2012 Nissan Pathfinder Review and Prices

Last Updated: Sep 27, 2010

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2012 Nissan Pathfinder Buying Advice

The 2012 Nissan Pathfinder is the best SUV for you if you’re a truck-based SUV traditionalist and want to get your hands on one of the last of them breed before it becomes a crossover.

The 2012 Nissan Pathfinder will remain one of the few mid-priced, midsize, seven-seaters that’s a bona fide SUV. No poseur wagon, the Pathfinder harkens back to a period, namely the 1990’s, when families bought truck-based SUVs for their rough-and-tumble personas -- particularly in contrast to minivans’ “soccer mom” image. Americans embraced the idea of carpooling in rugged vehicles that were built to traverse the toughest trails and tow large boats or trailers, regardless of whether or not they ever used them for those purposes. Most SUV buyers have since moved on to car-based crossovers for their more amenable ride and handling qualities and generally better fuel economy. The 2012 Pathfinder will remain a throwback, but one that’s up to date courtesy of many of the latest infotainment features, and one that’s fairly well mannered thanks to a four-wheel independent suspension.

Should you wait for the 2012 Nissan Pathfinder or buy a 2011 Nissan Pathfinder? Buy the 2011 Pathfinder. The 2012 Pathfinder should be a virtual repeat and will likely be the final Pathfinder to use body-on-frame construction. That’s right, the 2013 Nissan Pathfinder is slated to undergo a dramatic metamorphosis and emerge as a car-based crossover. If you like today’s rugged build and styling, the 2012 Pathfinder represents your final chance at it, though the look will have a relatively short shelf life because the 2013 model will carry fresh sheet metal.

2012 Nissan Pathfinder Changes back to top

Styling: Don’t expect the 2012 Nissan Pathfinder to feature any cosmetic alterations, save perhaps one or more new exterior colors. It will remain one of the more arrogantly burly looking vehicles on the road. With its big and bold grille, muscular wheel arches, and boxy overall shape, the 2012 Pathfinder will continue an outward appearance that resembles an enclosed pickup truck (which is what the first SUVs essentially were). That’s in contrast to contemporary curvaceous crossover SUVs. As tradition dictates, the 2012 Pathfinder will again feature a rear tailgate with a separate lift-up window for loading flexibility. It’ll continue with a third-row bench seat that expands capacity to seven passengers. Pathfinder’s interior is handsome and practically cast, with the requisite number of cupholders, cubbies, and storage spaces.

Along with the 2012 Toyota 4Runner, the 2012 Nissan Pathfinder will remain the only mid-priced seven-passenger truck-based SUV in the U.S. Pathfinder’s tough, truck-like body-on-frame rear-wheel-drive construction affords maximum durability to haul heavy payloads and pull big trailers. The 2012 Pathfinder is likely to again offer no fewer than three four-wheel-drive systems, all with low-range gearing that allows it to blaze paths away from the pavement.

Still, most SUV buyers simply use their vehicles as family transportation, and they instead now overwhelmingly choose more-amenable seven-passenger crossover models like the Chevrolet Traverse, Honda Pilot, and Toyota Highlander. Crossovers are built on a car-like “unibody” platform in which the frame and body is an integrated unit. They’re lighter in weight than body-on-frame SUVs, for a smoother ride and better fuel economy. And crossovers generally feature front-wheel-drive, which further provides a car-like feel along with better wet-road performance because there’s more weight over the drive wheels than with a rear-drive configuration. Instead of off-road-ready 4wd, crossovers generally offer all-wheel drive (AWD). These systems are engineered to provide added traction on wet or snowy roads. They lack low-range gearing and aren’t meant for serious off-roading. Crossovers also typically have considerably lower tow ratings than comparable conventional SUVs.

The 2012 Pathfinder’s lineup should continue with the entry-level S models, midline SV versions, well-equipped Silver Editions, and top-of-the-line LE models.

Mechanical: Expect no change to the 2012 Nissan Pathfinder’s powertrains. This means a 4.0-liter V-6 will continue standard across the lineup and should again deliver 266 horsepower and a sturdy 288 pound-feet of torque for quick launches and secure highway passing abilities. This V-6 also provides Pathfinder an impressive maximum tow rating of 6,000 pounds, which is sufficient for all but really heavy-duty needs. The 2012 Pathfinder will remain one of the only mid-priced midsize SUVs to offer a V-8 engine. Offered in the top LE model, this 5.6-liter should again generate 310 horsepower and a generous 388 pound-feet of torque; its maximum tow rating is 7,000 pounds. The 2012 Pathfinder’s only transmission will remain a five-speed automatic that performs admirably though not as smoothly as would a more modern six-speed gearbox.
Rear-wheel drive will continue to be the standard configuration in the 2012 Pathfinder S, SV, Silver Edition, and LE V-6 models. Four-wheel drive (4wd) will again be standard with for the 2012 Pathfinder LE V-8 model.

The V-6 versions should again be available with three different 4wd systems, depending on the trim level. The 2012 Pathfinder S, SV, and Silver Edition models will likely offer a basic setup in which the driver must manually engage four-wheel drive; it’s a “part-time” system in that the car lacks the gearing necessary for it to traverse other than wet, snowy or loose grades for long periods of time without risking undue wear. The Pathfinder LE V-6 will offer a full-time system that can either be engaged manually or left in “automatic” mode, enduring no mechanical risk while running for extended periods on dry pavement either way. Meanwhile, while the top LE V-8 will still come standard with the Pathfinder’s most sophisticated setup that is permanently engaged and requires no driver input. All versions include low-range gearing for extreme low-speed off-roading or for disengaging the vehicle from the deepest snow banks.

A modern four-wheel double-wishbone fully independent suspension will help the 2012 Pathfinder maintain a reasonably smooth ride with stable handling, though this SUV will remain more truck- than car-like for overall road manners.

Antilock brakes will again be standard for straight and secure stopping and antiskid stability control is included across the line to help prevent the vehicle’s rear end from fishtailing in too-fast or too-sudden handling maneuvers, which is something to which a rear-drive vehicle is especially prone. Sixteen-inch wheels should again be standard, with 17- and 18-inch wheels and tires included, depending on the model or package.

Features: The 2012 Nissan Pathfinder will continue as a fairly plush and accommodating mid-priced SUV that in price and purpose fits between the automaker’s youthful, utilitarian Xterra SUV and the luxury FX crossovers from its upscale division, Infiniti.

Don’t expect 2012 Pathfinder equipment levels to change. That means such features as power windows with front auto-up/down, power locks with remote keyless entry, cruise control, and a tilt steering wheel will continue standard across the line. Also likely to be included are side-curtain bags that protect outboard riders’ heads across all three seating rows in side collisions or when sensors detect an impending rollover. Both the second and third row seats fold flat, with the second row split on a 40/20/40 fold-down basis for added cargo and passenger flexibility, an available fold-down front passenger seat can help accommodate longer items.

Choosing the SV version adds a power driver’s seat, dual-zone automatic climate control with rear vents, a rear-view backup monitor, power adjustable brake and accelerator pedals, a CD changer audio system with steering wheel-mounted controls, fog lights, auto headlamps and day/night rearview mirror, and an integrated a garage-door opener. Expect the 2012 Pathfinder Silver Edition to again come with high-tech gadgetry like a Bluetooth hands-free cell-phone interface, Nissan’s Intelligent Key keyless entry/start system, and a Bose audio system with 10 speakers, a subwoofer, and XM satellite radio; it also delivers a leather interior with a power passenger’s seat, heated front seats, and heated side-view mirrors.

Want more? The top LE will continue to pack the 2012 Pathfinder with luxuries like a heated steering wheel, power moonroof, and memory settings for the driver’s seat, mirrors and pedals. The available navigation system (optional on the LE V-6 and standard on the LE V-8) comes with a 9.3 gigabyte hard-drive for digital music storage. Curiously, while all models but the S include an auxiliary jack for connecting a portable audio device like an iPod, Pathfinder has lacked a USB interface for deeper connectivity; Nissan could conceivably add one for model-year 2012. A rear-seat DVD entertainment system should again be optional on either LE version.

2012 Nissan Pathfinder Prices back to top

Prices for the 2012 Nissan Pathfinder had not been released in time for this review but should not increase significantly above 2011 levels.

For 2012, expect Nissan Pathfinder base prices to run from around $29,000 for an S to about $32,000 for an SV and $36,500 for a Silver Edition, all with rear-drive; four-wheel-drive should add around another $2,000 to each of those versions. (Prices in this review include the manufacturer’s destination fee; Nissan’s fee for the 2011 Pathfinder was $800.)

The 2012 Nissan Pathfinder LE V-6 should range from around $38,500-$40,500 with rear- or four-wheel-drive and the LE V-8 should come in at about $43,500.
Option prices should likewise remain stable, with the navigation system on the 2012 Nissan Pathfinder LE costing around $1,900, the DVD system priced at about $1,600, and the LE V-8 Value Package (it includes the DVD array plus a moonroof) adding around $2,100.

2012 Nissan Pathfinder Fuel Economy back to top

EPA mileage estimates for 2012 Nissan Pathfinder models had not been released in time for this review but its fuel-economy ratings are expected to remain the same as 2011 figures.

This means you can expect rear-drive models to rate 15/22 mpg city/highway and four-wheel-drive V-6 versions to rate 14/20; this should again drop to 13/18 with the V-8 engine.

These ratings will continue near the bottom rung for midsize people movers. Lighter-weight and more-aerodynamic crossovers, which often come powered by smaller and more sophisticated powertrains, typically fare better in this regard. And Nissan is likely to continue to recommend premium-octane fuel for both Pathfinder engines.

2012 Nissan Pathfinder Release Date back to top

The 2012 Nissan Pathfinder will likely go on sale in September 2011.

What's next for the 2012 Nissan Pathfinder back to top

Big changes are in store for the Nissan Pathfinder, which is due a major redesign for model-year 2013. Nissan didn’t released any concrete information in time for this review, but reports indicate the next generation Pathfinder will bow to the trend and become a lighter and more fuel-efficient crossover SUV built on a unibody platform. The 2013 Pathfinder should share the foundations of its chassis with the next-generation Nissan Altima midsize sedan, which means it will become a front-wheel-drive model in its most-basic form. It could also serve as the basis for a new luxury-oriented Infiniti crossover, which may be called the Q4.

With most other mid-priced truck-based SUVs already having fallen by the wayside, the future of the conventional-SUV segment will likely consist mainly of smaller and reasonably unadorned models aimed at the rugged off-road and youth markets, like Nissan’s Xterra. Body-on-frame design will also remain the primary engineering for larger SUVs, such as the Chevrolet Suburban and Nissan Armada, which are actually seeing a sales resurgence. Affluent owners seem more willing and able to pay for capabilities they’ll rarely use in the name of luxury, especially when the rougher edges of what’s otherwise a gussied-up truck are softened with sophisticated suspensions, plusher and quieter interiors, and the like. These are also buyers who are most likely to actually own the larger boats and trailers traditional SUVs excel at hauling.

While the 2013 Nissan Pathfinder is set to migrate to crossover status, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will automatically turn into a jellybean-shaped passive people mover. Nissan tends to slather its crossover SUV with bulbous styling excess, but we suspect the new Pathfinder will continue to come wrapped in bolder and, dare we say, more masculine looking styling than, say, Nissan’s Murano. The next-generation Pathfinder should also retain at least moderate off-road performance. The recently redesigned Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ford Explorer models prove that modern unibody SUVs can indeed serve two masters by being accommodating commuter vehicles that retain elements of trail-blazing ruggedness.

The redesigned Pathfinder will also likely continue to be a moderately upscale seven-passenger model that will be able to reach near-luxury status in its top version. Expect the new model to offer most or all of the high-tech bells and whistles in Nissan’s corporate parts bin, including lane departure and blind-spot warning systems, multi-angle exterior video monitoring, voice-activated electronics, full iPod audio integration, and so on.

What you probably won’t see in the next Pathfinder is a V-8 engine. Stricter federally mandated corporate average fuel economy requirements that phase in incrementally by model-year 2016 will probably prohibit offering a gas-guzzler here. A V-6 should continue to power most models though this will likely be a modern rendition that offers the latest in fuel-saving technology like variable valve timing and direct fuel-injection. A good V-6 can provide a useable tow rating of, say, 5,000 pounds, which would suffice for most applications. It’s possible that a four-cylinder engine, perhaps a turbocharged version, could become the standard powerplant as a fuel-saver. Expect all versions to come with a six-speed automatic transmission, both for the sake of added drivability and to further save gas. The current model’s low-range four-wheel-drive systems should fall by the wayside in favor of a sophisticated new all-wheel-drive setup to help boost the vehicle’s performance in rain and snow. As in models like the Ford Explorer, this system will probably be augmented by optional traction-enhancing hardware that will allow it to at least traverse dirt roads and gravel incline driveways.

2012 Nissan Pathfinder Competition back to top

Toyota 4Runner. Assuming the Pathfinder crosses over to crossover status for 2013, this will remain the last holdout among classic truck-based rear-drive midsize SUVs. Last redesigned for 2010, it continues to ride on a sturdy ladder frame and employs an old-school solid rear axle configuration. Power is supplied by a 270-horsepower 4.0-liter V-6 engine that gets an estimated 17/22 mpg. It offers two separate four-wheel-drive systems and seats up to seven passengers. It’s a solid performer and will likely continue in its present form as Toyota’s diverse lineup already contains several crossovers. It will have a base price range of around $30,500-$41,000.

Ford Explorer. With its 2011 redesign, the one-time SUV sales leading Explorer took the “if you can’t beat them, join them” approach by becoming a unibody crossover, based on the Taurus sedan. Its rather uninspiring styling leans toward the bold side, though it’s seven-passenger interior is nicely finished and it offers Ford’s full range of electronic wizardry to attract the connectivity crowd. A 3.5-liter V-6 generates 290-horsepower, and though a 237-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine is the fuel-economy leader, it’s not the standard engine, being available only as an option that costs around $1,000. Expect the Explorer’s base price range to be around $29,000-$40,000.

Jeep Grand Cherokee. Like the Explorer, the Grand Cherokee was once one of the most-popular rides on the road, though it got lost in the market’s migration to crossover models. Ironically, the Grand Cherokee has always been built on unibody construction, albeit reinforced to afford added on- and off-road ruggedness. The latest model updated the previous version’s shabby shortcomings and not only became more mannerly, it retained its off-road abilities in the process. It remains only a five-seater, however. A 290-horsepower 3.6-liter V-6 engine that nets 16/23 mpg is standard, with a 360-horsepower “Hemi” V-8 remains available, though it’s rated at just 13/19 mpg.

2012 Nissan Pathfinder Next Steps