age of the “crossover.” The lighter-duty, car-type wagons are sweeping the market because they’re easier-riding and more fuel-efficient than truck-based SUVs. Pathfinder is a throwback, but it’s no Neanderthal; it’s available with all the latest infotainment gizmos and smoothes its ride with a four-wheel independent suspension.

Should you buy a 2011 Nissan Pathfinder or wait for the 2012 Nissan Pathfinder? Little reason to wait for the 2012. It’s not apt to undergo significant changes from the 2011 model and will represent the swan song edition of Pathfinder as a body-on-frame SUV. Come to think of it, if you’re a truck traditionalist, you may want snag either a 2011 or 2012 Pathfinder; the redesigned 2013 Pathfinder is expected to transition from today’s body-on-frame engineering to a crossover-like unibody platform.

2011 Nissan Pathfinder Changes back to top

Styling: The 2011 Nissan Pathfinder styling is unchanged and continues to strut its tough-truck stuff. It has a bold grille, blistered wheel arches, and resolutely upright body lines that sneer at the streamlined curves associated with crossovers. This four-door wagon has a liftgate with separate-opening flip-up glass. And it comes with a small third-row seat that qualifies it as a seven-passenger SUV.

Along with the Toyota 4Runner, Pathfinder is among the very few remaining body-on-frame midsize SUVs. It’s a sign of the times that the segment’s former sales champ, the 2001 Ford Explorer, has migrated to crossover-type construction. These midsize crossover SUVs, typified by the Chevrolet Traverse and Honda Pilot, employ “unibody” assembly in which body and frame are essentially one unit. Almost all crossovers have front-wheel drive and offer light-duty all-wheel drive (AWD) that automatically provides temporary extra traction on slippery pavement. Four- and six-cylinder engines are the rule, and few can tow more than 4,500 pounds.

By contrast, Pathfinder and its ilk bolt their body to a separate steel frame, a stout foundation that can bear the weight of heavy payloads and 7,000-pound trailers. Several -- Pathfinder included -- offer V-6 and V-8 power, and they commonly have traditional rear-wheel drive feature conventional four-wheel drive (4wd) systems suited to severe off-road conditions.

Some, like the 4Runner, even retain a solid rear axle. That dawn-of-the-motor-age technology links the rear wheels as if attached to the tips of a see-saw. A solid rear axle is strong but because the action of either rear wheel affects that of the other, it isn’t the best choice for smooth control over bumps. Pathfinder has an up-to-date double-wishbone independent rear suspension that isolates the actions of each wheel for improved control with trivial sacrifice in strength.

The 2011 Pathfinder’s lineup has been revamped and now consists of entry-level S models, midline SV versions, better-equipped Silver Editions, and the top-of-the-line LE models.

Mechanical: All four 2011 Pathfinder trim levels come standard with a 4.0-liter V-6 that continues rated at 266 horsepower with 288 pound-feet of torque. (Consider torque the muscle that propels you and horsepower the force that keeps you going.) Torque rules when it comes to throttle response and towing, and 288 pound-feet is among the highest torque figures for a V-6 in this class. A V-8 is alternately offered, but only in the 2011 Pathfinder LE V-8 model; this 5.6-liter engine again delivers 310 horsepower and 388 pound-feet of torque. Nissan recommends the use of premium-grade fuel for both engines. Pathfinder’s sole transmission remains a five-speed automatic.

Pathfinder S, SV, Silver Edition, and LE V-6 models come standard with two-wheel drive (2wd), which in the case of truck-based SUVs means rear-wheel drive. Here’s one place where front-drive crossovers can have a traction edge because the weight of their engine is over the tires that also propel them.

But Pathfinder also offers three 4wd systems. The 2011 S, SV, and Silver Edition models are available with a basic “part-time” setup. It requires the driver to engage it from the cockpit, and its “part-time” because it does not have internal gearing that allows it to remain engaged in 4wd on dry pavement without risking drivetrain wear. The 4wd system available on the Pathfinder LE-V6 is a full-time system. The driver can choose to engage it or can select an “automatic” setting that allows it to remain in 4wd on all surfaces without risk of wear. The 2011 Pathfinder LE-V8 comes with a 4wd system that requires no driver interaction and is permanently engaged. All three systems include driver-selected low-range gearing for optimal traction in low-speed off-road conditions. V-6 Pathfinders can tow trailers weighing up to 6,000 pounds and V-8 versions can pull 7,000 pounds.

Features: Nissan positions the 2011 Pathfinder as a reasonably upscale SUV while aiming the less-expensive Nissan Xterra at a younger, active-4x4 crowd and the Infiniti FX from its premium brand at style- and performance-minded affluent buyers.

Standard equipment on the 2011 Nissan Pathfinder includes power windows with driver and front passenger auto-up/down, power locks, tilt steering wheel, cruise control, and remote keyless entry. Antilock four-wheel disc brakes for more secure stops and antiskid stability control to fight sideways sliding also are included. Passive safety features include head-protecting curtain bags that cover all three seating rows and are designed to deploy in side collisions or when sensors detect an impending rollover.

On all models, the second-row seat is split 40/20/40 and, like the third-row bench, folds flat; a fold-down front passenger seat is also available to accommodate long items. The SV adds amenities like a power driver’s seat, power adjustable brake and accelerator pedals, a CD changer audio system with steering wheel-mounted controls, dual-zone automatic climate control with rear vents, fog lights, auto headlamps and day/night rearview mirror, a garage-door opener, and a rear-view monitor.

The Silver Edition adds a Bose audio system with 10 speakers, a subwoofer, and XM satellite radio, a Bluetooth hands-free cell-phone interface, Nissan’s Intelligent Key keyless entry/start system, a power passenger’s seat, heated front seats and outside mirrors, and leather upholstery. Meanwhile, the LE includes memory settings for the driver’s seat, mirrors and pedals, a heated steering wheel, roof rack crossbars, and a power moonroof. An auxiliary jack for digital devices is supplied on all but the S model but Pathfinder has not been available with a USB interface for portable audio devices or a dedicated iPod interface for that matter.

A navigation system that includes a 9.3 gigabyte music hard drive is standard on the LE-V-8 model and optional on the LE-V-6. Rear DVD entertainment also is available. Wheel sizes are 16-, 17-, and 18-inches, depending on model and option package.

2011 Nissan Pathfinder Prices back to top

Prices for the 2011 Nissan Pathfinder don’t stray far from 2010 Pathfinder levels despite the modest realignment of trim levels. The 2011 Pathfinder’s base prices range from $28,640-$43,400. (Prices in this review include the manufacturer’s destination fee; Nissan’s fee for the 2011 Pathfinder is $800.)

The 2011 Nissan Pathfinder S starts at $28,640 with rear-wheel drive and $30,640 with 4wd. The 2011 Nissan Pathfinder SV is priced from $31,990 with rear-drive and from $32,990 with 4wd.

The 2011 Nissan Pathfinder Silver Edition base price is $36,290 with rear-drive and $38,290 with 4wd. The 2011 Nissan Pathfinder LE V-6 has a base price of $38,270 with rear-drive and $40,470 with 4wd

Base price for the top-of-the-line 2011 Pathfinder LE-V8 model, which comes with 4wd, is $43,400.

Among key options, adding a rear-seat entertainment system to the 2011 Pathfinder LE costs $1,600, while the navigation package adds $1,850 to that model’s sticker price. The LE V-8 Value Package, which consists of the rear entertainment system and a power moonroof, costs $2,100.

2011 Nissan Pathfinder Fuel Economy back to top

Fuel-economy ratings for the 2011 Nissan Pathfinder are unchanged. They remain near the bottom of the crossover-dominated midsize-SUV class and are evidence of both Pathfinder’s power and the extra weight that comes with body-on-frame construction. And Nissan recommends more expensive premium-octane fuel for both the V-6 and V-8 Pathfinders.

The 2011 Pathfinder V-6 2wd models rate 15/22 mpg city/highway. V-6 4wd Pathfinders rate 14/20. The 2011 Pathfinder LE-V8 is rated at 13/18 mpg.

2011 Nissan Pathfinder Release Date back to top

The 2011 Nissan Pathfinder went on sale in September 2010.

What's next for the 2011 Nissan Pathfinder back to top

Nissan’s been mum on the future of its oldest SUV, a nameplate that dates to 1986 and the dawn of the midsize sport-utility era. Today’s Pathfinder belongs to this vehicle’s third design generation and sources hint it could be the last with traditional body-on-frame construction.

That’s right: the fourth-generation Pathfinder will likely adopt a unibody design. It should happen for model-year 2013 and employ the same architecture that will form the basis for the next-generation Nissan Altima midsize car. Sources say Infiniti may also get a version of the new Pathfinder crossover, perhaps badged the Infiniti Q4.

Such a move would demonstrate that Nissan reads the writing on the wall – a view reinforced by word that it’ll kill its full-size Armada SUV after model-year 2011. Armada’s body-on-frame platform forms the basis of today’s Pathfinder’s design.

Nissan likely realizes future Pathfinder audiences would be better served by a vehicle that retains a weekend-adventure image but in a more fuel- and space-efficient package. That’s not to say Nissan won’t style the fourth-generation Pathfinder as a truck-tough SUV. But modern crossovers can be fitted with all the traction-enhancers and most of the power midsize-SUV buyers could want, particularly since few really do venture off-road or tow trailers weighing more than 5,000 pounds.

It isn’t likely the 2013 Pathfinder will have a V-8 engine – if anything it should come with a more-efficient engine lineup to help Nissan meet new fuel economy rules that will be passed in through 2016 -- but it should again feature three-row seating. And there’s always Xterra for Nissan’s body-on-frame loyalists – at least through model-year 2012. Xterra’s future is cloudy beyond that.

2011 Nissan Pathfinder Competition back to top

2011 Toyota 4Runner: Redesigned for model-year 2010, it remains true to the body-on-frame tradition – even down to its solid rear axle, though off-road capability is improved thanks to high-tech 4wd controls. For 2011 the 4Runner drops its underpowered base four-cylinder engine and becomes an all-V-6 lineup. Toyota has the luxury of retaining a body-on-frame wagon because its lineup is rife with crossover SUVs. 4Runner is an exemplar of the breed, rates 17/22 mpg, seats up to seven, and has a base price range of roughly $30,400-$40,500.

2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee: The 2011 Grand Cherokee is redesigned, going upscale while preserving its traditional off-road abilities. Treading the fine line between truck and crossover, the Grand Cherokee retains its unibody construction, which in this case is reinforced by integrated subframes. Its basic architecture was originally engineered for the Mercedes-Benz ML midsize SUV under Chrysler’s former German ownership. Grand Cherokee remains a stylish five-seater and also retains a six-cylinder and V-8-engine lineup, though the six is Chrysler’s new 290-horsepower Pentastar unit (16/23 mpg) while the V-8 is the latest version of the mighty 5.7-liter Hemi, which nets 360 horses (13/19 mpg). Base prices range from $30,995-$42,690.

2011 Ford Explorer: Now riding on the front-wheel-drive platform that also underpins the Ford Taurus and Flex, the midsize Explorer is officially a crossover SUV -- albeit one that’s a bit burlier than the norm. Its body is an evolution of its blocky predecessor’s and again seats seven. Lots of advanced safety features and a 4wd “terrain management” system for moderate off-roading are highlights. A 290-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 is standard, while a new 2.0-liter four-cylinder version of Ford’s turbocharged EcoBoost engine is also offered; it produces 237 horses but 250 pound-feet of torque – just 5 fewer than the V-6. It’s roughly 30 percent more fuel-efficient the V-6, too, but it also is a $995 extra-cost option. The 2011 Explorer’s base price range is $28,995-$39,995.

UPDATED BY JIM GORZELANY