Weekend Road Trip Review: 2012 Nissan Pathfinder LE 4x4.

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2012 Nissan Pathfinder LE 4x4

For 27 years, the Nissan Pathfinder has earned its keep in the SUV ranks the hard way: with real off-road truck-based performance together with enough civility to double as a daily driver.

Still Burly After All These Years.

The 2012 Nissan Pathfinder is no different. With deeply cleated P265/60R18 BFGoodrich Long Trail T/A tires, three rows of seating, a torquey 4.0-liter V6 engine and four-wheel independent suspension, it has the makings of a genuine year-round workhorse. From off-roading in Appalachia to shuttling the ubiquitous swim team or towing a lightweight boat, the Pathfinder—now in its eighth year on this platform—has always been game.

Out on the left coast, there's never any shortage of stuff to haul, from surfboards to mountain bikes—or events to attend, from marathons to motocross races. So it was easy to press the Pathfinder into service hauling a trailer and a street bike from SoCal up to the fourth annual Quail Motorcycle Gathering in Carmel, Calif. With the trailer weighing under 1000 pounds and the motorcycle weighing about 450 pounds more, the total load for the Pathfinder was far below its rated 6000-pound capacity, and the V6 never struggled with the weight on our 500-mile round trip. And a built-in hitch receiver and four-pin trailer-wiring jack truly made it a plug-and-go operation. Observed fuel mileage during the freeway portion of our trip was 18.8 mpg on 87-octane regular unleaded.

Inside, the Pathfinder LE model was leather appointed and featured Nissan's HDD navigation system. The front seats are nicely supportive for long hauls, and we found the leather breathes well for long-term comfort. The tall chair height and high eye point of the Pathfinder is also a welcome companion while touring, allowing the driver to scan further along the road ahead.

At legal trailering speeds, the 2012 Nissan Pathfinder revealed little wind noise, although on parts of Highway 101 in the Salinas Valley, a strong afternoon headwind served notice that sans trailer and at higher cruising speeds, wind noise would be a regular companion. Considering how rugged the tires are, on smooth roads there was little tread noise to contend with, although rough pavement and the BFG tires didn't get along all that well, and the cabin filled with a rumbling tire noise that made us happy when smoother sections of roadway appeared. And we could also feel the V6 working underfoot, in the form of near-constant additional vibration.

Interior surfaces and finishes seem to fall between entry level and luxury. As well, the roominess and accessibility of the second- and third-row seats stray more toward the practical and less toward the luxurious. The flip-and-fold second-row seat works easily, but climbing into the third row requires some gymnastic skill. And the third-row seatback is quite vertical, making it best for smaller people and shorter hops.

2012 Nissan Pathfinder electronics include some unexpected bonuses, such as altitude and individual tire-pressure readouts, ceiling HVAC vents for second- and third-row passengers, and cell-phone signal-strength bars displayed right on the Navi screen. But certain other features are inexplicably difficult, such as an annoyingly long reach to the audio system's tuning knob.

By all estimates, the coming 2013 Pathfinder will improve on the current product in most areas that consumers seem to care about nowadays—including exterior design, fuel economy, interior comfort and quietness, and advanced electronic functions. History may thus show the current 2012 Nissan Pathfinder LE to be one of the last remaining "old school" SUVs—and a true friend for no-complaints, no-excuses hard work.

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