NISSAN Pathfinder (1993–2002)
Rating: Above Average
Body styles: 2-door wagon o 4-door wagon
Engines: 3.0L V6 (1993–1995) • 3.3L V6 (1996–1999.5) • 3.5L V6 (2000–2002)
Transmissions: 5-speed manual • 4-speed automatic/rear-wheel drive • four-wheel drive
Fuel consumption: 1993 model: 3.0L V6 with 5-speed manual: 15.7L/100km (18 mpg); with
automatic: 16.0L/100km (17 mpg) • 1998 model: 3.3L V6 with 5-speed
manual: 14.7L/100km (19 mpg); with automatic: 15.6L/100km (18 mpg) • 2001
model: 3.5L V6 with 5-speed manual: 14.7L/100km (19 mpg); with automatic:
15.6L/100km (18 mpg)
The Pathfinder was first launched in 1987 as
a derivative of Nissan’s pickup truck line. Available
initially as a two-door, it was joined by a four-door
version in 1990, which has been the sole body
style since 1991. The original Pathfinder changed
very little on the outside during its life, but was
treated to a new dash and interior design in
1994. Whereas the first-generation Pathfinder was a
body-on-frame design, the all-new 1996 Pathfinder
featured unibody construction. In mid-1999, the Pathfinder, designated
as a 1999.5 model, was face-lifted and moved upmarket. Nissan
slotted its new Frontier pickup-based body-on-frame Xterra into the
space in the lineup vacated by the old base model Pathfinder.
The 1993–1995 Pathfinders were powered by a 153-hp 3.0L overhead-cam V6 teamed
with a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic. The Pathfinder was essentially a rear-
wheel-drive truck that had part-time four-wheel-drive capability that was not meant to be
driven on dry pavement. The 1996 Pathfinder was powered by a 168-hp 3.3L overhead-cam
V6 that transmitted power to the wheels through a five-speed manual or a four-speed
automatic transmission. The drive system was still rear-wheel-drive, with part-time four-
wheel-drive, but the new model had shift-on-the-fly capability that permitted switching
from four-wheel back to two-wheel drive on the move, without stopping. For 2000 the
Pathfinder’s engine size was increased from 3.3L to 3.5L, and it gained 72 horsepower for a
total of 240 (250 horsepower when equipped with the manual transmission).
The 1987 Pathfinder was a very clean, softly rounded design for Nissan at the time,
which offered only severely rectilinear styling on its sedans. The square theme, however,
defines the interior. The square dashboard was exorcised in 1994 and replaced by a less
angular dash that offers easier-to-use controls. The Pathfinder has adequate space inside,
but access to the rear seats is hampered by the small door openings and shallow full-open
angle of the rear doors. Cargo space is sufficient but not ample, especially if the rear tire
is placed upright in the cargo area instead of on a cradle on the tailgate door. The exterior-
mounted spare improves cargo space but makes loading cargo a hassle. The all-new 1996
Pathfinder is a unibody design with no separate frame. The dividends are greater rigidity
and a lower floor in the interior, with no loss of ground clearance. The 1996 Pathfinder
is larger than the previous generation; it has a 2-inch-longer wheelbase and is 2.2 inches
wider and 6.7 inches longer. These increases amount to a roomier interior and more
luggage space, which is helped further by location of the spare tire underneath the floor.
Though larger than before, the Pathfinder is still not as roomy as the Explorer or Grand
Cherokee. Regardless of space constraints, the 1996 Pathfinder has an elegant, functional
and well-made cabin that is assembled using quality components, and the exterior is
beautifully finished. The styling of the 1996 Pathfinder shares the same silhouette as the
1987 truck but is fussier in detail. The 1999.5 facelift gave the truck a more cohesive visage.
The interior received detail changes in 2001.
The Pathfinder has always been one of the nicest sport-utilities to drive. The 1993
truck combines a decent ride with predictable handling, precise steering and good off-road
capabilities. While a pleasure to drive, the Pathfinder is a chore to park because of its
large turning radius. Both transmissions function very well and make the best use of
the available 153 horsepower. That said, the engine is perhaps the Pathfinder’s least
satisfactory component, as it is neither powerful nor quiet. The part-time four-wheel-drive
system is less than ideal as well, because you have to stop and then reverse a few feet
to unlock the front hubs when switching from four-wheel back to two-wheel drive. If
four-wheel-drive traction is needed, the Pathfinder displays considerable prowess in bad
conditions. The four-wheel-drive system on the 1996 Pathfinder is still part-time, but it
can be disengaged on the fly, though sometimes reluctantly (for models through 1998). The
1996–1999 Pathfinder is one of the more satisfying vehicles of its type to drive, and with
rack-and-pinion steering it steers even better than before. The engine gained some power
and torque in 1996 but not enough to change its overall demeanor. The 240-hp engine,
standard since 2000, makes the truck more exciting to drive. When in four-wheel drive, the
Pathfinder is a good machine for tackling snow, especially when it is equipped with the
skinnier tires of the base model.
Luxury models of the Pathfinder sell the quickest. A fully dressed LE still commands
a $4000 premium over the base XE by the time they reach five years old, compared to
the $10,000 that separated them when new. Comparably equipped, the Pathfinder sells
for more than the domestic SUVs (newer Grand Cherokee excepted) but it is thousands
cheaper than a Toyota 4Runner. The Pathfinder offers quality and reliability that are close
to the 1996 and later Toyota 4Runner for less money, and the supply is significantly better.
It is priced close enough to the often-troubled American competition to be well worth the
Above-average on 1993–1995 models. Some problems have been recorded with
the emissions system oxygen sensors. Manual transmission bearings lack durability;
occasional problems with the cooling system and suspension; a few costly automatic
transmission failures at high mileage on pre-1995 models. Uneven front tire wear may
indicate excessive play in the ball joints or tie-rod ends. 1996–2002 models: improved over
the pre-1996 model overall, with better corrosion resistance.
What to check:
1993–1995 models: steering (worn, especially on vehicles with large tires), CV joints
(excessive wear in case of frequent off-road usage), exhaust manifold (leaks, especially
on the right side, which is often broken), oxygen sensors (defective), rear suspension
trailing arms (worn bushings). 1996–1999 models: brake calipers (seized), front shocks
(often sagging, weak original springs), sway bar (broken links), rear wiper (failed), exhaust
manifold (leaks, especially on the right side.
Poor rust resistance after four years, especially in the floor under the carpeting.
Applying a grease- or oil-based anticorrosion treatment is strongly recommended.
1993–1995 models: check for advanced rust on the rear floor between the catalytic
converter and the rear wheels. Exposed fuel lines are vulnerable to rust.
No airbags were available until 1996, when standard dual airbags were fitted. Side
airbags have been optional since late 1999. Rear-wheel only ABS was available until 1996,
when all-wheel ABS became standard. The 1995 Pathfinder received one- and three-star
ratings for driver and front-passenger occupant protection respectively when crash tested
by the NHTSA. The 1999.5 Pathfinder received four- and five-star ratings for the driver
and front passenger respectively in a frontal crash and five-star ratings for all outboard
occupants in side crashes when crash tested by the NHTSA. The 1997 Pathfinder received
a “marginal” rating from the IIHS, which noted that there was significant intrusion into the
driver’s footwell that trapped the dummy’s right foot. The dummy’s movement was poorly
controlled in the crash, which, combined with upward movement of the steering column,
caused the dummy’s head to bottom out on the airbag and hit the steering wheel, which
could result in a head injury.
• Pre-1995 models with automatic transmission: to avoid costly transmission problems,
it is highly recommended that you install an auxiliary transmission cooler in order to
compensate for the defective transmission cooler in the original radiator.
• Pre-1996 models: excessive exhaust noise is a sign of a problem with one or more
exhaust manifold studs at the block. Replace the studs as soon as they become noisy
or the manifold may crack. If you are unable to negotiate a free or reduced-price
repair at the dealer, the APA has located a repair centre in the Montreal area that
avoids inflated dealer prices (call 1-800-400-3792 for information; for the same repair
in the Toronto area call 905-670-8535). Nissan has reduced the cost of replacement
exhaust manifolds for this model to $110 each. For 1996 and later models it is no
longer possible to perform this repair without removing the heads. The cost of the
repair at a Nissan dealer is $1000 per side.
• Some of the 1995–1996 production was plagued by an engine knocking problem
after a modification meant to reduce manufacturing costs. Ford offered an extended
warranty of 7 years/160,000 km on the Mercury Villager, which shares the same
engine. Nissan sent no warnings to clients, but maintains that it has taken the
necessary actions regarding this problem.
• Recall covering 2001 models: brackets that connect the rear hatch door to the gas
struts were improperly made and may bend under stress, allowing the struts to
detach from the brackets and the door to fall. Replace the strut brackets.