Driving the 2012 Nissan Pathfinder is somewhat bittersweet. Of course, we understand why the next Pathfinder coming later this year is undergoing such dramatic changes. Off-roading is not as big a priority anymore -- these days, it's all about fuel economy and a car-like ride. And considering this is Nissan's best-known model and flagship SUV, the pressure is definitely on to please the 'Finder faithful while evolving to meet the needs of current sport/ute buyers.

The Pathfinder Nissan currently offers is a vehicle with impressive capabilities that is enjoyable to drive. When you see the 2012 Pathfinder parked in a lot, it's clear the styling has been surpassed by other similarly sized SUVs. This is an attractive rectangular cube -- only 0.2-inch wider than it is tall -- with bodylines you can measure with a T-square.

The outgoing, third-generation 2012 Pathfinder we tested was powered by Nissan's stalwart 266-hp, 4.0-liter V-6. Those who want 44 more horses, 100 lb-ft more torque, and 1000 pounds more towing capacity can opt for the 5.6-liter V-8, but we found the power in the V-6 more than adequate. The truck quickly gets off the line, partly due to its touchy throttle, but mostly because of the speedy attitude of the trucky six. Yes, it's trucky, meaning there is plenty of torque and a coarse, boisterous engine note. Again, it's unfortunate that the replacement Pathfinder is likely to have a smaller-displacement V-6 with less torque, and improved fuel economy. But we can't imagine the new engine will sound nearly as rugged. This sport/utility reached 60 mph in 7.2 seconds, and the quarter mile in 15.6 seconds at just over 88 mph. Around town the Pathfinder rides comfortably over all but the harshest bumps. There are grab handles for second-row passengers, but they are located a third of the way down on the B-pillar, creating a minor blind spot on the driver side.

This generation Pathfinder made its debut in 2005, and many of the styling cues in the cabin reflect Nissan's design language from years ago. Still, the buttons are easy to reach and operate, and our topline LE featured standard navigation and satellite radio. The seats were comfortable in the front and middle rows, but we'd suggest reserving the third row for little kids. The third-row seatbacks are not adjustable and stand almost vertical, and there wasn't enough legroom to endure anything more than a quick in-town trip. The second row doesn't let you adjust for the longer-legged; but at least there you can manually adjust the seatback -- and you can operate the rear climate-control system. For our daily use, we folded the third row -- an easy process completed in seconds -- and took advantage of the spacious cargo area. Another example of an outdated aspect of this vehicle is that the liftgate is fairly heavy, making it tougher to pull down when you want to close the back of the truck. (We anticipate a power option on the 2013 Nissan Pathfinder.)

While the price for this V-6-powered sport/utility is a bit high -- more than $43,000 as tested -- the Pathfinder is still plenty capable, and even this topline model offers value. This is a competent all-around vehicle, but one that was starting to slip as other SUVs were updated. It could've benefitted from some improved refinement and a new engine, which would've simply made a good vehicle even better. But the world is changing, as are the demands of sport/utility buyers. The platform underpinning the new Pathfinder is shared with the longer, wider Infiniti JX, and should offer a more spacious third row, more room for cargo, and a more luxurious interior. The 3.5-liter V-6 and CVT will also improve fuel economy, and Nissan also says towing capacity should be competitive. We would've liked to see the Pathfinder continue as a body-on-frame model, but we understand why the new model will be so different for 2013.


2012 Nissan Pathfinder LE
BASE PRICE $42,915
PRICE AS TESTED $43,115
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, 4WD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 4.0L/266-hp/288-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4836 lb (51/49%)
WHEELBASE 112.2 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 192.3 x 72.8 x 72.6
0-60 MPH 7.2 sec
QUARTER MILE 15.6 sec @ 88.2 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 138 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.65 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 30.4 sec @ 0.53 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 14/20 mpg
ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY 241/169 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS 1.20 lb/mile
On sale in U.S. Currently