Enhanced Off-Roading or Big Power: 2008 Nissan Pathfinder Review

If the 5.6-liter V-8 engine sounds a lot like the Titan's, that's because it is.

Feb. 25, 2008 By Katrina Ramser
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Nissan enthusiasts rejoice! For the first time ever, the 2008 Pathfinder gets the 5.6-liter V-8 engine, the same engine found in the Armada and Titan. Aside from the increased power, updates include new exterior front-and-rear styling and wheel designs. You'll also see some new interior features along with updates such as a navigation system.

We drove a three-row, 7-passenger 2008 Nissan Pathfinder with the new 310-horsepower, 388 lb-ft of torque V-8 with XN All-Mode four-wheel drive and a towing capacity of 7,000 lbs. For a five-speed automatic transmission available with manual mode only, the total vehicle package is $39,860.


The Pathfinder continues to be built on a high-strength, all-steel boxed frame. The front suspension is a double-wishbone design with coil-over shocks and a large stabilizer bar; the rear suspension is pretty much the same but the V-8 has a few millimeters over the V-6. Standard on all Pathfinder models is a rack-and-pinion steering system, four-wheel power-assisted anti-lock brakes (ABS) and an active brake limited slip (ABLS). It's all what you'd find on the Armada.

Visibility from behind the steering wheel of Nissan trucks and SUVs has always been excellent. The new front and rear styling puts it back into a shape that resembles the Armada and Xterra more than its previous years, giving the entire Nissan lineup a unified look. Our vehicle color was Café Latte, but it also comes in Mocha. Yummy.

Upon our first test drive, I did find the standard power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering stiff and I sensed vibration. I've sited these issues on the Xterra, and it is part of being a Nissan. With a curb weight of 5,030 lbs, the Pathfinder did its best to hug the road but I felt body roll when cutting corners.

With the 5.7-liter V-8 engine, estimated gas intact is 15-mpg city and 22-mpg highway using premium unleaded. We clocked an average of 14.2-mpg. We hit 0-60-mph in 7.2 seconds.

When comparing Pathfinder stats to its bigger sister, the Armada doesn't have a noticeable edge on powertrain components. If you look at towing capacity, however, there are some wider margins: The Armada has towing capacity of 9,000 lbs to the Pathfinder's 7,000 lbs. (The Titan with the same powertrain components can tow up to 9,500 lbs.)

Don't forget the rated 266 horsepower 4.0 liter V-6 with 288 lb-ft torque is also available for the Pathfinder. This engine is used in the Maxima, Altima, Murano and Quest vehicles. Under the V-6, it tows just 1,000 lbs less than the V-8. Estimated gas mileage for the V-6 with four-wheel drive is 15 mpg city and 21 mpg highway, so it's not much of a difference from the V-8. The differences, however, are found in the off-road packages and components.

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The Pathfinder offers advanced and competitive 4WD systems that differ depending on if you have the V-6 or V-8 engine. WIth the V-8, you get the full-time 4-wheel drive system Nissan calls the XN All-Mode. The XN All-Mode 4x4 system is straightforward. Using center console switches, you have four positions: 2WD(dry and paved); AUTO (equal torque distribution to wheels); 4H (rocky or snowy); and 4LO (steep grades and maximum power to mud and gravel).

Since I had the Pathfinder SE with the 5.6-liter, I had the full-time four-wheel drive system. Modes were self-explanatory and easy to use. When engaging the low-range up a steep, grassy and gravely hill, the Pathfinder displayed ultimate grip and power and galloped right up. The engine is very powerful and totally fearless as the off-road system keeps up.

With the V-6 engine, you can choose between a part-time, shift-on-the-fly system and the XN All-Mode system. Both have an electronically controlled two-speed transfer case but only with the V-6 and under the SE trim can you get the Off-Road enhanced technology. This off-road system includes Hill Descent Control (HDC), designed to reduce driver stress when on hills, both in forward or reverse. Put the transmission in appropriate gear and simply switch it on in combination with the correct mode (low-range with vehicle speed under 15 mph or in high-range with vehicle speeds up to 31 mph.) Also working with the HDC is the Hill Start Assist (HSA). This system keeps the brakes applied for up to two seconds to help prevent rolling when you switch your foot to the gas.

I've tried such systems on other makers and models, such as the Range Rover and Land Cruiser, and they are stress-free fun. You have to ask yourself this question when deciding on the Pathfinder off-road package: Do I want to substitute enhanced off-road technology for the towing power and freewill of, well, freewheeling? That means if you go with hyped-up V-8, be prepared to handle massive power down any deep descents and climbs manually, all the while working some stiff steering.

All 4x4 V-8 and V-6 trims, with or without the Off Road system, have 4-wheel Limited Slip (ABLS). All SE models feature special 18-in machine-finished aluminum-alloy wheels with 265/60R18 tires.

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The 2008 Pathfinder is offered in a choice of six models: S-V-6, SE-V-6, SE-V-8, SE-V-6 Off Road (4x4 only), LE-V-6 and LE-V-8.

The SE Pathfinder we drove was equipped with several packages. The SE Premium Package includes power-tilt and slid sunroof; auto headlamps, Homelink transceiver and a Bose 10-speaker stereo. The SE Leather Package includes leather seats, heated front seats, power seats, leather door trim and dual-heated mirrors. Finally, the SE Navigation Package has Bluetooth connectivity, a keyless start and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system with 7" Multi-Function Information Display with RearView Monitor.

There are a number of interior enhancements, including a restyled interior with a new instrument panel center stack design, a revised front center console, new upper door trim, new automatic transmission shifter, new heated steering wheel and illuminated switchgear. Keep in mind you lose about every single one of these interior enhancements if you just go with the basic S-V-6, and the LE is the only trim that offers a heated steering wheel.

Standard seating includes flat-folding third row seat, 40/20/40 split separate-folding second row seats with easy one-touch release lever for third row access and a fold-down front passenger seat. I felt cramped in the driver's seat and did not have enough headroom.

The Easy-Clean rear cargo area has12 utility hooks for securing gear, eight cup holders and an overhead console for sunglass storage. Nissan stays true to its utility theme by offering four 12-volt outlets (two on instrument panel center stack, one for second row and one in cargo area); front seatback pockets; passenger assist grips; and available rear reading lamps.

Overall, the various knobs, switches and buttons looked very frugal (from a design standpoint) without any pizzazz or sophistication. 

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With all the effort other makers and putting forth on interior attributes, I am disappointed with Nissan's no-frills approach and inability to dazzle consumers with the convenience features. Stay completely away from the V-6 in the S-trim because nothing interior-wise has been upgraded. If Nissan is at all concerned about upgrading, it's usually involving the engine power.

For modern off-road ability, the Pathfinder SE with the V-6 engine and Off Road package is the best choice. The bottom line is whether or not you want to substitute enhanced off-road technology for engine towing power. If you are going to buy a Pathfinder, ask yourself which side of the road you drive on – pavement or trails. 

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