If sales figures are anything to go by, Nissan understands the dynamics of the sport-utility vehicle market. It skillfully reacted to recent changes in the market by redesigning its Pathfinder for 1996. As it enters a third model year, the Nissan Pathfinder can be considered a solid success. There have been minimal alterations to standard equipment and prices have remained relatively constant.
Life was simpler when the original Pathfinder was introduced. At the time, it was little more than a Nissan pickup truck with a glorified camper shell added. But it gave Nissan entry into the then-small sport-utility brigade.
Competition has grown since those days, as have customer expectations. It is no longer sufficient to build a vehicle that carries people into the woods; any machine worthy of consideration nowadays has to get them in and out of the wilderness comfortably, serve as daily transportation, and look good.
The current Pathfinder provides the SUV buyer with a sophisticated unit-body structure intended to be strong and quiet. The suspension was designed to handle streets and trails alike. It's equipped with all the comforts of a loaded midsize sedan along with the spaciousness of a station wagon. Getting those disparate virtues to coexist in a single vehicle is a tall order.
It is an order filled, to varying degrees, by a number of SUVs. Competing in the Pathfinder's class are the Jeep Cherokee, Ford Explorer/Mercury Mountaineer, Isuzu Rodeo, Honda Passport, GMC Jimmy, Chevy Blazer and Oldsmobile Bravada. Though similar in purpose, each attempts to meet customer needs in distinctive ways.