These are the times that try an SUV-lover's soul.
With the price of regular pushing ever-upwards to $2.50 a gallon, every trip to the gas station these days is an unwelcome punch to the wallet. Even those who drive more abstemious cars with mileage in the mid-20s can feel the pinch, especially those poor souls whose rides demand only the finest in premium gas.
Of course, these are the times that make an alternative fuel activist's hybrid-powered heart soar, but that's a story for another day.
Although many blithely dismiss all SUVs as road-hogging, gas-guzzling behemoths, there's a world of difference between, say, a Hummer H2 and a Jeep Wrangler (the former is big and voracious, the latter mid-sized and a wee bit peckish).
Anti-SUV fervor aside, there are in truth times and situations in which an SUV makes sense as a vehicle choice. If you happen to haul around lots of family and friends every week, or if you're a devotee of weekend shopping sprees at Home Depot the extra space of an SUV may be a more reasonable choice than a minivan or a truck. And it's certainly a more viable option than an inflexible econobox.
The 2005 Nissan Pathfinder ably fits that middle-of-the road position. A few years ago, it would have been one of the larger models on the road -- now it's the younger brother to Nissan's king-sized Armada. The Pathfinder is also the more studious older sibling to Nissan's scraped-knees-and-X-Games little brother, the Xterra.
As opposed to the gargantuan Armada, where the cavernous cabin made me feel like I was driving a hot tub, the Pathfinder's more modest -- yet still spacious -- approach is a welcome one. There's plenty of room for both the driver and passengers. Nissan's navigation system is fairly simple to use and far easier than shuffling around a Mapquest printout. You can also spring for a DVD player in the back to keep everyone quiet and entertained.
In terms of SUV functionality, one of my first tests came with a weekend trip to Home Depot, naturally, to pick up some lumber and bricks for a backyard garden. With some quick seat folding, a little planning, and some interior-protecting blankets everything fit without much fuss.
When it comes to the gas pump, the Pathfinder is a definite improvement over both its siblings. Given the impossibility of matching EPA estimates for gas mileage, you won't often break 20 mpg even on the highway. That's a far sight better, however, than the Armada with its own estimate of just 18 mpg on the highway.
The V6 proved an able power source, moving capably through traffic but not providing big bursts of power. If you're looking for the ability to go off-road on something other than a driveway or alley, you'll want to find something with more kick.
One thing you won't be getting with the Pathfinder is a big load of style. Befitting a staid middle child, this member of the Nissan truck and SUV line takes a very safe approach in its exterior -- beyond the shared front grill it's all straight lines and sharp corners. Nice, but not too nice -- just like Jan.
Find more of Sean Bugg's car reviews online at www.metroweekly.com.